Thursday, January 9, 2014

Something Strange This Way Brews

Did I ever tell you about that time we ate psychotropic soup?

There is an Amazonian soup that is known as Tacacá (pronounced: "tah-kah-KAH") that is made with broth of a fermented poisonous root base, known as Tucupi (pronounced: too-koo-pee), and incorporates the leaves of a plant called Jambú (pronounced: "zhahm-boo"), which is known (among other things) for medicinal uses and, um, biological pest control applications.

Congratulations! You now know 100% more than we did before we ingested it.

"...yes, some people don't like it."

"Some people say it makes their mouth numb."

"Some people have become a little 'excited' due to the strength of the taste."

"Some people start to scratch their entire bodies, and get agitated."

To which I asked (each time), "The plant?"

The hostess ignored me explained that it is a traditional plant used in many dishes in the northern region of Brazil, in the Amazonias. My friend noted that I might be "allergic", since she had been "allergic" when she tried a dish made with this plant before.

Although this may seem like an overabundance of information for someone about to partake in a Gargamel-style special, because no one came out and said the words,

"There have been known psychoactive effects, when the medicinal plant is combined with the fermented poisonous root broth."

I was still unclear as to what would unfold.

They didn't mention the fermented poisonous root broth? Nope. Neither the hostess, nor my friend (who is now suspect in my book) thought it would behoove me to have the full picture.

Experimentation is always more fun that way!

We were trying out a new restaurant that had popped up in our neighborhood, in recent months. It seemed like we were always going to eat elsewhere when we saw it, so just days before, we'd made the decision to go try it out the next time we decided to grab a bite.

We did note the curious absence of any kind of hint as to what type of restaurant it was.

You know:

Culinary Description (Bar-B-Que, Sushi, Vegan, etc.)
Kind of Scene (Restaurant, Grill, Bar & Grill, etc.)

This restaurant simply had a one-word name, which appeared to be a play on the word "rare."

Our friends called, and mentioned that they were just a few blocks away, so we thought it was a perfect opportunity to go check it out. My husband kept saying, "you know, that new restaurant..."

They said they'd meet us there, so it was a date. I was very excited to go.

It was a beautiful restaurant! It was chic, upscale, and romantic, with strategically placed low-lit luminaires that cast a certain glow. By the time we arrived, our friends were already deep in conversation with the owner. We learned that she uses the recipes and ingredients of the Amazonian people of northern Brazil. My friend noted that I might be allergic to a few of the plants that she uses in her dishes.

One drawback in moving to a new country or region, is that one may discover "new allergies" while living there. A pepper that is used, "just for the smell," and a leafy plant that is similar to lettuce (that I'm sure is a distant cousin of the radish) are the two main culprits to which I am allergic; and they use them in almost everything in this region of the country.

There was, however, a hitch to this particular restaurant, in that even after I told her which items I was allergic to... she just ignored me again said that she puts them in all the dishes. That was that. Not only rude, but weird: any other restaurant that I've been to here in Goiânia has offered to withhold the items to which I'm allergic, from their dish.

The much-discussed mystery plant was in the entree that we selected, along with 3 jumbo shrimp in a native broth. To be honest, I just wanted the shrimp. We are [way] inland, so shrimp is a rarity for us.

When the entree arrived, I noticed the strange little tripod cauldron with ornate handles, in which it was ceremoniously served. She explained that this is a "traditional" serving dish, and she would instruct us as to how to proceed.

It was at this point, that I began to wonder about the whole "ritual" of the experience. I also considered that she could just be "show-boatin'," as we say back home.

My husband took the first sip from the urn. He said it was delicious. My friend issued another warning that I should avoid the leaves, and start with the broth to see if there would be any adverse effects. I tried it. It was awesome, and not unlike watered down steak sauce - A.1., to be precise.

My friend wasn't having any, since she's allergic to shrimp. They said that last time her husband ate shrimp and then kissed her on the lips, (in her husband's words) "she swoll up like Angelina Jolie for the rest of the evening." Ha-ha!

After drinking quite a bit, with seemingly no ill effects (I really couldn't get enough of the broth) I decided to try one of the leaves. I chose one of the smallest, just in case.

The initial reaction was of my tongue and mouth going numb, followed by my throat... and about five minutes later, I recognized the psychotropic effects. It was freaky-deaky (and not in a good way), but still low on the freaky scale compared to the no disclaimer policy, prior to being served this far-out fare.

Everyone started talking excitedly at the same time (or maybe it just seemed that way because I was high), all trying to explain the effects of this entree. This includes my friend, who wasn't partaking: she's just naturally caffeinated.

I sat straight up — almost convulsed to attention — and it felt like the bones of my cranium were being expanded. Within minutes, I had a migraine that lasted for about 24 hours. My husband was mildly freaking out, stating that he had "never experimented with drugs, but [was] quite sure this is what mushroom tea must feel like."
Apparently, the more leaves are ingested with the broth, the more intense the chemical reaction. (Read: psychoactive!) It was later that I found out that the leaves are used for their medicinal properties of anesthesia in other areas in the country. I was fortunate, in that I only ate 3 small leaves before I recognized weirdness. My husband, on the other hand, had eaten the equivalent of half a can of cooked spinach. However, I drank a whole lot more broth than he did.
At the point where it felt like my brain was going to explode, we asked for the check and my friend says, "I told you, you might have an allergic reaction." I told her it most definitely wasn't an allergy, so much as it was a psychotropic effect.

Then she says, "Oh... maybe that's why that time I had some, I freaked out and ran out of the restaurant, all the way to my mom's house in the next neighborhood. I thought it was the shrimp."

I wanted to strangle her.

The final results were that the anesthetic properties of the leaves caused my husband to pass out directly, after the short drive home. Four blocks, and he face-planted on our bed, fully clothed: shoes and all.

In my case, however, the stimulating properties of the broth (that happens to contain lethal amounts of hydrogen cyanide, prior to fermenting) caused my heart to nearly beat out of my chest. I went through the motions of jogging, doing flips, possibly the running man, and jumping jacks from a lying position on my bed, for the next 2 hours. This was accentuated with occasional muscle spasms, shouts, and groans for help. That was in addition to the migraine that wouldn't let go - even the next day.

The thing that bugged us was not only the outrageous prices of this restaurant (they charged us 40 bucks for a 16oz soup), but the lack of warning from our friends who had apparently been there, done that.

The restaurant wasn't new. It had just been remodeled.

It was empty, I'm assuming, because others had heard of the curious chow served to the unaware, and steered clear.

All in all, we would like to have been privy to the big picture, so that we could PASS... but, as my friend would concur, where's the fun in that?

At the very least, this event was yet another a testament to the validity of my screen name.

Image found here.

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