Monday, August 11, 2008

Amazonian Grub: So ... Suri

News Flash: Suri is not just the name of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter.

In Peru, suri is the name for the larvae, or grub, of Rhynchophorus palmarum, a palm weevil commonly found in the Amazon.

You probably thought the most bizarre food eaten in Peru was cuy.

You were wrong.

In the Amazon, people love to eat suri, those Amazonians grubs, and having had them myself, I can tell you why: they're both delicious and nutritious.

Grubs are eaten in many parts of the world, particularly in the tropics

In Malaysia, people eat the sago worm, in Central Africa grubs are a highly-prized source of protein, and here in California any wilderness survivalist will tell you to search for grubs if you're ever lost and hungry in a forest.

In fact, many experts feel that grubs, and other insects, are one way to combat world hunger.

While grubs may not make an appearance at local restaurant near you anytime in the near future, they're certainly available in Peruvian Amazonian cities like Iquitos.

The reason is simple: they're very prevalent because their main food source is prevalent as well, the aguaje palm, Mauritia flexuosa.

Photo: Wiki

Photo: Wiki

In the Amazon, there are countless aguajes. In fact, because of their ubiquitousness on the Amazonian landscape, the aguaje is often considered one of the symbols of the Amazon, which is why there are so many Amazonian restaurants called El Aguaje or El Aguajal.

Aguajes thrive in flooded soils, forming a dense gathering called an aguajal. Of course, they're susceptible to many types of insects, mainly the palm weevil, called a cocotero in Peru.

The cocotero bores deep holes in the trunks of the aguaje, where it lays its eggs. When the egg hatches, the grub, suri, appears and starts eating its way outward through the spongy wood. The more palm bark it eats, the fatter, and oiler, the suri becomes. The suris are then harvested, and cooked, usually roasted.

If the suri is not harvested, it reaches adulthood and becomes a cocotero, starting the whole process over again. However, aguajes are now being grown as a a cash crop since their fruit is highly marketable. So, in a way, eating suri is a way of helping the Amazon and its economy.

In Iquitos, suri can be eaten at the Mercado de Belén, as well as the port of Nanay. Often they are prepared like anticuchos, brochettes on a skewer, and grilled over hot coals. Many tourists who come to the Amazon enjoy sampling suri.

So, what do they taste like? They're very rich-tasting, soft, mushy, and simply delicious.

It doesn't surprise me considering palm oil is also very flavorful as well as being rich in beta carotene. I've been told suri has curative properties, as well.

Usually, suri are served anticucho-style, but in conducting research for this post, I came across another recipe for suri.

If you have any grubs around, this may be a way to wow your guests at your next dinner party with this dish from Recetas Ricas de la Selva Ucayalina:

Chicharrón de Suri

Ingredients (feeds 6)

1 kilo of suri
1 tablespoon of garlic
1 cup vegetable oil
5 green plantains
Salt to taste

Preparation: Wash the suri well and season with the crushed garlic and salt. Let rest 20 minutes. Fry in hot oil. Separately, boil 4 green plantains (can also be fried plantains). Serve suri with the plantains and a cocona salad.

Finally, what would this post be without a video showing suri in all its facets, alive, grilled, and ready to eat?

The following is from Enlace Nacional, and lasts just 01:40, but gives you the full effect. My translation of the transcript appears below.

Anchor: In Iquitos, a traditional food with great nutritional value is suri, a larvae found in the aguaje trunk, which due to its overpopulation is being sold by residents in the lower Belen zone. The normal price is 50 cents [of a Peruvian sol] for each one.

Reporter: Are you familiar with suri? Do you know its nutritional value and where it comes from? This morning, our cameras in Loreto [Iquitos] went to the Belen Market in search of this delicious regional food. Suri looks like a worm and is found in the trunk of the aguaje. Suri is one of the tourist attractions of Amazonian cuisine.

As we see here, we have suri prepared an anticucho, here we have fried suri ready for sale; and here,. we can see them live. This is a type of sawdust in which they can stay alive for a number of hours.

Suri is also considered helpful in fighting bronchial infections in children.

Man with child: Yes, after cooking them, you take out its fat and give it just like that, they told me to give it like that.

Reporter: We talked with Cristina, a young suri vendor whose parents have been in the suri business for a number of years.

Cristina: Yeah, there are probably 200, 250 suri here.

Reporter: 200, 250 suri. But, there are a lot of people who eat them live, aren't there?

Cristina: Yes.

Reporter: Have you ever eaten them live?

Cristina: No.

Reporter: Why not?

Cristina: Because I'm afraid to eat them alive.

Reporter: Do they bite?

Cristina:Yes, they bite.

Enjoy suri! And remember, eat suri, save the Amazon.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana


Juan Arellano said...

Buena Alejandro, good post as always... big hug.

::Alejandro:: said...

Thanks Juan!

Canelita said...

Wow, never thought I'd go through so many emotions at once while reading a Peru Food post, but I guess it was bound to happen. All in all I found it very informative and entertaining. Silly me, all this time I had foolishly thought I could be a true contender as a "Fear Factor" contestant by having eaten cuy and Oaxacan chapulines (grasshoppers) in the past, and now you had to mention suri...oh, no!

I guess it will now be in my short list of "interesting" food to try sometime in the future, but not so soon yet...suri! :-)

::Alejandro:: said...

Canelita, so what were those emotions anyway? Of course you could NEVER be a contender on Fear Factor, ya te conozco...un abrazo, thanks for the comment.

katiadocumet said...

I love Amazon food, my dad was born in Nauta, but by now I prefer the aguaje, tacacho with cecina, chonta with chili cococa, fried green and sweet bananos, camu camu, taperipá, etc etc...
This gave me hunger!

::Alejandro:: said...

Katia, I love Amazonian food too, all the ones you mention. Nauta? I've been there, it's a nice little town, far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Marian Blazes said...

that's so interesting! i still don't think i could bring myself to try them.

Canelita said...

"Canelita, so what were those emotions anyway?"
Well, since you asked...
I giggled (Suri Cruise), I got a funny feeling in my stomach (suri:grub:worm), had a sense of wonder (connection to the aguaje), got the funny feeling in my stomach again (picture of suri in the aguaje trunk), laughed out loud (wowing my guests by serving suri? don't think so), wonder again (suri's medicinal properties), went "awww..." (loved the accent of the girl in the video), and finally, I got an all-over feeling of satisfaction, having learned a lot about suri, thanks to your post.
(Sorry for these crazy comments, you must be sorry you asked, hahaha).

Elsa said...

Hi Alejandro, thank you for the wonderful posting. I grew up in the Jungle of Peru, (Tarapoto) and I never ate Suri while living there. I do believe they are great source of vitamins. I just have to do it and eat some Suri next time when I am back visiting.

Gloriux said...

Alejandro. Worth wait by messages like this... My sister sonia become more famous :)

::Alejandro:: said...

@ Marian: LOL, when in Rome...

@ Canelita: great response, very well-thought out, you know I too loved that suri vendor's accent, so Iquitos! especially when she says 'porque tengo miedo comer vivo'...

@ elsa: thank you for your comment, hope you try it next time in the Amazon...

@ Gloriux: "My sister sonia become more famous" o sea que ya es algo famosa tu hermana Sonia? :-)