Every morning as the sun rises along the Guajara riverside in Belem, Brazil, thousands of pounds of fresh Brazilian acai exchange hands at the Ver-o-peso Market. It is a sight to behold. Latas, or baskets, of fresh acai cover the port floor. In hours they will be worth nothing. Fresh acai has less than 24 hours before it spoils but these ‘latas de acai’ will be purchased before the morning finishes. They will be pressed into fresh juice at any one of the hundreds of acai stands throughout the city and neighboring towns or sent for local consumption elsewhere.
It is interesting that 70 percent of the annual Brazilian acai harvest is consumed locally in Para state. 20 percent is consumed domestically, outside of Para state. The remainder, 10 percent of the total harvest, is exported internationally. The Brazilians of Belem love their acai.
For a visitor, the feeling of the Ver-o-peso market at 6am might be unfamiliar. While it is amazing to witness the harvesters and buyers haggle over pounds and pounds of purple acai berry, this isn’t Disneyland, and one might want to keep their valuables close-by and secure. Like many busy markets world wide, thieves may be working the crowd, which can create unease in some. That was the feeling on a particular morning there as described to me by a Brazilian from Sao Paulo. “But it is amazing to see. I would go back for sure!” she said. “Though just not by myself.”
The Ver-o-peso market has not only acai but freshly caught Amazon river fish, jungle fruits and nuts, vegetables, medicinal herbs, as well as hot food and local crafts. In times of old the Ver o peso (which translates to “see the weight”) was the central hub for weighing and paying taxes to the Portuguese crown. All Amazonian forest products headed out of the Amazon basin had to pass through here first. Though times have changed and the Portuguese royalty no longer rule Brazil, Ver-o-peso is still a hub for buying and selling forest products of all kinds.
But if it’s the fresh acai you want then look no further than any corner acai juice bar throughout Belem. And if you really want to see the magic at Ver-o-peso then you’ll need to wake up before the sun.