One of the best parts about travelling to new lands is diving into their unique cuisines – stimulating the taste buds, while plumbing new aspects of the culture. For the foodie in search of a real gastronomic frolic, the city of Salvador, located in the state of Bahia, Brazil, has more than its fair share of good eats.
To understand Bahian cuisine, one must first look at the region’s history. It was originally populated by indigenous peoples whose main diet consisted of corn and manioc (cassava) for cooking and fermented drinks. Still today, manioc flour is regularly consumed, with beans, in a moqueca (a traditional seafood stew), and is the fundamental ingredient of farofa and pirão. Later, the Portuguese brought with them a European penchant for meat stews, codfish and plenty of sweet desserts. The culture with perhaps the most culinary influence, however, was from western Africa. African slaves arrived in the 1500s and added to the food fusion with their use of bananas, peanuts, palm oil and okra. This cultural mix of styles and tastes has resulted in entirely new dishes that also incorporate ingredients native to Brazil, like coconut, sugarcane, tropical fruits, molasses and seafood.
Best of Bahia
Food in Salvador is distinctive and exciting, even in the diverse arena of Brazilian cuisine. There are some dishes that simply beg to be tasted, although it’s still always smart to know the best places to try them!
As mentioned above, one delicious dish prepared all over the city is moqueca; this stew is a local staple and made mainly with seafood, dendê and coconut milk. It is usually accompanied by rice and pirão, a mash of manioc flour with broth from the seafood and dendê oil. Variations of this meal can be found elsewhere in Brazil, but locals believe Salvador’s recipe is particularly exceptional!
For a mouth-watering moqueca, as well as other traditional Salvadoran dishes, head to Sabores da Dadá. They really know how to make the best Bahia dishes, such as stews, sururú (shellfish) broth, seafood, homemade desserts, and appetisers using crab and Lambreta (a species of mussel). One local recommendation is bobó de camarão, a stew made with coconut milk, manioc, shrimp and palm oil. You will not be disappointed!
One favourite is the acarajé, a bean-roll snack. Believed to have brought by slaves of Nigerian origin, it is made of peeled black-eyed peas fried in dendê (palm) oil and then filled with vatapá, shrimp, salad fixings and caruru. Acarajés are often sold by Baianas – women in billowy white dresses – and are part of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé culture prominent in Salvador.
The ideal place to try an acarajé is Acarajé da Dinha, located on Largo de Santana (informally called Largo da Dinha) in the Rio Vermelho district. Named after Lindinalva de Assis, one of the most beloved and well-known Afro-Brazilian women of Salvador (she passed away in 2008), her stand is now run by her daughter, Cláudia de Assis.
To satisfy a hankering for sweets, do not miss the Sorveteria da Ribeira (Ribeira’s Ice Cream Parlour). People travel to the Ribeira district from all over the city just for the ice cream! The shop has been going strong since 1931 and offers a dizzying variety of flavours, including tropical fruit such as jackfruit, sapodilla, soursop, tamarind, cupuaçu, umbu, jenipapo and many more.
Cooking Master Class
Travellers craving a more hands-on experience with Bahia cuisine can take a cooking class at the Hotel Casa das Portas Velhas in the historic centre of Salvador. A talented local chef guides students through everything from purchasing fresh market produce to plating it up, with all the local tricks in between.
The tutorial begins with an introduction to the menu of the day, usually customary Bahian fare like amaranth, fish stew or vatapá. The class then heads to the principal outdoor bazaar in Salvador, Sao Joaquim Market, which covers an immense 10 blocks and 22 streets of Salvador’s Baixa City (Low City). Peddlers sell everything from traditional pottery to food and animals; impromptu displays of dancing and singing are known to break out amid the stalls! As all ingredients are bought in the market, it is quite an asset to have a local chef as a guide who knows the best vendors.
While meandering through the open-air marketplace, guests can also sample exotic fruits and spices, ingest a measure of the daily life of local people and learn about this uniquely Brazilian culture. Then it’s back to the kitchen to cook. Students participate in every step of the process from cleaning the fish to mixing the sauces and, when everything is cooked to perfection, enjoying their own handiwork! For a typical tipple to go with the meal, learn how to make caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail and a superb addition to any dish.