Tag Archives: Brazil

Brazilian Supper Club with Tilda

All good food is made from good ingredients and it is a mistake to assume that all simple ingredients and basic staples are created equal.

Consider bread: the difference between a pappy, bleached white plastic loaf compared with a freshly baked artisan sourdough with a crackly crust and perfect crumb is obvious.

The same spectrum also exists for rice. On the one end you have the mushy, gluey, bland stuff that probably comes out of a packet with the words “easy cook” on it. On the other, you have beautifully fragrant, elegantly long grains of aged basmati.

As someone who grew up on Persian cooking, rice is a serious business. It’s at once the foundation and the star of most meals. With Persian polo, you get a heaping mound of perfectly separate, steaming grains, laced with saffron and a encased by a golden crust of tadig – the best bit.

When I first met my other half, he used to buy some cheap “easy cook” monstrosity, adamant that “rice is rice, isn’t it?”

He now gets it: you need the best possible quality to make dreamy polo (or any rice dish) and you can’t get much better than Tilda.

So I was thrilled to be invited to an evening hosted by Tilda, supperclub hero The London Foodie aka Luiz Hara, Brazilian blogger Hot and Chilli aka Rosanna McPhee, and Masterchef 2010 winner Dhruv Baker.

With the World Cup on and Rio 2016 around the corner, all eyes are on Brazil and Tilda is celebrating with their Limited Edition Brazilian Samba rice.

Luiz handed around drinks and pao de queijo

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…while his dog worked the room…

Luiz's adorably sociable dog

Having spent five wonderful weeks in Brazil last year, I knew that rice or arroz is a big deal for this cuisine too. The Brazilians are generally fans of starchy carbs; roots such as manioc and cassava are often part of meals, and dishes of farofa (flour made from manioc) are left on tables as a condiment to sprinkle over your food for texture and a little crunch.

For our Brazilian party, rice featured in a number of ways which showcased how versatile and delicious this staple can be.

Dhruv and Rosanna made bolihnos, rice fritters with dried shrimp which they served with lime and saffron mayo – a perfect canapé or bar snack.

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The special Samba rice, with its zingy flavours of chillies, lime and tempero baiano herb was a perfect foil for the deep umami richness of classic Feijoada, the national dish of pork and bean stew…

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…and the creamy spiciness of seafood dish Mocqueca…

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Brazilians are famous for their love of meat so of course there were hefty slabs of barbecued picanha (rump cap).

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Dhruv sliced these thinly and served them with pimenta de bico (tiny Brazilian pickled chilli peppers which pop delightfully in your mouth) and whole roasted garlic bulbs.

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Equally delicious was the side salad of palm hearts, tomato and red onion. Summer on a plate.

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Thanks to our hosts Tilda, Luiz, Rosanna and Dhruv who all certainly displayed true Brazilian hospitality; we all left happy, well fed and warmly tipsy.

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I look forward to recreating the same vibes this summer and beyond with special Tilda Limited Edition Samba Rice!

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Iguassu/Iguaçu/Iguazu Falls

Mark posts again!

Like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China, pictures of the Iguacu falls just don’t do it justice. So you might as well just ignore the photos below. You have to go yourself I’m afraid in order to get the slightest idea how impressive they are. The falls stretch for 3.5 km of roaring, frothing foam, and they are set in a beautiful national park with toucans, butterflies of all colours and fresh water turtles.

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We spent a couple of days in the area. The Brazilian side gives the grand vista, but it’s the Argentinian side where you really get up close and personal by strolling the walkways that take you over, under and around the falls (getting thoroughly soaked in the process). The highlight was the boat ride that takes you virtually underneath the falls themselves. Sorry, no pictures of that.

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Coatís, or Brazilian aardvarks, are everywhere.

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There is a fantastic bird park on the Brazilian side, that contains vast cages with macaws, parakeets, hummingbirds, toucans, flamingos and many others besides.

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This is not a bird

This is not a bird

Some of the toucans were really quite friendly!

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Certainly one of the highlights of the trip so far.

São Paulo – highlights (mainly food, obviously)

Everyone says São Paulo is a massive, sprawling metropolis.

“Big deal,” we thought, “so is London.” It was only until we took in the views from the top of Edifício Itália on our first morning that we realised this urban beast was MUCH larger than the comparatively twee Big Smoke.

Innumerable skyscrapers and tall buildings literally as far as the eye can see – and 42 storeys up, we could see for miles!

São Paulo view

We didn’t find São Paulo to be as beautiful and glamorous as Rio – in fact parts of the city are downright ugly. The main attraction of the city of “Sampa” for us was the many opportunities to eat very well.

After the dizzying trip up the tower we needed something to steady our nerves and restore blood sugar to normal levels. We headed straight for the Mercado Municipal, which was one of the highlights of the trip so far.

The fruit in the Mercado was a revelation – perfect specimens of hundreds of different varieties displayed artfully by the stall holders, who deftly sliced and thrust samples of this and that at you. We tasted the most perfect orange imaginable – superlatively large, sweet and juicy – and almost bought the lot until we realised they were 15 R$ (£5 sterling) EACH. We have looked in vain in more modest markets for something similar ever since but with no luck.

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Of more considerable substance than the odd scrap of fruit was this epic mortadela sandwich which made us very happy!

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The mortadela sandwich, consisting of generous piles of thinly sliced Italian mortadela between crusty bread with optional extras (e.g. cheese, sundried tomatoes, mustard, chilli) is a classic offering at the Mercado and many stalls sell them. We opted for the historic Hocca Bar on the top level, which has proper seating with views of the bustling market below as you get your chops around the juicy, meaty goodness.

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Other places on the ground floor are cheaper but you have to negotiate your sloppy sanger standing up at a bar – not advisable for amateurs!

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The next day we thought it might be good to cleanse the last of the meat sweats out of our system, so headed for Liberdade, the city’s Japanese neighbourhood.

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London was in the midst of a ramen “moment” when I left to go travelling, with excellent places like Bone Daddies, Shoryu and Tonkotsu getting the city’s foodies excited (my fave of the three is Bone Daddies, for what it’s worth). I was keen to try out the Sampa version of ramen (also known as “lamen” in Brazil) at Aska.

The no bookings policy and 45 minute wait made me feel right at home; we could have been waiting on a Soho street for our bowls of noodles and broth. As soon as we got a table it was easy to see why Aska is so popular – the chefs bustled around calmly but efficiently in the open kitchen while patrons of all ages and ethnicities slurped at the surrounding bar and separate tables, creating a pleasant and buzzy atmosphere.

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My tonkotsu ramen was decent with a tasty broth, though not a patch on Bone Daddies. Aska’s noodles were thin and soon went a bit soggy, and they were a bit stingy with the other goodies I like to root around for in a bowl of ramen. Still, it was one of the best value meals we had in Brazil, let alone São Paulo and did the trick of making us feel sated yet healthy and refreshed.

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After a few hours of sightseeing on foot we were sure we had burned off the last of the mortadela, just as we happened to stumble upon an ice cream parlour and a huge queue of people winding down the street. Like typical Brits we dutifully joined the queue and were rewarded with some knockout ice cream or “sorvette”: chilli chocolate, maracuja (passionfruit) and house bacio di latte were all excellent.

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Afterwards I remembered that I had read somewhere that many consider Bacio di Latte to serve Sampa’s best ice cream. So maybe what seemed like serendipitous discovery was actually my greedy unconscious leading me to the next treat…?

Another Sampa food highlight was dinner at A Figueira Rubaiyat, which is as famous for its food as the magnificent 200 year old, 5 metre wide fig tree growing smack in the middle of the restaurant.

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My “picanha sumus” (premium top sirloin), a specialty from the Rubaiyat family farm, was delicious and cooked “a punto” accurately. Mark said his ribeye was one of the best he could remember.

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Minas Gerais

We spent around a week in Minas Gerais, an inland region of south east Brazil. The area has many historic colonial towns built during the rush after gold was discovered in the 1690s. We visited three of them: Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto and Tiradentes.

First stop was Belo Horizonte, aka BH, pronounced Beagá (still struggling to grasp Portuguese sounds!)

We arrived just as the famous Mercado Central was opening – the perfect place for breakfast. We also stocked up on picnic supplies: an enormous, ripe avocado large enough to feed a family, local cheese similar to feta and fresh bread made a memorable feast “to go”.

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We decided to leave the caged live animals for sale behind (everything from mice, rabbits, chinchillas to geese and ducks – I’ve never seen or heard anything like it!)

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BH is the bar and cachaça capital of the whole of Brazil. We remained sober as we were only there for one morning and afternoon, keen to continue on to the photogenic Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto couldn’t have been more different from the sprawling concrete jungle of BH: hugged by verdant mountains, the town itself is all steep cobbled streets, multicoloured buildings, broad piazzas and stunning baroque churches.

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Many of the façades were carved by Aleijadinho, known as Brazil’s Michelangelo. (Mark keeps calling him Ahmadinejad…)

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After a couple of days exploring, our legs and knees were almost as shattered as after the “bootcamp” trekking experience in Chapada Diamantina. Ouro Preto’s streets are so steep and the cobbles so ragged and uneven, walking around is like an extreme sport!

Luckily there were many opportunities to recuperate with some of the region’s renowned food and drink. “Comida mineira”, or cuisine from Minas, is very hearty and flavourful, designed to keep hard working miners going strong.

One of the best rodizios we’ve experienced in Brazil was at Cháfariz in Ouro Preto, where we sampled classic regional dishes including tutu de feijão (raw beans mashed to a paste with manioc flour and then cooked), frango com quiabo (a yummy chicken and okra casserole), pork ribs and sausage, corn, traditional cheeses and much more. All washed down with cachaça of course!

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We had heard that Tiradentes was a charming, peaceful place that also happened to be a foodie hotspot. What better place to head for my birthday…

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We had a lovely couple of days strolling around the small, quaint village. Conversely, many of the shops must cater for people who own enormous mansions – we saw all sorts of blingy, ostentatious “objets” such as a carved wooden lion bigger than our whole flat in London.

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As a birthday treat we booked a table at Tragaluz, which had been billed as the best restaurant in town. We had a really enjoyable evening; the food was decent but not quite the extravaganza we had hoped for. The one course worth writing about was dessert: dried guava rolled in cashews, fried in butter and served with creamy catupiry cheese and guava ice cream. In fairness I would return just to eat that again.

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From Minas Gerais it was a relatively short bus to our next destination, São Paulo: just 8 hours. The sheer scale of South America has quickly altered our dainty English views about what constitutes a long journey!

Chapada Diamantina treks

Mark’s first blog post!

Besides the food at Alcino’s, Chapada Diamantina national park is also renowned for some rewarding treks. The park has steep gorges, wide valleys, towering cliffs, extensive caves and around 300 waterfalls. As with everything in this country, the park is big, so we were only able to touch the sides of this beautiful place.

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We ‘warmed up’ with a day long minibus tour of some highlights of the park. Our companions were a British and Australian group doing a seven month overland tour of the whole of South America. It wouldn’t be our choice to spend so long on a bus with 20-odd complete strangers but they seemed to be getting along. Highlights were some stunning caves, with monsters lurking in the shadows…

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…and the sunset.

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Leila almost missed it as she was taking flying lessons and had to climb back up.

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We then found a local guide, Yuri, to take us on a three day trek: hard enough to test our stamina, and yet not break our uninitiated muscles. After a bumpy and sometimes fairly hairy ride on the back of a motorbike, the trek began with a 2 hour steep climb in the midday sun. Our water quickly finished and we were glad to reach the river on the other side of the ridge. All the water in the park is drinkable, despite its seeming muddy brown hue. In fact, the colour is derived from the tannins in the plant matter in the soil, so the water is rich in minerals. Good for anaemics and pregnant ladies apparently, though why they’d put themselves through a tough climb to get at it I don’t know.

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The jungle that we trekked through was a gardener’s dream; there seemed to be every type of fern and cacti. And there were butterflies in their millions, all flying the same direction – where were they all going?

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But the highlight was the waterfalls. There is something quite magical about a tumbling waterfall in a secluded gorge with just the three of us to admire it. Unfortunately we have no photos of the most spectacular one as it required leaping over boulders, climbing up slippery rock faces and swimming through deep pools to reach, so the camera got left behind.

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Whilst the distances were not long, the terrain (near vertical gorges and boulder strewn river beds), the heat and sleeping on the rocks took it out of us.

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So we were delighted by the finale to the trek, a stunning pool with a natural waterside and a friendly rasta selling ice cool beer under the shade of a tree.

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Ta-da!

Ta-da!

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Mark and our guide Yuri

Alcino’s legendary breakfast, Lencois, Bahia, Brazil

As soon as my friend Maxine heard I was going to Brazil, she kindly sent me a wealth of info and advice from her own travels. She was especially adamant that I should experience one thing in particular – the legendary breakfasts at Alcino’s pousada in Lencois, the gateway to Chapada Diamantina national park.

Maxine’s recommendation wasn’t just because she knows me, my voracious appetite and willingness to travel far for exceptional food. Alcino and his breakfasts are renowned in Brazil and beyond. People travel for hours to stay at his small, chic yet welcoming pousada, and claim the breakfast is better than any other in the world, scorning famous names like the Ritz. Friends we met in Rio and Salvador were instantly jealous that we would be staying there. One proclaimed that the 7 hour bus journey from Salvador to Lencois would be worthwhile for breakfast at Alcino’s alone, even if we didn’t bother with the region’s main attractions of magnificent waterfalls, jungles and hills.

Upon arrival, knowing we would be feasting on the Breakfast of Breakfasts in a few hours, Mark and I went to bed as giddy as children on Christmas Eve. We had purposefully planned little else; Alcino’s website asks his guests to forget about two things – dieting and haste. My kind of guy…

It didn’t disappoint – every detail was glorious. The table was laid elegantly with china hand-painted by Alcino and a large platter piled with freshly cut fruit at the centre.
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As well as cooking and ceramics, another of Alcino’s talents is horticulture. At the back of the pousada is a large orchard where all sorts of tropical fruits grow, which invariably end up on the breakfast table.
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An assortment of home-made jams, jellies and chutneys were offered to accompany fresh, hot rolls, cakes and breads. We also had a few different flavoured salts, home-made herb butters, ricotta, mozzarella, and yoghurt to play with.
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Soon a steady procession of little plates started filling every spare bit of tablecloth. Many dishes seemed surprising choices for breakfast, but worked well.

We had kibbeh flavoured with mint and stuffed with oozing cheese:
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Pastry tart with cashew fruit and nuts
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Circles of squash topped with blue cheese and a zesty orange glaze
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Plus much more we were too busy enjoying to photograph: perfect scrambled eggs, curls of ham, sticky banana and chocolate squares, spiced poached apples, toasted granola, manioc pizza, etc etc.

All this was washed down with plenty of fresh juice (forget boring orange – at Alcino’s you get things like acerola or umbu juice), fine loose leaf teas and high quality coffee.

Not your typical backpacking fodder at all but Mark and I justified the extravagance because we were about to head into the jungle for a three day trek, where meals would be simply fuel and only what we could carry. This was definitely the right decision – the trek was incredible and allowed us to see some absolutely tear-jerkingly beautiful sights, but tough. Our guide told me I was “very strong” but the combination of the heat, steep climbs, heavy backpack, sleeping on rocks and drinking river water nearly broke me!

If you’re going to Lencois (or anywhere vaguely close) I highly recommend you visit Alcino – it’s a well deserved treat to offset the bootcamp-like bits of trekking in the stunning Chapada Diamantina.

(We paid 200 Brazilian reals for a double room at Alcino’s, which includes his legendary breakfast).

http://www.alcinoestalagem.com/

Salvador, Bahia: sights and bites

The word “carnival” derives from the Latin words meaning “meat” and “goodbye”. The festival always precedes the fasting and frugality of Lent and is seen as a last chance to indulge in feasting, drinking and general revelry. Sounds good to me!

Many people told me Salvador’s carnival is the “melhor do mundo” – the best in the the world. One day I will experience Rio’s famous sambadromo offering to make my mind up but for now I am firmly Team Salvador – it’s more about getting involved with dancing behind the thumping “trios” crawling slowly along the circuit than watching performers at a distance. And the setting is ideal, particularly the Barra route which is right next to a stunning beach.

Mark and I decided to join in as “pipoca” (meaning popcorn because of how you look jumping around on the street) rather than paying a premium to be part of the roped-off blocos following the artists or the fixed camarote venues along the sides. I’m so glad we did – we had a blast at the centre of the action, for free! Although it was busy, the crowds were not at the mosh pit levels we were warned to expect. Frankly it was nothing compared to the London rush hour commutes we are used to and of course everyone is in great spirits! We were careful with safety though, taking no valuables, just a bit of cash (and with cans of beer just 1 Real – around 30p – we didn’t need much!)

Sadly this means we have none of our own pictures but we made friends with some seasoned Carnival goers, including one who hid her camera away from thieves in her underwear and snapped these:

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Carnival during the daytime is a lot less chaotic, letting us take in more of the former capital’s beautiful colonial and Baroque architecture, especially where we were staying in the historic centre of Pelhourinho:

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Of the five days we spent in Salvador over Carnival weekend, we took some time off to recover, rest our tired dancing feet and explore other aspects of the city and coast. We visited the “Mercado Modelo” market with unusual fruits, ceramics and live animals for sale.

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Fresh cashew fruit

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Mark had to drag me away from a brilliant wooden spoon shop before I bought the lot (here I am debating which to buy – I ended up with the normal-sized reddish one)

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We visited the “Igreja São Francisco” church to check out the baroque style, Portuguese tiles and impressive gold decorations.

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In the spirit of Carnival, we made sure to feast well. Here are some of the food highlights which made us salivate in Salvador:

Moqueca
One of my favourite Bahian specialities, moqueca is a spicy stew packed with African flavours. It is cooked with dendê (palm) oil which gives it a rich red colour and a distinctive taste. Typically it includes seafood such as siri (crab) or dourado (catfish) added to a base of onions, peppers and coconut. Often served in enormous portions enough for 2+, in large clay pots which give the dish its name.

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Vatapá
Mark’s favourite, an unusual dish made from toasted cashews ground to a sticky paste with coconut and dried shrimp. Reminded me a bit of Mexican mole.

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Acarajé
Bahia’s quintessential quick street food snack, although ironically very labour intensive to make. Beans are mashed with onions and spices, formed into patties and then deep fried for a crunchy coating. It is served stuffed with tiny dried/smoked shrimp (eaten shells and all), vatapá and salad. Acarajé is sold in squares and on street corners throughout Bahia and is a favourite of the region; we were told that a new McDonalds was forced to close after it failed to compete with a popular acarajé stall on the same road!

Feijoada
Practically Brazil’s national dish, feijoada is a flavourful, hearty peasant-style meal made with beans and smoked/dried meat, often pork. A stodgy bowlful would be the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold evening in the UK but it is equally good as a weekend lunch with caipirinha as they have it here.There are thousands of versions and family recipes; we have enjoyed feijoada made with sausage, pork knuckle, and various bits of offal.

Accompaniments
“Manioc mush” is a bit like sweet potato or swede mash and served with many dishes e.g. moqueca. Farofa is toasted manioc flour mixed with onion, bacon or other flavourings and sprinkled liberally over meals as a popular condiment to add flavour and crunch. Arroz (rice) and feijão (beans) seem to come as standard with many dishes.

Mangoes
Oh my god, the mangoes. I always thought the best in the world were Alphonso mangoes from Pakistan but Brazil boasts a staggering range of the fruit in all different shapes, sizes, fragrances and colours. Some have delicate, thin skins which you can bite into like an apple. This guy was the size of my head and perfectly sweet, soft and ripe throughout – no stringy bits whatsoever.

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Now, post-carnival, we are heading to Lencois to get back to nature with some trekking at Chapada Diamantina National Park.