West African Cuisine in the New World; Establishments High Class, Low & in Between
Salvador has its own cuisine. You'll see baianas de acarajé (ah-kara-JEH) everywhere, usually dressed in white (the color of Iansã, goddess of the wind), tables spread with a spicy and exotic assortment of Bahia's own version of fast-food.
An acarajé is basically a deep-fried "bread" made from mashed beans from which the skins have been removed (reputedly feijão fradinho -- black-eyed peas -- but in reality almost always the less expensive brown beans so ubiquitous in Bahia). In West Africa these are called acara; "acarajé" in Yoruba is "to eat acara".
The mash is deep fried in dendé oil (derived from a nut found on the dendé palm) and the resulting acarajés are usually eaten accompanied by camarão (small sundried shrimp), pimenta (hot pepper sauce), vatapá (a paste made from sundried shrimp, peanuts, cashews, coconut milk, and dendé), caruru (kind of an okra stew), and salada (salad: diced tomatoes, onions, and coelantro). These "fillers" can be included or left off at will, and the camarão will cost a little extra.
A variation on the acarajé is the abará. An abará is fundamentally the same as an acarajé except that rather than being deep-fried it is boiled in a banana leaf.
Cira, famous acarajés in Itapoan
The other ubiquitous food here is moqueca (moo-KEH-ka), a stew usually both cooked and served in a large clay bowl and consisting principally of some kind of seafood (or combination thereof), dendé and coconut milk (along with a panoply of other ingredients in accordance with regional styles and the cook's personal preferences. Bobó (bo-BO) is moqueca thickened with aipim (manioc). Sometimes the dendé is left out of these dishes in order to spare delicate stomachs, but to me that's like eating garlic bread without the garlic.
Restaurants in Salvador da Bahia
Porto do Moreira
Traditional Bahian food, plus other options
Porto do Moreira | Largo do Mocambinho, 28 (popularly referred to as "Largo das Flores" for the flower sellers there, on Avenida Carlos Gomes (named for Brazilian composer of operas and classical music), several blocks from the Centro Histórico (a mocambinho is a little hut) | Tel. 3322 4112 & 3322 2814 | Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., and from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Celebrated Porto do Moreira -- an unprepossessing but interesting place with history and a buzz -- was opened in 1938 by Portuguese immigrant José Moreira da Silva across a side street from the Pharmácia Luz at the entrance to Largo Dois de Julho (the largo, farmácia, and the restaurant itself all figured in Jorge Amado's novel Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Now run by the founder's two sons Antonio and Francisco (fancifully depicted in the image above, inspired in the aforementioned novel) the establishment remains to this day a redoubt of old Bahian bohemianism, a place redolent with history, conversation, and the pungent odor of dendé.
Typical Bahian dishes are served at 20 to 40 reais (servings suitable for two) as well as steaks, chicken, and seafood (half-portions of these latter are generally available). Tiragostos (appetizer-type food meant to accompany drinks) may also be had.
A streetname inspired in a composer
Interesting drinks, great bar food, great inexpensive meals
O Cravinho | Terreiro de Jesus, 3, Pelourinho | Monday through Sunday until the last customer...the bar opens before lunch and the restaurant area opens up around 3 p.m.)
Julival's excellent place, devoted to infusões (cachaça mixed with spices, fruits, roots, barks, and other flavoring agents; cravinho is made with cravo, or cloves), but serving beer and other drinks and with great, inexpensive food in the restaurant (located in the rear behind the bar). Very popular with the locals, atmospheric, with the infusões in wooden barrels set on shelves up high in the bar, and the restaurant's tables and stools cut from tree trunks.
Recanto das Tias
Recanto da Tias (Hidden Place of the Aunts) | Travessa Padre Domingos de Brito, 25, Garcia | Tels. (71) 3332-2622/3235-5872/3235-8769 | Monday from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.
A gem tucked away for the past twenty-five years among the backstreets of the humble neighborhood of Fazenda Garcia, with food prepared by sisters Célia and Lêda Anunciação and their families. Among the items on the menu are traditional dishes such as feijoada, maniçoba, carne do sol, rabada, and sarapatel. Prices run around 10 reais per individual plate, or 20 reais for a shared meal serving two people. Acarajés and abarás are also available (if you want to soak up that cerveja and don't feel like a full meal) at 3 reais (without shrimp) to 3.50 (with).
The reality is that Tia Lêda serves from Sunday through Thursday, and Tia Célia (the tias live side-by-side) serves Friday and Saturday, although this doesn't make any difference as a practical matter for diners.
One interesting thing about this place is that the family houses give right onto the "dining" area...for instance, here's Tia Lêda in her kitchen, preparing the feijoada...
Cruz do Pascoal
Bay Views Out Back of a Galego Bar
Oratório Cruz do Pascoal
Cruz do Pascoal | Rua Direita do Santo Antônio, 3 | Santo Antônio além do Carmo | Tel. 3243-2285 | Open every day but Sunday
The Cruz do Pascoal is an oratório, a column crested by a niche housing a saint. In this particular case the column was erected in 1743 (by Pascoal Marques de Almeida, an immigrant from Lisbon) and the saint on top is (was rather, she's been stolen) Nossa Senhora do Pilar. The Cruz do Pascoal, however, which is specifically of interest here, is not the oratório, but rather the bar by the same name across the street.
Situated on the Largo do Pascoal and vested in the same blue tile, Bar Cruz do Pascoal looks like a small nondescript stand-up place with maybe a couple of cheap folding tables set up out front. But the trick is to move past the bar, through the doorway, past the refrigerators, and on out to the expansive terrace behind the bar with its truly marvelous views of the bay.
This is a place which is exceedingly popular with the locals, and on a Friday or Saturday evening there may be a wait for a table (though you'll probably find temporary respite at one of the several tables inside, just off of the terrace). Later in the day is the best time to show up. Beach-type umbrellas are set up while the sun is still high enough in the sky for patrons to want protection from the glare, and as the sun sets, the umbrellas do as well.
The house specialty is carne do sol accompanied by purê de aipim, generous portions of which are very reasonably priced. The beer is usually ice-cold.
The Largo do Pascoal is located in the bairro of Santo Antônio (behind Pelourinho and itself a part of Salvador's Centro Histórico) on the principal street which connects Pelourinho to the Largo to Santo Antônio. Locals tend to call Bar Cruz do Pascoal by the name of its Spanish* owner: Porfilio.
* Porfilio is one of a large group of immigrants to Brazil, the Galegos, or "Galicians" in English. Galicia is located directly to the north of Portugal and although, as a part of Spain, Spanish is the official language, Galegos have their own language (quite logically called "Galego") which is very similar to Portuguese, the two languages really being mutually intelligible dialects. The Galegos are Celts and their music would sound right at home in a pub in County Kilkenny.
Traditional Bahian food, plus other options
Manoel with bossa nova/samba singer Rosa Passos
Axego | Rua João de Deus, 1 | Pelourinho | Tel. 3242-7481| Monday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Manoel dos Santos Pereira was a guy who liked to cook for friends and family. He had a simple summer house on the island of Itaparica, with a big veranda which on weekends he liked to set up with tables for extensive gatherings of kith and kin. The house was close to the beach in the village of Conçeicão, which in turn is next to Itaparica's Club Med.
So one fine day a Frenchman decided to leave the self-contained confines of the Club Med for a look around at the local life. His wanderings brought him to what appeared to be a lively restaurant packed with customers and with a wonderful aroma of seafood emanating from the kitchen. The monsieur stepped up, found himself a table, sat down, and ordered the dish of the day (moqueca de aratú -- red crab). The man was welcomed and happily served.
When the check was asked for Manoel explained as best he could that this was in fact was a private domicile, that the meal was a gift, and that the man should consider himself among friends. To this day Manoel is not sure whether he succeeded in making his point clear.
Whatever the gentleman's understanding, the following the weekend he was back, this time accompanied by friends, and this time determined to pay. Thus was born Axego (derived from aconchegado, something like cozy).
Some years later Axego moved across the bay to the mainland, first onto Rua dos Adobes in the neighborhood of Santo Antônio, and then into a space with a wonderful view overlooking the water, across from the Convento do Carmo. Manoel himself went out daily and purchased the ingredients for his dishes. He himself prepared the foods. And it was he who waited on his customers (aided by his wife Lia (Maria do Carmo Santos Pereira), and his son Fabrício). The restaurant's reputation grew by dint of word-of-mouth, and it prospered.
Prospered to such a degree (within its modest bounds) that when the lease was up the landlady figured she'd throw Manoel out and open up her own restaurant in the space. The result for this woman was, as one might imagine, a well-deserved disaster.
After occupying a small place on the Largo do Pelourinho for several years Manoel finally found what he was looking for -- a well-appointed place with a big kitchen and plenty of space for guests. Thus Axego will now be found just off of the Terreiro de Jesus on Rua João de Deus, 1 (one floor up).
The menu changes daily, with prices varying from 30 reais or so for carne do sol and carne do fumeiro, to a little more for steak, to 40 for the fish dishes, and 50 to 60 or so for dishes including shrimp (the moqueca de camarão is wonderful!). These are expansive meals which include accompaniments and serve two hungry people very amply.
In keeping with local tradition Friday is a day for traditional Bahian caruru. A lovely feijoada is served on Sundays.
Vegetarian/Natural foods, plus fish & chicken
The entrance (that's Juracy; he's no longer there, you'll be greeted by Ricardo now!)
Ramma | Praça do Cruzeiro de São Francisco, 7, (this is the praça off of the Terreiro de Jesus, leading back to the Igreja de São Francisco; Ramma is to the right as one faces the church, before the Banco do Brasil with its big horizontal yellow and blue sign), Pelourinho | Tel. 3321-0495 | Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Ramma was originally conceived as a vegetarian/natural foods restaurant, but nowadays is not intended food just for vegetarians. The food is, however, so varied and flavorful that it's possible to eat a great meal and not miss the fact that one might not have gone for the fish or chicken. The salad bar is a world unto itself (I put the ginger-pepper dressing on food it was never intended to accompany!), the non-dessert sweets are a blessing (a statement of course calling for the cliché "and the desserts are a sin!").
Food is by weight, and a rounded meal costs some 20 reais. Fresh fruit juices are available as well.
The Ramma dining room
The salad table on this particular day
Soho | Avenida Contorno, 1010, Bahia Marina, Pier D | Tel. 3322-4554
Mama Bahia | Rua Alfredo Brito (Portas do Carmo), 21 | Pelourinho | Tel. 3322-4397 | Open for lunch and dinner, till late
Roberto Simon's establishment, with excellent steaks served on the chapa (small serving grill)...grilled fish and moquecas too. And a considerable wine list.
Amado | Avenida Contorno, 660 | Comércio | Tel. 3322-3520 | Open for lunch and dinner, till late
Amado is Edinho Engel's creation, as is his menu of a Bahian-inspired-but-newly-created cuisine.