Thursday, November 24, 2011

Berimbau: The best açaí I've never had

Hash de Bacalhau (front), caipirinha, feijão and arroz (middle), omelet (top).
I'm pretty sure I've found the best açaí in New York City. I'm only pretty sure, because I haven't tried it.

A Berimbau
 Joel "Pica Pau" Zimmer
Raízes do Brasil 
This past Saturday, my roommate and I enjoyed a boozey Brazilian brunch at Berimbau in the West Village. Named after a stringed percussion instrument you've probably seen and heard in capoeira circles, Berimbau, is a wonderful place to begin, or end, your weekend. I imagine it's a great dinner spot as well.

Berimbau menu has a mix of traditional Brazilian dishes as well as Brazilian inspired American dishes. I have a personal rule of sticking with traditional plates, like feijoada, a stew of black beens and mystery meats which has risen from its peasant origins to become the national dish or moqueca, a seafood stew made with palm oil and coconut milk. On this morning, however, I was craving breakfast, so I selected a scramble of eggs and bacalhau, salted cod fish that is a popular Portuguese import to Brazil. And to drink, a caipirinha, of course! I can never go to a Brazilian joint and not order cachaça, even if it's only a few minutes past noon. My lingering headache from the previous evening's activities quickly subsided after a few sips. Berimbau's caipirinhas are strong and not overly sweet, just the way I like them. 

Note that I haven't yet mentioned açaí, the Amazonian wonder-fruit. Although açaí was the first thing I ordered, well, second after the caipirinha, I was politely denied it. That's right. Our friendly waitress, Marietta, patiently explained that there was no acaí that Saturday. The batch that had been delivered was not fit to be served. Upon hearing this, I was at first disappointed, but after a moment of reflection, I realized this was a good sign. 

You see, there is so much horrible açaí in this country, polluting the supermarket shelves and juice bars menus nation wide. And the worst part is, American consumers don't even know it. They've never tasted the real thing, unadulterated by other fruit flavors and the preservatives often required for this "miracle fruit" to survive its long trip from the Amazon rainforest. Despite not knowing what they are paying for, women's-magazine-reading, weigh-wathcing, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz fans are willing to cough up cash for all sorts of food products and supplements claiming açai as an ingredient. Even when the açai "flavor" comes through, these consumers can't judge it as good or bad. It's just new or different to them, and companies take advantage of their ignorance.

For these reasons, I was highly impressed by Berimbau's honesty and commitment to quality. Bermibau isn't trying to fool anyone or take advantage of the US "miracle fruit" marketing schemes. I will surely return to Berimbau for açaí na tigela com granola, and am confident it will be the most authentic, delicious açaí I will have tasted outside of Brazil. 

In case you find yourself craving açaí before you can get to Berimbau, I leave you with a few tips on finding good acaí in New York City and outside of Brazil.
  • NO JUICE. I have never come across acaí juice in Brazil. In Belém, the capitol of Pará state and one of the largest exporter's of açaí, the amazonian berries are mashed, and the liquid pulp is served a bowl. Paranaenses will add manioc flour or toasted tapioca for crunch. When I lived in Belém, I ate açaí líquido every Sunday with my lunch of fried fish. In southern Brazil, acaí pulp is blended with ice and guaraná syrup to make thick smoothies or served in a bowl and topped with granola, bananas and strawberries for a healthy, post-gym power snack. 
  • NO POWDER. Before you order that smoothie from your local juice bar, ask about the acaí. If the answer is powder, just say no! Do you drink powdered milk? Yeah, I didn't think so. (Please ignore the fact that powered milk is widely consumed in Brazil). I also steer clear of flavored syrups as well. If the answer is frozen concentrate, however, you may proceed. It's the closest thing you'll get to the real deal.
  • EVEN IF IT'S TASTEY, IT MIGHT NOT TASTE LIKE AÇAI. I bet this cereal is actually quite good, but there's no way in green hell that it tastes like açaí. This product would never sell in Brazil, and the flavor combination would be considered quite strange. Though they can be bought in grocery stores everywhere, apples grow only in the southern most part of Brazil. In northern Brazil, a bowl of açaí a day keeps the doctor away. 

1 comment:

  1. I intend to send soon the real acai direct from Belem do Para - Brazil. Wait.