Bahian cuisine is the most famous of Brazil's regional cuisines and perhaps also the most unusual. It was born as a syncretism of Portuguese, West African and native cuisines but in its adaptation to the local environment it evolved flavors all of its own. Its main ingredients, found in practically all dishes, include seafood (particularly shrimp and ground shrimp), dende or palm oil, coconut milk and malagueta peppers - small and intensely hot peppers often preserved in vinegar. Chopped onions, garlic and tomatoes are a common base and stews and sauces are often thickened by ground cashews and peanuts. The only commonly used herb is cilantro and grated ginger, salt and black pepper are usually the only seasonings (other than ground shrimp and malagueta peppers, that is). Lunch and dinner usually consists of one or more main dishes accompanied by boiled rice, cassava meal, malagueta pepper sauce and vatapá, a thick paste made out of ground shrimp. Coconut pastries and fruit are common desserts.
One issue I came across when deciding on my menu is that many of the dishes seemed to call for very similar ingredients. For example, Carurú seemed to have the same ingredients than Vatapá with the addition of Okra. Moquecas and Xinxims, two dishes that can be described as stews, both seemed to have similar bases. Wanting some variation, I decided on a limited menu that touched most of the most traditional dishes. I skipped the acaraje, fried bean patties, because I feared it was too much for me. At the last minute, when one of my guests cancelled, I also dropped the moqueca de peixe (fish stew) from my menu. The final menu consisted of:
- Casquinha de Siri
Bahian Crab Bake
- Xinxim de Galinha Chicken Stew
Ground Shrimp Paste
Toasted Cassava Meal
- White rice
- Molho de Pimenta Malagueta
Malagueta pepper sauce
- Fresh pineapple and mango sorbet (store-bought)
Everything was very good, each dish was well balanced in itself but was enhanced by the vatapá and the pepper sauce. My guests were all very pleased.
Finding the necessary ingredients can be hard. If there are no Brazilian stores near you, try Latin markets or even Caribbean or West African ones.
Bahian Food Links