The Brazilian dish called maniçoba is poisonous unless it has been cooked for at least 3 days.
This intriguing fact demanded further investigation.
Maniçoba is a typical dish of the state of Pará. It’s a favorite during Círio de Nazaré – a festival locally considered as the “Christmas of Pará”. Just as Americans typically eat turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas, many Paraenses like to eat, among other things, maniçoba at Círio de Nazaré.
Religious Festival Círio de Nazaré
The festival is celebrated around the second Sunday in October. As the event attracts more than 2 million visitors and pilgrims in one weekend, Círio de Nazaré is considered one of the world’s largest religious celebrations.
Back to the maniçoba:
We happen to be in Belém at the right moment and as we are staying with a family, I have followed the preparations of this dish.
Important Detail: there are 2 kinds of manioc (manihot). In Brazil they are called:
- Mandioca (bitter cassava), which is the poisonous one.
- Macaxeira or aipim (sweet cassava), which is safe to eat in its natural state.
Here’s more info on manioc.
Maniçoba Ingredients: Not for the Faint of Heart
Maniçoba is prepared with the leaves of the poisonous manioc, which are ground and simmered in a stockpot for at least 3 days in order to remove the toxins (cyanide). Marlene, the cook, explained to me that you can eat it then, but that the taste is still very bitter. The longer you cook the maniçoba, the darker and better tasting it will be.
When the soup had become safe to eat, Marlene daily added other ingredients (“never all at once,” she insisted) until the maniçoba turned into a thick, pasty kind of sauce. Ingredients may differ per cook, but generally there’s a selection of these:
- thick pieces of lard
- pig’s feet, ears, tongue and/or tail
- pork loin or ribs
- smoked bacon
- carne de sol (sun-dried meat)
- chorizo and/or other types of sausages
All this makes the dish not exactly for the faint of heart. That would be me – I’m a nitpick when it comes to eating. Each afternoon I lifted the lid of the stockpot to see what was happening in that large boiling mass, in the hope some miracle had occurred overnight (seems fitting enough to me during a festival that honors a saint known for her miracles) and a mouthwatering looking dish would stare me in the face.
Truth be said, the dark-green, oddly structured substance didn’t look too enticing.
And then the maniçoba was ready, and I kind of dreaded the words that would come.
“Please, have some of our maniçoba,” our host invited us. “It’s the best.”
Coen dug in with ease but then, this guy will eat anything. I took a hefty portion of rice, added a spoonful of maniçoba and carefully selected a piece of sausage, leaving the pig parts (in this case only feet) to others.
Surprise, surprise. It was delicious. It really was. It’s a dish that is not only prepared with dedication but that also deserves to be savored. Thankfully, this meal is always cooked in large quantities so most likely I can have another portion tomorrow. I am looking forward to it.
Additional Reading about Food in Brazil
- Meet the Baianas de Acarajé in Salvador da Bahia
- Eating Piranha, really? – Visiting the Pantanal
- What’s There to Like about Beans? – Check out Brazil’s Staple Food
- The Story of Limes and a Church – Making Caipirinha
- Eating Starch? – What’s the Secret to Making a Proper Beiju?
- Small and Excellent – Brazilian Coffee
- The Smallest, Tastiest Cookies: Biscoitos do Pará