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I recently returned from a short trip to Fernando De Noronha, an archipelago of 21 islands about 220 miles off the coast of mainland Brazil, with my Brazilian-born friend Sergio. He and I found this remote natural paradise a perfect spot for scuba diving and quiet relaxation. I’ve so far shared the adventures of my American Airlines flight to the the Brazilian beach city of Recife, my Azul Airlines connecting flight to Fernando de Noronha, a review of my Fernando hotel, the Ecopousada Teju Açu and a private SUV tour of the island’s beaches. Today’s post will explore the wonderful things I ate while I was there.
Although the Fernando de Noronha’s main island, Noronha, is fairly small, I dined like a king while I was there. My absolute favorite spot was Ze Maria, which is a restaurant in a boutique hotel, or pousada. My friend Sergio and I went twice during our trip – once for the Saturday night buffet and once for a BBQ lunch during our island tour – and both experiences were phenomenal.
We were invited to Ze Maria’s Saturday night buffet by the owner’s son, Tuca Noronha, who’s considered by many Brazilians to be the de facto prince of Noronha, a kind of public relations ambassador for the island. He and his father are both famous in Brazil for their warm hospitality and have close relationships with all kinds of Brazilian celebrities, from rock stars to politicians.
By the time we arrived at Ze Maria at 8pm, it felt like everyone on the island had come out to enjoy the “Festival Gastronomico,” a bi-weekly feast dinner party with music and more than 45 dishes, combining incredibly fresh seafood and live Brazilian music. Though this party happens every Saturday and Wednesday, it fills up extremely quickly. We were on waitlist of 40 people, but luckily we had a friend of a friend who knew the owners so we were invited to sit at their table.
The meal started off with everyone crowding around a big table and the owner, Ze Maria, proudly pointing out everything that the chef, Mariana Moura, had made. The buffet was just mind-blowing, with everything from whole fish to ceviche and sashimi, and even a huge dish of paella.The pousada claims that if they run out of anything you can stay for a week for free, but I wasn’t surprised to learn that this never, ever happens.
My favorite dishes were the oyster soup, jalapeño rice and a super fresh wahoo (a type of white fish) that had been lightly pan-fried. The fisherman who caught this fish came to our table to let us know he’d made his catch only five hours earlier – how about that for fresh seafood?
The whole evening was a total blast – I felt like everyone around me was family, their warmth and friendliness making everything feel especially fun and inclusive. I was able to practice my Portuguese (making strides, easier after a couple cervejas!) with some of the locals, which was a big bonus.
I also got hooked on a new drink – vodka and coconut water. This genius concoction hydrates you even as you dehydrate yourself with alcohol, resulting in the perfect hangover-free (almost) beverage.
After dessert started to wind down, people started dancing, and I couldn’t resist the temptation of a little samba. After a few spins around the dance floor, we went to a party in town at a pizza restaurant, for more drinks…and more dancing! Fernando de Noronha locals certainly know how to party – it’s no sleepy little island.
My other experience with Ze Maria was dining outside by the pool during a mouthwatering BBQ lunch. In addition to amazing rice and meats, Sergio and I were privy to views of Morro de Pico, the highest peak on the island.
It has a certain, um, phallic resemblance, don’t you think?
Ze Maria restaurant and pousada features the Festival Gastronomico every Wednesday and Saturday night, but also has a poolside BBQ lunch on Sundays. If you’re heading to Fernando de Noronha, I’d recommend a visit – and at least one meal.
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