It 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 paired with 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 Sebastian 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 the farm beds by boat, the large grey shells became clear as the sun hit the water. Dona 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 about how the abundant number of oysters that grow here provide the perfect sustainable source for farming, as around 10 little oysters can grown from one single shell, allowing the farmers to continuously produce without depleting the mangroves – even the shells of the oysters we had were thrown back on specific beds as from the shells the cycle continues. Dona laid the oysters open on the table and paired each one with lemon and chillies. I eagerly shucked one. Succulent and sweet, the full 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 recognition since 2015 due to their particular flavour, size and suppleness. There has been a rediscovery of this delicacy amongst chefs like Alex Atala from Michelin starred D.O.M.
The very special flavour of the oyster here is due to unique geographic conditions, with the cold Antarctic stream proving the optium sea temperatures for the growth of larger oysters, enhancing a one-of-a-kind flavour: succulent and iodized with a sought-after tanginess.
The oysters, naturally-occurring 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.
Dona 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 the multicultural landscape of the country.
Later, Dona’s husband arrived with the catch of the day: anchovies and tropical fish. He also brought stories of the mysteries of the mangroves intertwined in fisherman folk tales.
Dona 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 unique red honey from special blossom bees unique to these mangroves. It was amazing to taste such large, succulent oysters with honey, something I had never tried before. She carefully prepared one for me drizzling it generously with the red honey. “This honey is full of healing properties” – she said. The flavor was like a red berry infused honey but woodier, very fragrant, and paired with the less salty oyster was a balanced perfect taste – sweet and smokish natural bliss. We threw the shells back in the water so other oysters could grow from them, keeping the cycle abundant.
On our way back from the oyster farm, I saw an explosion of red in the air, wide like a firework display. “That’s Pedro,” said Dona. A fisherman, Pedro was throwing his net to catch prawns. Just another magical 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.
Photography by François Correia & Rogério Maranhão