Sunday, January 15, 2017

Street Gastronomy: Acai Berry Drink from the Favela Streets of Rocinha (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Visiting the favelas (slums) of Brazil used to be impossible for estranhos e estrangeiros. It meant possible bodily harm and loss of life and property. These were dens for drug dealers, violent gangs and lowlives. But during my visit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's most important city, there was an opportunity to visit a favela - through an NGO that sponsors this tour. What's more important, the community supports the NGO because it runs schools for the children of these slums. All the proceeds of the tour will go to the upkeep and maintenance of these schools - so as a result, tourists from these tours are being "protected" by the community. Moreover, it's an opportunity to learn about the condition of people living there. But this isn't the main topic here.

This post will just talk about the "acai drink" extracted from the acai plant (Euterpe olarecea), some would refer to as the "tree of life" in Brazil. 


Its growing popularity is due to researches that bill it as a "superfood" because it is "extremely" rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It tastes like raspberry and when chewing it, has an aftertaste like chocolate. 

Oprah raves about it. It's a miracle drink for some. It is used as a supplement for those with weight loss programs, particularly when synergized with Spirulina intake. Even KFC Japan offers "acai slush" for dessert. 


My Rio favela tour, which is being hotly debated in some travel forums, took me to, among others, Rocinha, Brazil's biggest favela, located in the city's zona sul (south zone) between Sao Conrado and Gavea, and has Copacabana as among its neighbors. In fact, the work force of zona sul mostly comes from here. It has a population of roughly 70,000. 

Rocinha eventually developed from a slum to a shanty town complete with banks, schools and little shops. There was increased police visibility all around. My tour group comprised of mostly North Americans and Europeans. I was the lone Asian. I was seated beside a Canadian airhead, a guy who spoke like he "owned the world" when all the while I thought I already beat him to it. Hah! Joke.

We were dropped off this avenue, not much different from the chaotic little streets near Manila, and I saw this stall selling an acai drink. Would I miss the opportunity of tasting its more authentic version? It was actually sweet and refreshing. I get the reference to raspberry but maybe the mixture diluted the "chocolate" taste? I loved the addition of nuts on top. Can I have a cup more?

But the group has taken their stride towards a street that leads to a house with a sprawling view of Rocinha, which is just a kilometer from the beach.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

N.B. "Acai" is pronounced "a-sai".
Rocinha, the biggest favela in Brazil.

Van stopped here then we walked. 

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