Monday, 26 August 2013

Vegan Brazil 2: Pará and Amazonas


In this post, I'll be discussing the kinds of vegan food I've been able to find so far in the Brazilian states of Pará and Amazonas, which both lie in the Amazon Basin in the north of the country. It's going to be quite limited in some ways as the only cities I've spent any significant time in are Belém, Alter do Chão and Manaus, but as I've also spent a couple of days in the forest staying with a family of indigenous rubber tappers and over five days travelling by boat along the Amazon River, I've also had some quite interesting experiences worth sharing.

At the risk of repeating myself, I want to say once again that it really is possible to be vegan and eat well in Brazil, but you do need to bear a few things in mind:

Firstly, most Brazilians that you meet simply won't know what vegans do and don't eat. I've met a fair few who do know what vegetarians eat, but none so far who've known anything about veganism, so you really do need to be prepared to try some Portuguese and be really clear about what you can eat.



Secondly, there are some situations that you will need to prepare for in advance, especially if you're unsure about what food will be available to you, such as travelling into the forest or on the rivers where you are unlikely to be able to choose where you can go to eat or buy ingredients.

Finally, in common with most places around the world, you almost certainly won't be able to eat at absolutely every restaurant or cafe that you come across, but if you're prepared to walk around a bit or plan a bit in advance, you should be able to be vegan anywhere in Brazil. You may get a little bored of eating rice, beans and salad sometimes, but given the amazing array of delicious fruits and vegetables available throughout the country, this shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Belém

I will admit straight up that Belém was not my favourite city in the Amazon. I was there for just four days, but in that time I had a really strong sense of not feeling particularly safe a lot of the time, especially walking alone in the city. However, there were some upsides, like meeting Anne-Marie from The Hungry Vegan? blog one night whilst we were both staying at the same hostel, who is the first other vegan I've met so far on this trip, so it was nice to say hello in passing.

Delicious plate of vegan food from Mãe Natureza, Belém

I generally ate in the hostel where I was staying for breakfast and dinner each day (breakfast was included: fruit, bread and coffee, and I had my own peanut butter with me; and I made fairly basic pasta dishes for dinner in the hostel kitchen), but at lunchtime I went out to a fantastic vegan per kilo restaurant called Mãe Natureza, where I ate spectacularly well, and you can read more about in my review on HappyCow. I certainly recommend their desserts very highly! I also had a lovely plate of roasted palm hearts with oil and herbs at the Amazon Beer bar in Estação das Docas.

Roasted palm hearts, Estação das Docas, Belém

Alter do Chão

Altogether, I was in Alter do Chão for about five days, and I had a really amazing time there. It's a really beautiful place, with fantastic river beaches, a very chilled out atmosphere and some of the best vegan food I've found so far in non-veg*n restaurants. I only intended to stay a couple of days here, but ended up staying much longer, and from speaking to other people there, I think that's pretty common.

At the time I'm writing this, there aren't any places to eat listed on HappyCow for Alter do Chão, and as there wasn't anywhere I saw that was a veg*n only restaurant or labelled their vegan options on the menu, I felt that I wouldn't add any of the places I went to, but nonetheless, I ate very well! Highlights included an amazing vegan pizza absolutely loaded with different kinds of vegetables, a very delicious salad at the Arco Íris da Amazônia restaurant (which even had a salad called 'Green Peace'!) and some great plates of salad, rice, beans and spaghetti.

Menu with 'Green Peace' salad at Arco Íris da Amazônia, Alter do Chão

Manaus

I won't write much about Manaus as I'll be covering a bit about what I'm eating here for the 2013 Vegan Month of Food (MoFo), which I'll be taking part in throughout September. However, I will say that after having been somewhat spoilt so far in Belém and Alter do Chão, the one vegetarian lunch buffet I have visited so far was somewhat of a bydisappointment from a vegan perspective, which I wrote about in a review for HappyCow.

Travelling by boat

I made two boat journeys along the Amazon River, one from Belém to Santarém (two days and three nights) and one from Santarém to Manaus (two days and two nights). I took my own food for both journeys, not least because I had been told by other travellers and in my guide book that tourists often get quite ill from eating the food on board because of the water used for cooking.

My staple savouries for the boat journey from Belém to Santarém

Each time I took some fruit, bread or savoury crackers, peanut butter and biscuits with me, and as most of the journey is spent sitting around, watching the scenery go by and drinking the occasional beer, this was more than enough food for me. I was glad that I made the decision to break my journey in Santarém, as I think a five or six day voyage would have been too long both in terms of very limited eating options and the problem of becoming bored with very little to do in quite a small space.

Visiting the Tapajós National Forest

I was a little worried about finding vegan food during my two days and nights staying with a family of rubber tappers in the Jamaraquá community, and did take a few snacks with me just in case, but fortunately they weren't needed. Ordinarily I would have made the request for vegan food in advance, but as I was going with two lovely French people I had met on the boat who were travelling on a limited timescale, I didn't get a chance, so I decided to wing it a bit.

However, from the moment I arrived, there was plenty that I could eat, including some of the most delicious and flavoursome fruit I have ever eaten. Although the staple meal of rice, beans, salad and spaghetti did get a little repetitive, it was always wonderfully cooked and very tasty.

Rice, beans, spaghetti and salad in Jamaraquá, Tapajós National Forest

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