Wherever you travel, visiting fresh markets is always one of the best ways to start your trip.
Not just for the food either, as markets are simply great places to go when you want to experience the daily lives of people from another country, from other ways of life.
In my opinion, its just plain fun! Fresh markets are always visually stimulating, full of powerful smells or new sounds, and as a big bonus – they’re (almost) always free!
In this article, I’d love to tell you about the fresh market in Manaus, Brazil, where you could find what might be the most delicious jungle snack on earth.
What to Eat in Manaus?
Markets in the Amazon are overflowing with things you may be seeing for the first time in your life.
I definitely feel a child-like happiness when it hits me that 99% of what I’m seeing before me is edible. Its easy to lose yourself in such moments of amazement, just standing in awe at the abundance which the Amazon provides.
In Manaus, at the Mercado Adolpho Lisbao (the name of Manaus’ historic central market), feel free to walk around, interact with local people, and learn about all these Amazon ingredients for yourself. I guarantee these hours here are going to be time well spent.
First, the Exotic Fruit
If you’re very lucky, taste testing may also be part of this self-lead tour, and when there’s as much wild and exotic fruit flowing around you like there is in Manaus, well then that’s a great situation indeed.
In this article, I’ll share first a bit about the market itself, and then I just have to tell you about the coolest snack I think I’ve ever seen.
Let’s get to the market!
Manaus City, in Amazonas, Brazil
Manaus is a city literally in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
Imagine for yourself the feeling of being more than an entire day’s drive from the next nearest city (go check out a map of Manaus, you can use Google maps here, and zoom out to get some perspective – amazing.)
Manaus is a wonderful place to walk around in, to see, to smell, and its truly hard to comprehend how many new flavors there are here just waiting for your tastebuds to explore.
Fresh Produce Paradise
Walking through the market this morning, I can guess that in under 5 minutes you’ll see a dozen new foods – fresh items you might not see anywhere else in the world.
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Natural produce coming straight from the Amazon jungle is in abounding in Manaus (we actually have an entire article just for the fruit, you can read that article here).
One of the coolest new fruits for us this day is ‘tucumã,’ an amazing Amazon palm fruit.
This is the key ingredient to the amazing snack I’m wanting to show you.
Tucumã (Local Palm Fruit)
Tucumã palm fruit is meaty, its juicy, its a natural product that may even remind you of the flavors and texture of a sweet beef jerky.
Whatever you compare it to, this bright, orange, oily nut, is for sale everywhere you look, and it is the key ingredient to my newest, tastiest, favorite jungle snack.
Surprisingly Meaty Flavors
The palm fruit’s texture is oily, and ever so slightly chalky (it makes me think of avocado, the hint of bitterness you taste if you’re eating a lot of it in one sitting). Its so meaty you might even think of eating it as part of a meal, all on its own!
The amount of different types of palm trees in the Amazon is incredible, and tucumã palm is one of the most useful Amazon species as well. Its oils are an ingredient in skin care products, hair products, rejuvenating oils, and it has a wonderfully low saturating fat content compared to other palm nut species eaten in our world.
Ok, enough info, lets get to the tasting!
Restaurante de Hei Davi
Your first market visit in central Manaus needs to include Restaurante Hei Davi, a family-run restaurant serving food near the main market area.
At this restaurant, you can have a huge breakfast full of fried fish, or fruit blends and drinks, all including the local fruits you may have just seen on some of the market’s tables.
The Tucumã Palm Snack
For me though, the most amazing thing here is that you’ll also find tucumã palm nut as the key ingredient to an incredibly simple, and yet ultimately delicious snack.
You could call it a ‘tapioca crepe’ in English, but all the key ingredients come straight from the Amazon – this amazing food creation will just blow you away.
Tapioca Crepe (Amazon Palm Sandwich)
Although it looks something like a Mexican Taco the first time you see it, the white outer covering is definitely not flour, or a corn tortilla.
Far from any of the ‘normal’ ingredients you might expect to find inside this very recognizable shape of food, this tapioca white crepe is a delicious example of Brazil’s incredible variety.
Using only three simple ingredients in a raw tapioca wrapper, I promise that in this snack here, your tongue could be having its next ‘taste revelation.’
How Brazilians Eat ‘Creppe de Tapioca‘
The chef starts by sifting raw tapioca flour, and pressing it into a hot pan. Amazingly, with tapioca, you can cook without adding even a drop of oil.
Adding a few chunks of a local white cheese, about 15 seconds after the tapioca begins cooking in the pan, this tapioca crepe is already coming together.
A ripe banana goes on next, heating just to the point where it is gloriously sticky, just beginning to caramelize, and the sweet banana flavors will ooze into the other crepe ingredients.
That’s it, and its on a plate for you in 90 seconds or less.
Amazon Peach Palm Sandwich
Given the delicious balance though, of the fatty outer covering of tucumã, the grilling cheese (which is warm as well) these mushy and sweet bananas just make a mind-blowingly tasty and simply combination all held by a the simple tapioca (or bread) covering.
The cheese is just full of umami flavors, as is the tucumã palm fruit itself.
The bananas that go with it have a flavoring of only cinnamon, and are ultra sweet if you eat them on their own (still tasty, but even that much better when you balance the sweetness with the rich, slightly bitter, slightly chalky flavors of the palm nut flesh).
To make this simple sandwich even more basic (bit definitely just as tasty!), its very common to replace the local tapioca with white bread, making an ‘Amazon Sub Sandwich.’
I love the idea, I love the simplicity, and I love how I have no idea if this food is eaten anywhere else in the entire world.
How to Order This Food
Order one of each sandwich style (both bread and tapioca), and grab a tall bottle of hot sauce and chili oil to share.
You are going to want to douse every bite with this spicy oil, and enjoy amazing flavors in one of the most unique and genius sandwiches ever.
Honestly it is like a Submarine sandwich straight from the amazon rainforest.
The tapioca starch is so much crispier than the bread, and that version of this Amazon sandwich is just another level of delicious and cool.
One of the more ingeniously simple yet deliciously mouth watering hand held foods in the entire world. I miss Manaus just by thinking of these amazing tapioca crepes.
Incredible Natural Oils
The Amazon fruit of tucumã contains some of the highest amounts of press-able oils (by volume) of any of the earth’s palm fruits. This is one of the more healthy oils you could ever want to start off your day eating.
I could eat this every morning and never be more happy, but its even so much more amazing to learn how its a healthy snack at that!
Note: Just before moving on to any more restaurant sections of the market though, I have to recommend that you take some time to visit a fish-seller’s table – the freshwater fish of the Amazon are definitely one of the food highlights of any visit to this area, and you can read more about the fish (and tons of other local foods) in another article here.
If you are still curious for other things to try in the market, then I can recommend one more thing made here using tapioca.
This cup is full of starch, oatmeal, and sweet milk. Serving it warm, this is a delicious (and very filling) little cup that you could eat along with your Amazon tapioca crepes.
This is the cup in the 2nd picture, near the top of this article.
Name: Cafe da Manha Rei Davi
Location: Google Maps (link here)
Hours: 6am – 5pm (Open Daily), 6am – 1pm on Sunday.
Price: R$10-12 for each sandwich (US$2.50-3)