Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Amazon Rainforest | Paiche

I first wrote about my trip to Iquitos a few weeks ago, and mentioned having a bit of an "Amazon Adventure Checklist" for the trip. One of my first demands, of course, was that that I get to the Amazon river itself as soon as possible!

I foolishly considered tossing myself into the river as soon the guide boat glided free of the shore - moments before being told to watch out for piranhas and paiche.

Piranhas I know all about (they're hilarious!), but paiche were new to me.

Paiche are the largest freshwater fish in the Amazon river, being large enough to give an adult human a pretty good fight if they were to piss one off. They're considered great sport fishing by the natives and breathe through a creepy lung-like-but-not-a-lung organ instead of gills.

My favorite part of the paiche crash-course, however, was learning that these lung-fish are considered "living fossils".

The next day, I was treated to a variety of local dishes, and was pretty enthusiastic to learn that the first course would be paiche! Our cook skillfully cleaned a local fisherman's catch, then fried thick fillets of paiche in palm oil and sprinkled them with salt. The paiche was served with long strands of pale green vegetables that looked a bit like fettucini, as well as fried plantains and fresh tomatoes.

While it might seem obvious, fresh Amazon paiche makes a great meal! The fish is moist and sweet, with a texture like swordfish. The light green vegetables are called chonta, and are harvested from the hearts of palm trees and have a fresh, almost cucumber-like flavor. The cook actually called the chonta "jungle pasta".

There was small-talk around the meal, of course, and I was educated more thoroughly about paiche by our guide. He mentioned the living fossil bit and mentioned that paiche were incredibly easy to catch because they had to surface every few minutes to breathe, and that their tendency to come up for air made the paiche so easy to catch that they had been put on a protected species list ...

... wait, WHAT!?

Luckily, there weren't any Amazon Rangers lurking about to arrest me, but from then on out I learned to ask lots of questions before being fed the sort of "delicacies" that might get me fined or jailed on these sorts of trips.

Mmm ... forbidden paiche

SO, did I stop eating the paiche?

Heck no! Paiche is delicious on its own, and I bet it would make for divine fish 'n' chips, ceviche, and McFish Filets, as well! Unfortunately for the rest of the paiche, the fish is too damn delicious and too easy to catch to stick around in the wild much longer - so maybe you should start some sort of letter-writing campaign to open up some hatcheries or something.

So, whatever. Do what you must to make it happen, but I strongly suggest adding "fresh grilled paiche" to your culinary bucket list ...

... just watch out for piranhas.


  1. I'm dying to try this fish! I became familiar with it because I'm addicted to this program on Animal Planet called 'River Monsters.' It's hosted by a British explorer/angler who travels the world's bodies of fresh water catching interesting large fish, and one of my fave episodes was one where he traveled to the Amazon and fished for an Arapaima.

    If you haven't seen it, check it out sometime--they show repeats all the time! I'll see if I can score some grilled paiche when I visit my sister in Brazil in the future!

  2. I love that you're into that show. I've been meaning to watch it ever since I read your blog post about it.

    I didn't know you had a sister in Brazil (take me with you!). I'd love to hear about your trip when you come back.

  3. Surprise!!! Farm raised paiche from Peru