Brazil’s culinary history can be traced back to the Indigenous tribes, who utilised the local ingredients they could forage. When the Portuguese arrived in the 1500s, they contributed their traditional dishes, waves of subsequent immigration from Africa, Europe and the Middle East have created a culinary culture that differs dramatically from region to region.
In the northeastern region of Bahia sits Salvador, Brazil’s capital city from 1549 to 1749 and Bahia’s current capital. The recipes and signature dishes of the city tell the political, economical and cultural stories of the region, providing a local’s insight to the city.
Luxury Escapes recently launched a nine-day luxury small-group tour of Brazil, which includes a local cooking class in Salvador.
“Salvador is home to an explosion of influences, ranging from Europe and Africa to Asia and Indigenous tribes, which is truly unique from the rest of the country,” says Rod Vargas, Luxury Escapes tour expert.
“This is evident in the seasoning: a blend of fresh coriander, garlic, limes and black pepper —originating from either Mediterranean countries or further east in Asia.”
The best way to truly appreciate Salvador’s diverse fare is to experience it for yourself. Food markets provide a fantastic insight into local cuisine, especially when there is a local chef on hand to explain how each ingredient is used.
On Luxury Escapes’ tour of Brazil, you’ll walk, cook, eat and drink your way through the food markets and kitchens of this historical city, exploring the elements that make it so unique.
“Our local chef shows visitors a market’s best stalls, buying all the ingredients to make moqueca. By participating in the process from the very beginning, we’re able to see all the different influences, ingredients and techniques that are so integral to Bahian cuisine.” says Rod.
Salvador’s food places a big emphasis on African spices, as well as red palm oil (azeite de dendê), bananas, malagueta peppers, peanuts, coconut milk and okra. When it comes to protein, seafood and offal dominate.
Acaraje is arguably the city’s most famous street food. Mashed black-eyed peas are rolled into a ball and deep-fried in red palm oil. Once removed, they are split open and topped with a paste called vatapa (made with breadcrumbs, prawns, cashews, peanuts, palm oil and coconut milk) as well as dried and smoked prawns, chilli sauce, an okra-based condiment (called caruru) and finely chopped tomatoes.
Moqueca is another popular dish of the region, which celebrates Salvador’s proximity to the coast. It’s a stew cooked the same way as you would a bouillabaisse, with a mixture of prawns (and sometimes, other seafood), coconut, garlic, onion, parsley, capsicums, tomato paste and palm oil. These are all sautéed over a low heat and served with coconut rice.
Finally, for a sweet treat, it’s hard to look past cocada, made by mixing shredded coconut with eggs, condensed milk and occasionally, spices such as cinnamon and ginger. The mixture is then rolled into small balls and sold as a street food.
Although the dishes you’ll cook may change depending on the day and what’s available at the market, you’ll say goodbye with a heavy heart and full stomach, and a new appreciation for this under-celebrated cuisine.
Read More about Luxury Escapes’ nine-day tour of Brazil.
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