Friday, 1 January 2010

What to eat on the beach in Guarapari

In 1865 Charles Fred Hartt travelled down the coast of Brazil from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro and wrote a detailed and fascinating account of his travels (available online at Although there are numerous asides, his intention was to describe the geography and natural history of this section of the coast, which he does very thoroughly. One location he describes particularly well is the town of Guarpari, just along the coast from Vitoria.

A village for Harrt, the modern town of Guarapari now has an official population of 105,000 though this is dwarfed by the numbers of Mineiro tourists who arrive in the holiday season. As well as beautiful gold and black beaches (which have a secret of their own - see a future blog) there are reefs of ragged sandstone and outcrops of hard gneiss rock. The seas off Espirito Santo are especially rich and diverse, being a meeting point of marine ecosystems from the north and south, and Hartt reports on the richness and diversity of the fisheries. Even so, he is rather scathing on how poorly it is exploited, and how most (richer presumably) people in Vittoria ate imported cod and sardines. For the poorer people of the town however, there was food to be had direct from the beach.

Look now at the clefted rocks, washed by the waves, and you see a patchwork of green, red/brown and black - a meal can be devised from these bare ingredients alone. Although it may not get the stomach juices flowing (well, not in a good way) it is nutritious, easy to collect and can be eaten raw.

The green is Ulva lactuca, or the Sea Lettuce. Yes, it is edible, either raw, in soups, or in many different ways, and it is fairly high in protein. Apparently steaming is more nutritious, but considerably less appetising, than frying. The problem comes when huge amounts get washed ashore after storms, decompose on the beach, and release clouds of hydrogen sulphide that can knock out passing tourists).

The black is ....

Urchin of the day
Echinometra lucunter, the Rock boring urchin

Numerous authors have commented on the large numbers of Echinometra lucunter on the coast of Espirito Santo, but especially at Gurarpari. The English name of this species is the Rock Boring Urchin, and here they give the general impression of honeycombing the rocks. Using their spines, and teeth on the underside of their bodies, they erode the rock or coral beneath them, creating a nice safe hole to shelter from wave action, and predators, and a reservoir of sea water for low tide. Over time this can create quite a lot of damage to reefs and rocks.

Thus by eating sea urchins you are protecting the environment. Yes, they are actually edible, technically, and at one time were eaten in large numbers along this part of the coast. This is hardly surprising as they were, and are, abundant, quite large (up to 15cm), and they don't run very fast. Having said that, they rather selfishly sit snugly at the bottom of holes and are equipped with toxic, sharp hard spines, so a certain amount of ingenuity is required. Infact, about 50% of the injuries seen in emergency units in Brazilian coastal towns are caused by sea urchin spines. In the event of wounding, you should immerse the area in hot water to deactivate the toxin, and immediately go to casualty, as removal of spines is not easy, they fragment like sphrapnel and unremoved fragments can become infected.

Although E. lucunter has been described as of "no particular culinary interest", urchins around the world are regarded as a delicacy. As a public service, here is a guide to eating sea urchins.

In general they can be eaten raw, and food should certainly be prepared from living urchins. Break open the shell and remove the "tongues" (gonads) for marinating. Harvesting is best done in December to Jan in the northern hemisphere as this is the hight of reproductive cycle and the gonads are bigger. Pretty much anything can be done then, from light par boiling to soups. Several recipes include marinating in a mixture of spices, presumably as this reduces the taste of sea urchin. Lastly, should you be vegetarian, but desperate to try one, urchins are technically defined as vegetables in Greek religious law.

Identifying sea urchins is an arcane art, at which I am the most naive of novices. Hart describes them as E. michelini, but modern authors call them E. lucunter. I've plumped for the latter.


Steven said...

I don't think you are going to have a lot of success persuading Brazilians to eat seaweed! Maybe if there are any of Korean descent they will make seaweed soup.

sann2282 said...

A really interesting blog, which is a treasure trove of information!

The nearby beach of Kovalam also has a gold and black beach, and I am waiting to read your future blog post divulging the secret behind this phenomenon.

As for seaweeds, I made a maki sushi with nori (Porphyra?) yesterday for the parents. Presumably, everyone should learn from the Japanese and Chinese (and other SE Asian nations- although I am certain that I may have unknowingly excluded other cuisines) who have made good use of such resources.

Steve said...

You are right, it is a very interesting blog.

In Wales they eat laverbread (which is not bread at all) See but made from seaweed.


Macaco verde said...

Thank you both, it's great to get feedback! I have never tried laverbread, but I have had fried seaweed in Japanese restaurants and it is rather tasty.

I didn't realise that nori was actually seaweed too - I wish I was able to prepare sushi myself, it is something I should learn. Perhaps I should not dismiss urchins without giving them a fair trial!

Regarding the sands of Kovalam, there is indeed a link with Guarapari, which I shall divulge on a future occasion!