Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Tue January 12 2016

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | January 12, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    Brazil Bites: A Taste of Acaraje

    Brazil Bites: A Taste of Acaraje

    Photos courtesy of Thinkstock

    Brazil captures any traveler’s attention with an expansive, beautiful landscape and enough action to fill hundreds of itineraries. This country pulsates with so much color, music and life that it’s possible to forget that Brazil is also a foodie paradise.

    Traveling from the south to the north, I sampled a dazzling selection of traditional Brazilian dishes, from the rich fish stew of moqueca, to the hearty black bean and pork mix of the national dish, feijoada.

    But it wasn’t until I arrived in the northeastern state of Bahia and tasted the cultural hallmark of acaraje, that I felt like I had truly connected to the heart of Brazil.

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    Stepping onto the cobblestone streets of Salvador, Bahia, I could feel the ancient history of this storied city everywhere. The state of Bahia is considered the cultural cradle of Brazil and, after one glance at the Baianas de acaraje; women specially assigned to sell the dish adorned in traditional flowing white lace dresses, beads and headwraps, it was easy to understand why.

    Standing on corners with street-side tabuleiros tables, the Baianas serve fried black-eyed pea fritters in dende, or palm oil. The practice represents centuries of customs that can be traced back to Western Africa, where the same snack is called akara and women wear similar dresses and head wraps.

    Nibbling acaraje is practically a legal requirement in Bahia, and no visitor should miss this ultimate Brazilian street food.

    I smelled the heavy aroma of the dende oil from blocks away, guiding me to the stand. The Baiana smiled and cut the fritter (the size of a softball) in half and topped it with caruru (an okra stew) vatapa (a mixture of dried shrimp, cashews, peanuts and coconut milk) and, finally, a salad of chopped tomatoes and onions.

    Peppery and laden with fat, it tasted like a savory hush puppy. After washing it down with fresh cashew juice, I felt like I didn’t need to eat again for days.

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    Eating acaraje is much more than a simple tasty treat, however.

    Traditional Baiana garb holds specific cultural and religious meaning according to the selection of colors and type of cloth, so combined with the cuisine, the experience is a full-fledged cultural ritual.

    In fact, Baianas de acaraje are so significant to Brazilian culture that they have been declared national treasures by the Institute of National Historic and Artistic Patrimony of Brazil.

    Walking away with the acaraje dripping orange dende oil onto the waxed paper in my hands, I felt lucky to have participated in such a valued custom.

    You can find acaraje served in several Brazilian cities — it’s the ultimate street food. But what makes it even more special is that only Baianas are allowed to sell acaraje, so whether you’re on the beach in Rio or in the Salvador historic center of Pelourinho, look for the distinctive white dresses and wraps, then dive in to important cultural highlight.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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