In search of the orange shrimp

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Rumour has it that there were once two brothers who didn’t get along. Like most siblings, Marco and Pedro would fight…a lot. In an attempt to stop the feuding, their father would take them to the family restaurant after school and put them to work. It was during these long summers that their father’s love of food finally rubbed off on them. And so, armed with a secret family recipe for orange shrimp, they eventually opened up rival restaurants of their own somewhere along the same stretch of beach.

Or so the story goes, depending on who tells it…

Here, in the North-eastern tip of Brazil, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to cuisine. I’m staying in Atins –  a small, remote fisherman’s village on the border of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park.

But it’s not just fresh fish that the area is famous for. Due to its constantly moving sandbanks and flat water spots, it is kite-surfing heaven. The almost perfect conditions attract hundreds of visitors a year from all over the world. In spite of this, the area still manages to feel surprisingly unspoilt.

As our 4×4 pulled up at the restaurant, the owner came out onto the sand to greet us. Gabriela’s smile was as warm as the balmy evening.

Once inside, she explained that the food would come when it’s ready, for everyone to share. Her motto: “In life, there’s nothing more special than sharing a meal and stories with each other”.

That would explain the communal table, complete with wooden benches.

One by one, the dishes arrived in colourful clay bowls that were placed down the centre.

Typical to the region is a dish called Feijoada – a rich and smoky Brazilian Black Bean stew accompanied with fluffy white rice. The flaky Sea Bass baked in salt and zesty lime was also delicious and seemed to explode in my mouth. Moqueca is also a favourite here in the Northeast. The slow roasted seafood stew containing garlic, onions and peppers was packed full of flavour and left a refreshing aftertaste of bright coriander.

Just as I was finishing off the last of my Cajuin (a refreshing non-alcoholic drink made from Cashew fruit), the famous orange shrimp arrived. I thought about the two brothers and the secret family recipe as I tucked in. Dripping with a fragrant dressing made from orange and coconut, they were delicious, plump and incredibly moreish – everything I had hoped for.

The offer of Bolinhos de Chuva (sweet golden dumplings sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon) finished me off and I was stuffed.

Stepping back out onto the white sand, I couldn’t help but wonder what had caused the brothers to fight and eventually go their separate ways. Was it over a girl? Money? The secret family recipe? Just as I climbed back into the Jeep, I turned to Gabriela and asked if she knew anything about the story that everyone was talking about. She smiled.

“Well, I once heard a rumour about a man and wife who would argue all the time…”

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