After two days of traveling, I reach São Paulo with my precious cargo.
“Finally! We have been without ants for a week now,” Alex Atala says as I arrive with a fresh shipment of saúva ants from São Gabriel da Cachoeira, located in the upper part of the Amazon Basin near the border of Venezuela and Columbia. “It was our worst week ever,” adds his assistant, Andrea Campos.
Atala is Brazil’s most celebrated chef, a popular hero on par with soccer legend Pelé, and the godfather of bossa nova, Tom Jobim. His restaurant D.O.M. is currently listed as number nine onRestaurant Magazine’s list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, renowned for its innovative use of indigenous Brazilian ingredients.
And the most famous dish? Well, it is not really a dish, but a precious commodity: saúva ants picked by the legendary Baré Indian, Doña Brazi. Atala often serves them with a small piece of pineapple, or might sprinkle them on top of a meringue. It sounds a bit like a provocation from a rock star chef, something to post on Instagram, but not something to actually enjoy. At least that is the impression you are left with if you taste ants on a number of restaurant menus around the world.
All photos by Mette Randem.