The Acai berry (pronounced Assahee) used to be unknown outside the Amazonian region until the mid 80’s, even in Brazil.
Who introduced the Acai to Rio, and to the rest of the country, was a tiny restaurant of Northern food located by coincidence on the same block where I grew up in Copacabana, the Arataca.
The place has grown and has spread throughout Rio but, at least until I last went there, the original small and sweaty “boteco” where everything began was still there on Domingos Ferreira Street near Siqueira Campos with the same staff from those early days.
The way it was served was typical from the Amazon, and quite different from the way one sees it in health shops throughout the world. It was a thick, dark, almost muddy sort of a porridge mixed with a sort of a white cous-cous looking thing made of softened tapioca.
In the early eighties it was discovered by Jiu Jitsu fighters and by weight lifters as being highly caloric and healthy; it is a distant relative of the avocado. It was from these guys that the berry reached the international health food scene recommended by several celebrities.
As it rots fast it is mainly exported as frozen pulp and usually reaches the consumers mixed with all sorts of different healthy additives and other fruit. What they get tastes very different to the Arataca’s strange but tasty exotic porridge that we discovered decades ago.