Sunday, 15 January 2012

Barbados - Pride and Industry

It's 1800 kilometres (1100 miles) north from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, to Bridgetown in Barbados, the place that I will be blogging about for the next month or so.

Barbados is one of the those places I've always dreamed about visiting.  I've only ever been to the Caribbean once, to Cuba, but Barbados would be high on the list for my next visit.  The country's motto is Pride and Industry and, from what I have read about Barbados so far, they have good reason to be proud; of their culture, of their democracy and the fact that Barbados is considered to be somewhat of a success story in the developing world.

Beach in Barbados by Loimere
It's a tiny country - the smallest one I've blogged about so far - it's slightly bigger than the Isle of Wight, a bit smaller than Lantau Island in Hong Kong and roughly the same size as Brooklyn and Queens put together.  I've also discovered that it's located a little bit apart from the other Windward islands of the Caribbean (eg. Martinique, St Lucia or St Vincent) lying about 100 miles to the east of the Windward chain. 

Barbados is also geologically different than its 'neighbouring' Windward islands.  Whilst they are mostly the volcanic summits of submerged mountains, Barbados is made up of coral and protected from the seas by a series of reefs.  It's very flat compared to other Caribbean islands and the difficulty of navigating ships to Barbados meant that, despite its Portuguese name (meaning 'beards'), Barbados remained continuously in the hands of the English from the 17th century until it gained independence in 1966.

Anglican-style church in Barbados by Loimere
Barbados has often been referred to as 'a little piece of England in the Caribbean' and ties with the UK remain strong.  It's believed that the island was originally inhabited by the Taino, a Carib people whose disappearance from Barbados is unexplained.  One theory is that the entire native population was transported by the Spanish to work on their plantations in Hispaniola (compare the fate of the Carib tribes in my earlier blog post about Jamaica). 

The word hurricane comes from the Taino word for their 'storm God', Juracan, who lived on El Yunque mountain in (what is now) Puerto Rico.  When he was angry, he would stir up the winds and seas and wreck havoc on the Caribbean islands, much as hurricanes do today!  Although Barbados lies directly in the path of many hurricanes, they tend not to hit the island directly and usually pass harmlessly northward. 

A busy street in Bridgetown by Loimere
The national language is English, but most people speak a dialect of English called Bajan. The dialect is believed to have been influenced  by languages of West Africa, such as Yoruba.  Like Yoruba, Bajan has no past tense, pronouns such as we have no accusative form (like English us), eg. in Bajan you would say - He see we (not He saw us). 

I'm hoping that, in the next few weeks, I'll be able to experience more Bajan culture.  I want to cook a traditional Bajan dish and read one of Barbados' most famous novels, In the Castle of my Skin by George Lamming.  I want to learn more about the role of sugar in the Atlantic slave trade.  I want to find out more about the West Indies' love affair with cricket, that most English of games!

Scene from The Tamarind Seed
I've already started listening to Calypso music and, as an introduction to Barbados, I watched a 1974 movie called The Tamarind Seed, starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif - one of the few movies to be set in (and filmed in) Barbados.  I really liked the movie, which is about a love affair between a young English woman and a Soviet military attache.  You can catch glimpses of the island, as they drive around the countryside looking for a Tamarind tree that Julie Christie's character believes will have unusual seeds, shaped like the face of a man.  It's a movie about innocence and espionage.  The glimpses of Barbados were tantalising, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity! 

Image credits:

The photos of Barbados, used to illustrate this blog post, were taken by flickr member, Loimere, aka Derek Hatfield, who is a self-confessed 'geek with a personality' from Wawa/Thunder Bay in Ontario.  You can see more of Derek's work on his website

The image of the still from the movie, The Tamarind Seed is from a photo taken by me. This image is being used to illustrate this blog post and promote Blake Edward's film. By publishing this image, I'm not condoning or encouraging reproduction of this image on the Internet or anywhere else. This image is not meant to bring the actors into disrepute or suggest their endorsement of this blogpost, but is meant to highlight the performances of these actors in this movie.

By coincidence, this is the second time I've blogged about a movie starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif - see my earlier blog post about the movie version of Dr Zhivago

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Amazonas - Pichocu rü iperütogü

I'm going to finish my blogging about Amazonas with a greeting from the Ticuna language, which is spoken by about 25,000 people in Brazil.  Pichocu rü iperütogü means 'welcome' and, despite the fact that this is my last blog post about the Brazilian state of Amazonas, I feel that I'm just at the beginning of my Amazon journey, as possible themes for the future branch out in all directions. 

A summary of the themes so far

In the month or so that I've been blogging about Amazonas, I've learned about the History of the Amazon region and the fight for survival faced by its indigenous peoples.  I've learned about Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female President and I've learned about the many tributaries of the Amazon, mighty rivers in their own right.  I learned about the music of Brazil and the importance of rubber in everyday items around the world.  This month I taught myself how to make Peixe Assado com Farofa - cooking a dish from the region is always one of my favourite forms of research! 

Other themes

Other themes that I would like to explore further, at a later date, are:

Paradise, or the Garden of Eden

A comparison of the world's biggest forests/jungles
Jiu Jitsu, which is incredibly popular in Amazonas!
The symbolism of the Southern Cross
The different Amazonian tribes and their languages
The Garden of Eden
The Tordesillas Treaty, dividing the world between Spain and Portugal
The myth of El Dorado
The Jaguar
The Madeira-Mamore Railway
The Amazon River dolphins
The story of Forlandia

Other research

As part of my research I read three books:

The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon was written by Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn.  It's a really interesting book, but quite heavy-going and academic with a wealth of information about the history of the Amazon region.  One of main themes that the book addresses is the danger of romanticising the Amazon and the natural world. 

Hecht and Cockburn argue that our ideal vision of places like the Amazon are as big, empty, pristine forests, protected from the environmental destruction of man.  Often in our attempts to save the environment, we don't really consider man as part of that environment and this is something, the book argues strongly, that we shouldn't lose sight of.  The Amazon has suffered terrible environmental damage from rubber extraction, gold mining etc., but there has also been a human price, with the loss of population and culture amongst the Amazon's tribes.  The ideal picture that many of us hold in our imaginations - a 'big, empty forest with no people' has major implication for the Amazon's indigenous tribes, who have been living there for hundreds of years. 

Book covers by me
I also read a travelogue called The River of Singing Fish by Polish-born writer and adventurer, Arkady Fiedler.  Despite the interesting title, the book itself was a bit dry, full of an affected personification of the Amazon's animals, it also had a thin veneer of racism that might have been acceptable when the book was first published in 1935.  It was mildly amusing, but I wouldn't really recommend it.

I also read a novel called At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen, which I would recommend.  It tells the story of a missionary couple and their child, who travel to a remote Amazon tributary in Peru, in an effort to convert the (fictional) Niaruna tribe to Christianity.  Another major character in the novel is a 'soldier of fortune' called Moon, an American adventurer of Native American heritage.  The novel explores the tensions between the missionaries and their misguided attempts at communicating with the Niaruna, but also shows a parallel spiritual journey of Moon, who goes native and ends up living with the Niaruna and adopting their customs.  It's a really interesting book and I wish I had more time to blog about it!  Apparently there is a movie version, but I couldn't get my hands on it.

As well as reading, I watched Bruce Parry's TV series Amazon, which was really interesting as an overview of the whole region.  I also watched John Boorman's The Emerald Forest starring his son, Charlie Boorman who plays a young man kidnapped, as a boy, by an indigenous tribe and brought up in their culture.  I thought it was a really interesting movie, although the depiction of the 'bad tribe' was a bit simplistic. 

Dinner Party Trivia

I've learned some interesting facts along the way, which I'll add to my growing repository of dinner party trivia!  I learned that:

- The Amazon contains 1/5 of the world's fresh water
- Uruguay used to be Brazil's most southernmost state, known as Cisplatina
- Brazil was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery, in 1888
- the current native 'Indian' population in Brazil is around 300,000 people
- the term 'Rice Christian' is used, pejoratively, to describe people who convert to Christianity for economic or food gain
- Ayahuasca is a psychedelic drug that is used ceremonially by Amazon tribes people
- Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, means 'Mother of the Gods'
Women dancing by Gustavo Morejon
- Amazonian tribes include the Kalopalo, Tembe, Timbira, Guajajara, Omagua, Mayoruna, Tapajos, Txukahamei, Suya, Mundurucu, Kayapo, Apinage, Craho, Yanomami and many others
- Roger Casement, the Irish patriot, exposed the barbaric enslavement of indigenous tribes people on the Putumayo River in 1912
- there are an estimated 5 million species living in the Amazon region
- palynology is the study of pollen, an important component in paleoecology
- some of the Amazon's tribes believe that fire was stolen from the Gods by the Jaguar, which is similar to the European Promethean myth
- an epiphyte is a plant that grows on top of another one (orchids often do this), without feeding off it
- successional vegetation refers to sun-loving plants that pop up in the places where trees are felled
- Brazilian laws which are referred to as pra ingles ver (for the Englishman to see) are laws which are made to please foreigners and which the government has no intention of enforcing

Image credits:

The reproduction of Paradise or the Garden of Eden by Lucas Cranach the Elder is from Wikicommons and is in the public domain.

The wonderful image of the tribes women dancing is by flickr member Gustavo Morejon, who is a blogger and photographer from Ecuador.  You can find out more about Gustavo's work on his website. Thanks to Gustavo for sharing this image with us using the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, 2 January 2012

Amazonas - How I made Peixe Assado com Farofa

I've struggled a bit to find a suitable dish from Amazonas that I could learn how to cook.  The most traditional dish from this region seems to be Pato no Tucupi or 'Duck with Tucupi sauce'.  Tucupi sauce is made with the liquid extracted from wild manioc roots and is poisonous unless boiled thoroughly.  Try as I might, I couldn't find anywhere to buy Tucupi sauce in London and, not wanting to poison myself by making my own, I resorted to searching for another Amazonian-style dish that would be easier to prepare! 

I'm calling the dish I made Peixe Assado com Farofa, which sounds a lot better than 'Baked Fish with crumbs', which is the English-language translation!  Farofa is a very traditional Brazilian side, made from Cassava flour.  I imagine that the people of the Amazon would eat their farofa with Pirarucu (also known as Arapaima) but again, being London-based, I settled for a nice piece of cod.  Whilst it would have been great to taste a real Pirarucu, it's not an ethical option (not to mention the cost).  The Brazilian government has banned commercial fishing of Pirarucu, due to it's vulnerable conservation status, so I don't expect to see this Amazonian monster on supermarket shelves in the UK any time soon.

Ingredients for Farofa

For the Farofa:

Chilli oil - óleo de pimenta
150g butter - manteiga
1 onion - cebola
1 red chilli - pimentão vermelho
200g Cassava (manioc) flour - farinha de mandioca

For the Baked Fish:

500g cod fillet - filetes de bacalhau
1 bell pepper - pimentão
2 spring onions - cebolinhas
3 plantains - bananas-de-terra
3 tomatoes - tomates
raisins - passas de uva
prunes - passas de ameixa
black olives - azeitonas pretas
3 eggs - ovos
Fresh coriander - coentro fresco

Preparing the Farofa

I did this bit last, but when I make this dish next time, I'll prepare the farofa first, which will give it a chance to cool down.  I started by heating some chilli oil in a frying pan.  Once the oil was hot, I added loads of butter - farofa can be quite dry, so it's good to add lots of butter (not to mention that butter is one of my main vices!).  Almost immediately afterwards, I added the chopped onion and chilli, frying these for a few minutes to let them soften.  Finally I added the Cassava flour and stirred this into the mixture until it formed a crumb-like mixture - I continued to fry the mixture for a few minutes before transferring it to a plastic bowl.

Heat the oil and melt the butter

Add the chopped onion and chilli

Fry until the onion softens

Add the flour and mix to get crumbs

This is the third time that I've cooked with cassava/manioc (see my earlier blogposts on West African Fufu and Paraguayan Payagua Mascada).  I'm not sure that I'll ever get used to the 'woody' taste of cassava and it's amazing to think that this root is eaten by millions of people around the world every day! I didn't quite realise that farofa is often crumbled over the top of a dish to give it a distinctive woody taste.  In retrospect, I might have preferred this to the patties that I made out of the farofa (no doubt I've been influenced by having made Payagua Mascada and Fufu). 

Preparing the fish

This bit was easy although, rather surprisingly, I realised that I've never baked fish before!  For anyone reading this blog for the first time, I'd like to reiterate that this post is in no way meant to be a professional guide to baking fish or preparing farofa! 

Prepare the fish

Add the chopped vegetables

I pre-heated the oven at 180 degrees celsius, put my cod fillet into a metal container layered with tin foil and olive oil, to prevent the baked fish from sticking to the tin.  I then added the sliced peppers, spring onions, plantain and tomatoes and baked these in the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, I took the dish out of the oven and added the olives, raisins, prunes and coriander.  I could have added the raisins and prunes to the farofa, instead of the main dish and this is something I'll consider next time round. 

Add the olives, raisins and prunes

I baked the fish and vegetables for another 15 minutes before adding the cassava patties and topping with three fried eggs.  I then covered the whole dish with tinfoil and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes on a much lower temperature (120 degrees and then 0). 

I impressed myself with the results and I'm really pleased that I learned how to make farofa and bake fish!

Top with fried eggs and farofa

Plate up!


All photos are by me - please feel free to reuse these using the Creative Commons license:

Attribution (especially to this blog)

I looked at a variety of sources which influenced the way that I made this dish.  The most important of these was the following Youtube video from (Nando Cuca), which taught me how to make farofa.  Enjoy!