A writer rediscovers the magic of his home country on a trip to a sustainable farm in a Brazilian mangrove filled with fresh-water oysters.
Photography by François Correia & courtesy of Kenoa Resort
t was like a picture of the Brazilian matriarch. She was sitting serenely on a bright yellow wooden chair under an almond tree– barefoot in a flower skirt and an electric pink t-shirt with BOWIE in big letters across the front. A local to the Alagoas Lagoon Basin in the north of Brazil, Dona Sebastiana showed me to the canoes where she and her team fish.
Entering the mangroves on foot, we had a chance to chat about her oyster farm (and Bowie, of course) but I was a little distracted by the bright blue and fire-red crabs moving sideways in surreal synchronicity, claws up.
The shimmering shine of the oyster farm caught my eye from a distance. As we approached by boat, the large grey shells became clear in the diffused light of the mangroves. Sebastiana set a table on top of the canoe and grabbed a few large oysters with her hands, straight from the water. As she cleaned each one, she explained her sustainable operation. “They grow here, everywhere, and I clean all of my beds twice a day,” she said, explaining that the natural abundance of oysters provide a sustainable source for farming. Around eight oysters can grow from one single shell, allowing the farmers to continuously produce without depleting the mangroves.
Sebastiana laid the oysters open on the table and paired each one with lime and chillies. I eagerly shucked one. Succulent and sweet, the flavour filled my mouth. It was nothing like the kind I’ve had to endure in restaurants with a strong ‘sea’ taste. These were soft, delicate, and the freshest kind I’ve ever experienced.
Brazilian oysters have been gaining recent recognition due to their particular flavour, size and suppleness. A rediscovery of this delicacy amongst chefs like Alex Atala from Michelin-starred D.O.M is due to unique geographic conditions of the cold Antarctic stream providing an optimal temperature for the growth of larger oysters.
The oysters in the mangroves of the Alagoas lagoon basin have been a local food staple for hundreds of years. The indigenous community has recently started to take care of the wild population to ensure healthy growth and top-notch quality. This produces a delicacy for sophisticated palates, without any detriment to the environment.
Sebastiana partnered with Kenoa Exclusive Resort, a luxury hotel near the nature reserve where her farm lives. All of the produce served at Kenoa comes from sustainable farms and businesses sponsored exclusively by the hotel. The creation of hotelier Pedro Marques, Kenoa is an ode to the heritage of Brazil. African, European and Indigenous cultures are woven into a luxury experience graced by the multicultural landscape of the country.
Sebastiana handed me an ice-cold bottle of champagne to wash down the oysters before cleaning another bunch of about six more to try. This time she paired the bunch with her red honey from special blossom bees unique to these mangroves. She carefully drizzled one explaining, “This honey is full of healing properties.” The flavor was like a red-berry infused honey but woodier and very fragrant– sweet and smoky. We threw the shells back in the water so other oysters could grow from them, keeping the cycle abundant.
Later, Sebastiana’s husband arrived with the catch of the day: anchovies and tropical fish. He also brought stories of mysteries of the mangroves intertwined in fisherman folk tales.
On our way back from the oyster farm, I saw an explosion of color in the air, bright red like a firework display. “That’s Pedro,” said Sebastiana. A fisherman, Pedro was throwing his net into the water to catch prawns. Just another surreal encounter in this remarkable place where people are named after apostles and indigenous deities.
It was like being on another planet, one that I had forgotten existed, but being native to Brazil, it was right in my backyard. “Ground control to Major Tom” echoed in my mind as we cruised back through a vast network of channels in the mangroves. This time I was a little quiet. I wanted to hold onto the moment: totally unaware of anything beyond the experience where a fisherman, a farmer and a writer talked life and Bowie over oysters and champagne.