Foods with a significant addition of chili force the taste buds to dance. Such a dance takes the participant weaving and bobbing as the meal continues. Actually, taste involves 5,000 to 10,000 taste buds screaming to your brain while the nose sticks itself into the business to fully translate the signal interpreting what is being eaten.
Life resembles a dance between the bland and shocking experiences of life. Again, the brain interprets each experience as painful, pleasant, exotic, fearful, challenging, etc. And, all such experiences are informed by memories of similar experiences from the past. But, occasionally experiences occur that the brain cannot draw upon the past to make an interpretation to inform the person about an appropriate reaction.
Brazil offers a plethora of unfamiliar experiences to travelers. A favorite vacation spot is Salvador, a coastal city in the Bahia of Brazil. The city is highly influenced by the influx of slaves from Africa during the decades of the slave trade. Gradually these people adapted to the Portuguese language, but held on to music and culinary roots. So, now, it is hard to separate the food and music of the two cultures. Then, you throw in the immigrants from Germany, Japan, North American and a host of other countries and Brazil became multi-national long before globalization.
I was introduced to the Bahia, a costal state of Brazil, through my involvement in missionary activities initiated by the Japanese in Brazil. A group of churches in Japan invited me to visit their missionaries in Mata de Sao Joao, a small town about 45 minutes from Salvador. But, first, they insisted I spend two days as a tourist in Salvador to become familiar with the Brazilian culture in hopes that they could serve not only the Japanese in Brazil but also the Brazilians.
Have you ever had a one-on-one guide employed to lead you to all the music and cuisine offerings of the city that is known for hosting the biggest carnival in the world, even exceeding Rio? That was an unusual perk considering I was at the time working for an overbearing, micro-managing boss that would have been disappointed had he known I had an entire day of bliss in the southern sun.
So much of the joy of life revolves around eating in every culture. So many people survey what they will do for dinner while enjoying the lunch that they planned so carefully. And, of course, they had awakened earlier salivating about the country ham, red-eye gravy, scrambled eggs, and flaky biscuits soon to be on their plate.
The cuisine of the Bahia is likely one of the best-kept secrets in the world, passed from generation to generation. And, that secret, like so many things in life, is stored in the minds, hearts and emotions of women (and a few men). In fact, none of the foods of the Bahia will be as good unless you can see and listen to the women that cooked it. Can guys cook in Brazil? Yes, but give me a woman any day. I was put into a dream world as we sat at a street side café on a bench that had once been painted bright red and ate on a table with vinyl checkered table cloth that had been wiped clean day after day for decades by the same woman and her mother before her. There is something incredibly alluring about a woman of African descent that still wraps her hair in the most brilliantly colored textiles available and complements her blouse with necklaces made from the beans of palms that also provide the oil that infuses so much of the flavor of many dishes.
The food stall had space for fifteen people to crowd around tables for lunch or dinner. My guide had arranged for me to try a variety of the common plates requested from Magdelina. She proudly brought me small bowls, one after another, until I cried, “Please no more.”
I tried Acarajé -a dish, made with beans, seasoned with salt and onion, fried in dendê (palm) oil and served with pepper sauce, dried shrimps, vatapa, tomato, and green pepper
Next I was served Moqueca de camarão (shrimp) is a traditional Bahian seafood stew. It basically consists of shrimp or fish, onion, garlic, tomatoes, coriander, pimenta malagueta (chili pepper) and additional ingredients. It is usually accompanied by farinha, rice, and farofa
If you haven’t tried Caruru, you should. It is a dish, made with okra, fish, shrimps, peanuts, cashew nuts and seasoned with oil and peppers
My taste buds were moaning from a mixture of delight and pain that had been initiated by options of tiny bowls of spices to sample with the different dishes—some of the spices were moderately hot and others drove my heart to race, initiated perspiration and sneezing, and released endorphins to compensate for the sensations in the taste buds. The black-eyed pea fritters served to absorb some of heat and bring the mouth back to a point where it was ready for the next rocket of intense satisfaction.
You need to put La Bahia on your bucket list for places to visit. You will not be disappointed.