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Bahian food

GUIDE TO TRANCOSO

Beloved throughout Brazil, Bahian (and therefore Trancosan) cuisine is at once vibrant, soulful and eclectic. The region’s prodigiously fertile land offers up a bounty of flavoursome local ingredients, while the fishing ports of the Atlantic coast ensure that fresh seafood is always on the menu.

When preparing their specialities, Bahian chefs draw on three distinct influences. The first, da terra (of the earth), refers to the wide variety of indigenous fruit, nuts and vegetables that still today provide the nutrient-rich backbone of the local diet. Acai berries, passion fruit, pineapples, guavas, guarana berries and papayas will be a constant accompaniment to meals, while abacate (a type of avocado), Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, coconuts and cassava (and its flour, manioca) are common ingredients in all manner of dishes. 

The second influence, da costa (of the coast), has its roots in West African cooking. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported across the Atlantic to Bahia, where they were set to work in the plantations. With them they brought their own cooking methods and implements (such as clay pots), and their own herbs and spices. Perhaps their greatest contribution was dendê oil, a strong-flavoured extraction of the fruit of the African oil palm tree. There are few Bahian dishes that do not require a good glug of dendê oil and most visitors develop a taste for it by the end of their holiday. 

The third main influence on Bahian cooking, do reino (of the empire), reminds us that Brazil, along with parts of India, Indonesia, China and other far flung places, was part of Portugal’s global empire. Vigorous trade between the various colonies meant that ingredients began to arrive from all over the world, including from Portugal itself. New techniques were introduced and ‘foreign’ crops were planted, some of which have gone on to become synonymous with Brazil. Beef, pork and beans became staples, while coriander, pepper, cloves and cumin provided an added dimension to the already heady melting pot. The Portuguese love for eggy desserts was also transmitted to the locals’ palate. 

The region’s prodigiously fertile land offers up a bounty of flavoursome local ingredients, while the fishing ports of the Atlantic coast ensure that fresh seafood is always on the menu.

So, what might you feast on while you’re in Trancoso? In the centre of town around the Quadrado there are several excellent restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, but if you wish to go local, there’s plenty we recommend you try.

Breakfasts will almost certainly include an exotic selection of juices, freshly squeezed from fruit picked from the trees that same morning.

As a mid-morning snack, you might try acarajé, arguably Bahia’s favourite street food. A crispy, deep-fried ball of fradinho beans (similar to black-eyed peas) and dried shrimp, acarajé is usually served with a malagueta chilli sauce and other toppings. It’s an excellent accompaniment to a chilled beer while gazing out to sea from your beach lounger.

If you’re still hungry, you might indulge in a pão de queijo, a kind of doughy bread roll baked with cheese. Or maybe you’ll be tempted by an empanada filled with chocolate or fresh coconut cream (if you’ve not already had one for breakfast, that is). Then, a cheese-on-a-stick guy might pass by on the beach, his portable grill ready to caramelise and soften a succulent dairy treat.

For lunch and dinner in Trancoso, freshly caught fish and seafood reign supreme. Barbecues are stoked up and kept burning throughout the day, especially at the simple eateries on the beach. 

Soupy stews are also popular, and anyone visiting Trancoso should try the following Bahian classics: moqueca (a prawn soup, made with coconut milk, freshly grated coconut, garlic, onion, parsley, coriander, peppers, tomato paste and dendê oil, served with rice); vatapá (made from bread, prawns, coconut milk, ground peanuts and dendê oil); carurú de camarão (a prawn and okra gumbo); and bobó de camarão (a cassava and prawn recipe). 

Also not to be missed is baião de dois, a dish of rice and beans, dry-cured beef, butter and queijo coalho (a Bahian cheese).

If you’ve still room and have a sweet tooth, the dessert menu will most likely include a series of sweets made from coconut, eggs, ginger, milk, cinnamon, and lemon. Popular examples include cocada and quindim

Bom apetite!

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