Tag Archives: Moqueca

Eating our Way Around Lusophone Africa at Mesa Kreol

brazil angolaGuineaBissauFlagImageOne of the most interesting things about the Lisbon food scene is the proliferation of restaurants with foods from former Portuguese colonies. Brazilian, Angolan, Cape Verdean and Goan foods and restaurants abound in the city. When we were showing some friends around town, we wanted to find a place that would give them a taste of food from around the Lusophone world. We stumbled upon Mesa Kreol (Arco Portas do Mar, 1100-035 Lisboa). Mesa Kreol gives you that around-the-world trip by offering only the most iconic dishes from several former Portuguese colonies, all with a contemporary twist.

MesaKreolMesa Kreol is located at the foot of Alfama, the old quarter of Lisbon, which is perhaps more known for its fado music and small restaurants serving grilled fish. The restaurant is clean in tidy, and only foreigners were eating at the absurdly early hour of 7 PM (like 4 PM in the US), though the restaurants seems to be popular with a mix of locals and visitors alike. The menu was brief, and was divided into starters, meat and fish. For starters we had to sample the strawberry gazpacho, not traditional at all, but spicy, delicious and refreshing.  Other starter options included an octopus escabeche or linguiça sausage with goat cheese. For mains we went with the more traditional dishes, Moamba from Angola, Caldo de Mancarra from Guinea-Bissau and Brazilian shrimp Moqueca. Other national dishes included the cachupa bean stew from Cape Verde. Less traditional offerings included the tuna steak, Mozambican shrimp, and a Moroccan tajine.Moamba

Moamba is the national dish of Angola, and is made with whole chicken, drenched in palm oil, tomatoes, okra, spicy malagueta pepper, bell peppers and other veggies. We were warned by the server that this was a “greasy” dish, which may have been a needed warning for those not familiar with palm oil, but it was not really a greasy dish at all. The Caldo de Mancarra – a rich peanut stew with whole chicken – was delicious, and reminded us of other groundnut stews from West Africa. We sopped up every possible bit of sauce with the rice.

MoquecaandMancarra

However, the hit of the night may have been the shrimp moqueca, a classic Brazilian dish of coconut milk, palm oil and bell peppers that we have enjoyed many times in Brazil. M deemed deemed Mesa Kreol’s version as one of the best moquecas he had had outside of Brazil, which is pretty high praise. This version came with delicious fresh shrimp and it was replete with palm oil, which is a necessity. We were too stuffed for dessert, but tempting options included Brazilian Sagu (tapioca pudding) and chocolate cake. Mesa Kreol is a great introduction to the foods of former Portuguese colonies. It is a true culinary trip around the world in only one place!

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Around the World at Compass Rose in Washington DC

Sometimes it’s hard to know which type of cuisine to choose when deciding on a restaurant, especially when traveling in a city with as many great options as Washington DC. When we were in DC we found some great restaurants from various countries, but we also found a great one that covers a bit more ground: Compass Rose (1346 T Street NW, Washington, DC 20009) in Washington DC. Compass Rose is a globetrotting restaurant with a little bit of food from a bunch of various countries. According to Compass Rose, “So while it’s great to travel around the world, we understand that’s not always possible; instead of waiting for the smells and tastes on a great trip, we’ll bring them to you—in a cozy row home right in your own neighborhood.” Each dish at Compass Rose is listed alongside its country of origin, and the selections rotate frequently, and span the globe. Some examples off the menu when we visited include arepas from Venezuela, bhel puri chaat (kale, puffed rice, potato and tomato) from India, anticuchos from Peru and lamb kefta from Lebanon.

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When we saw that they had one of our Brazilian favorites, shrimp moqueca, we knew we had to visit. It can get pretty crowded, and there are no reservations, we made a point to stop in early. The atmosphere at Compass Rose is pretty romantic: with low lights and wooden tables in a few connected rooms. There is also a special secret room in the back for people ordering the set menu (which is by reservation), when we visited it was a Bedouin Tent theme, with a selection of North African dishes. The international theme even goes to the cocktail and wine list, which spans less commonly-known wine regions like Lebanon and Hungary.

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We could have picked any number of the eclectic dishes, but we eventually landed on:

  • Camarão na Moranga (Brazil) – shrimp curry with coconut milk and dendê oil (Palm oil), served inside a small acorn squash. This seemed like a riff on the Northeastern Brazilian dish moqueca – shrimp in a creamy sauce – and is what initially drew us to Compass Rose. Happily, this was probably our favorite dish of the night. We have never had a moqueca served inside anything but a bowl – and the squash bowl was a great addition.
  • Smørrebrød (Denmark – above) – house-cured trout, with trout roe and edible flowers. The presentation of this dish was amazing, and we were very impressed by the house-cured fish, giving us a real taste of Scandinavia.
  • Grilled Calamari (Greece – below) – served over red quinoa, with toasted pistachio & feta cheese salad, and doused with lemon and oregano. We were surprised how big this dish was! The calamari was deliciously tender, with an acidic punch and without chewiness.
  • Kogi Ribs (Korea) – Berkshire pork with a sweet-hot honey-ginger scallion marinade. The ribs were delectable, and had a great touch of sweetness along with a little bit of spice.
  • For dessert we got Crema Catalana (Spain) – A Spanish version of creme brulee. This dessert was tasty, with a hint of vanilla, but we were sad that it was so small!

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Everything we sampled at Compass Rose was delicious, with fresh ingredients and clean flavors. If we went back, we would also order the Georgian flatbread – Khachapuri – with cheese, egg and butter. We saw a few being served at tables all around us, and it looked beyond delicious! Compass Rose is the perfect place to temporarily cure your wanderlust, we really liked everything we tried. Whether you are feeling like Spanish or Korean, Compass Rose will have something for everyone in your dining party.

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Batuqui: a Taste of Brazil in Cleveland

brazilHaving lived in Northeastern Brazil for a while (in the foodie paradise of Salvador) we developed a pretty healthy taste for the cuisine of the region, steeped in a unique combination of European, African and native Brazilian flavors. It is rare to find that kind of cuisine in the US, where the Brazilian steakhouse reigns supreme, so we were floored that we found such a place – Batuqui (12706 Larchmere Boulevard) – right in our new hometown of Cleveland.

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What do you mean it doesn’t look like Brazil?

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Comida de Santo: A taste of Bahia in Lisbon

brazilWe often complain that we can’t find a good moqueca outside the Brazilian state of Bahia. This Northeastern Brazilian coconut milk and palm oil stew is one of our all-time favorite dishes. So when we learned there was a restaurant in Lisbon specializing in Bahian specialties, Comida de Santo (Calçada Engenheiro Miguel Pais 39, 1200 Lisboa, Portugal) we thought we would give a foreign moqueca one last try. Thanks this visit, we were also introduced to the elegant Principe Real neighborhood, where we really enjoyed meandering around the architecturally-interesting streets full of boutiques and antique shops. The restaurant’s name means “food of the saints,” and had an extensive menu featuring food from Bahia and other parts of the Brazilian Northeast, a region of the county whose culture and cuisine has a heavy African influence, and is hard to get outside of Brazil.

Mural

The decor of the cozy restaurant is very cute, we immediately liked the colorful green mural with the armadillo (above), and the classic “namoradeira” woman statue in the window (below). Anyone who has been to Brazil will recognize this statue immediately, since she pops up everywhere. We stared with the standard couvert of bread and olives (€2 – bread and butter is not free with a meal in Portugal), as we perused the menu. We noticed that there were also a smattering dishes from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, including Mineiran couve (collard greens), we were a little disappointed that there was no pão de queijo available, an essential Minas staple. We waffled among a few of the entrees, including pichanha steak (€18), Carne do Sol (€18) and the requisite bean and meat stew, feijoada (€16.50). However, we knew we had to try at least one moqueca, which came in fish, shrimp and vegetarian varieties. As is our tradition, we went with the shrimp (€20). M was also pleased to find one of his favorite dishes, Xin Xim da galinha (€16), a stew made with shredded chicken. The service, meanwhile, was friendly and efficient

Statue

We were pleased that the moqueca came out in a traditional stone dish and was bubbling: a very good sign. Moquecas typically come out with fixings; this one came with the classic farofa, rice, and malagueta sauce. We might have a likes a few more accompaniments like beans and vatapá. The moqueca itself was good, and had a generous amount of palm oil, but maybe needed a little more coconut milk. The xin xim was a hearty portion of shredded chicken with a smoky spiced flavor, and was a welcome and familiar dish we had not found much outside Brazil. The portions were extremely generous, which left us thinking that perhaps one portion was meant for two. Were we not so stuffed we might have made room for the quindim, a egg yolk pudding (€5). While our moqueca experience was perhaps not as transcendent as Axego in Salvador, Comida de Santo gave us heart that there can be hope for an international moqueca. Though we still need to find somewhere to get acaraje abroad!MoquecaLisbon

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Our favorite moqueca in Salvador: Axego

Axego
Rua Maciel de Cima, 1,
Salvador, Bahia 40026-250, Brazil

Axego is the rare restaurant that we will go to TWICE in one trip. Though we rarely visit the same place, we loved Axego’s setting, the food and the warm service so much we decided to make it our last moqueca in Salvador. We also could not believe the extremly reasonable price. The menu at Axego is pretty varied and has all the typical Bahian dishes you may expect. However we were there for one thing alone – Moqueca. On our first visit we decided to branch out into a type of moqueca we had never tried before: Aratu Red Crab (R$48). This rounds out to about $25 US or less than $13 a person – good deal!

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Axego’s restored colonial interior.

Now we absolutely love moquecas, and over the past year or so have sampled enough so that we know exactly what we are looking for. First – it has to come to the table piping hot, preferably in or on a stone bowl. In terms of the moqueca itself: it has to have not too runny of a sauce , high quality protein, good dende flavor and a nice and varied amount of sides in non-stingy portions. M would also add that there has to be a spicy pepper sauce to spice things up. Never have all of these elements come together so well than as at Axego. The moqueca itself came our absolutely filled to the brim with Aratu, a strongly-flavored and tasty crab dish. No filler or watery  sauce here! On our second trip we went with our old standby – moqueca de camarao. Both were equally delicious, though the uniqueness of the Aratu gets our vote. We can get shrimp just as well in the US.

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Moqeuca de Aratu (red crab) – a rare treat even in Bahia.

On the last visit we made to Axego we were even lucky enough to hear a live Olodum concert while we were eating – not IN Axego, mind you, but rather in a largo right behind the restaurant. Dinner and a show all for the price of a few mediocre sandwiches back in the US. The space of the restaurant itself is very nice, in a restored colonial rowhouse. The inside is mostly wood, and an entire wall is dedicated to a a creatively-displayed selection of Bahian artifacts and art works.

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Music provided by Samba Chula de Sao Braz and Raimundo Sodre at Sankofa African Bar.

We highly enjoyed our moqueca at Axego, and we hope we are able to go back soon. Along with tasty food, Axego has all of the intangibles that we love in a restaurant, welcoming service, pleasant atmosphere and a good vibe.  If you are going to get one moqueca in Salvador, make it Axego!

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Moqueca at Terra Brasil in Salvador Shopping

Terra Brasil
Av Tancredo Neves, 2915 Piso L3 – Salvador Shopping
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

brazilWe are not ones to go to the mall very often, but on a terribly rainy day in Salvador we decided it might be fun to go to Salvador Shopping, considered the most luxurious mall in the city. Coincidentally, its food court also houses Terra Brasil, one of the highest rated restaurants on Trip Advisor for Moquecas. Since the moqueca came pretty highly recommended, we decided we would give it a try, even though the food court location made us a little wary. Sure enough, there it was in a large corner location, though for what is worth, it had a more of a botequim environment, and was partially enclosed. 

Terra Brasil

Terra Brasil in Salvador Shopping

The menu at Terra Brasil is primarily northeastern Brazilian food. On this day, they had a lunch special where all moquecas for two (with the choice of shrimp, fish or vegetarian) were only R$48, which is a pretty reasonable price. Other options include German sausages (R$ 38) and Casquinha de siri, a crabmeat gratin baked in a crab shell, (R$ 16) as well as a wide variety of empadas and of course the ever-important Chopp (draft beer). Our moqueca came out pretty quickly, served on a hot stone, which we have found out is a very good sign for some quality moqueca.  The moqueca was on the small side, and we made pretty quick work of it. Overall, we were pleased that the shrimp in the moqueca were some of the best we had at any restaurant! For sides there were farofa, Bobó de Camarão (an atypical side dish for a moqueca in Bahia) and rice. M had to ask for extra pimenta to spice things up a little bit. The flavors were good, but a little mild.

Moqueca at Terra Brasil

Moqueca at Terra Brasil

Overall, the moqueca was very good, but perhaps a little overrated as one of the top bowls in the entire city. The setting alone does leave a little bit to be desired, and we’re not sure if eating a moqueca next to a Bob’s Burgers and a KFC is the most “Salvador” experience that visitors hope for. On the other hand, if you find yourself at the city’s biggest mall on a rainy day, hungry, why not?

 

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Guido’s Restaurante in Boipeba

Guido’s Restaurante
Praia Cueira, Ilha de Boipeba, Bahia, Brazil

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While in Boipeba, we struck up a conversation with one of the residents. He asked about our day, and in the course of swooning over the perfect beaches and coconut palms that we had stopped for a beachside moqueca at Guido’s, the only restaurant around for miles. “Guido’s!” he exclaimed. “The tourist trap!”

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The Tourist Trap!

Certainly, there are many other restaurants on Boipeba island. And many of them are much more frequented by locals, and may even have very good moqeucas (though not lobster) for as low as 30 or 40 reais, less than half of what we paid at Guido’s. But our thought: if eating at a tourist trap means a beachfront cabana with tables and chairs haphazardly pushed into the sand; spending R$ 85 (About $42 US) for an excellent lobster moqueca for two plus drinks, made fresh front of you;  and where you then get to sit and relax for hours because there are all of 2 other people at the restaurant, all while discussing how lucky you are to even be in such a place, then yes, you should eat at this particular tourist trap.

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We’ve never seen a tourist trap where they make the kitchen is visible to all diners. Except Benihana.

Guido’s is the only thing around for miles, smack dab in the middle of Cueira beach, located midway between Boipeba’s largest town of Velha Boipeba (Old Boipeba) and the smaller town of Moreré. You can walk there from either town, or take a speedboat with other travelers that drop you right by the restaurant. It is from this that Guido’s may get its reputation, but if you are there, it is a great option. Its location is appealing, as the beach curves out in both directions to make a very small bay.

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Moqueca de lagosta and accompaniments, including an ocean view.

Guido’s specialty is lobster, pulled fresh from traps around the island, and prepared at a small outdoor kitchen, seen above. The menu has a range of options, but most go with either fresh lobsters which can be purchased by unit, or as we did, with a moqueca de lagosta – lobster moqueca (R$ 80). Our moqueca was flavorful and fresh, and the lobster cooked very well. Neither of us had eatern lobster in some time, and this moqueca left us wondering why we had neglected it for so long. The moqueca, as always, was accompanied by the standard Bahian fixings: rice, fresh veggies (tomatoes, onions, carrot slices, etc), farofa, a pot of beans, and pimenta, the spicy sauce of malagueta peppers that is not for the faint of heart.

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Tourist traps usually have bad food, or are overpriced. Guido’s has neither.

Guido’s did not blow our minds. It was not even the best place to eat on the island – we’re saving that for our next review. But if you want to eat great lobster, on the beach with a great view, while relaxing the day away, there can be no better option. We’ll be back.

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Bahian Moqueca Tour, Stop 2: Paraíso Tropical

 Restaurante Paraíso Tropical
Rua Edgar Loureiro, 98-B, Resgate
Cabula – Salvador, Brasil

In general, it seems that Bahians do not like to eat at restaurants. Street food, little hole-in-the-wall places, vendors on the beach, these things Salvador does and does well; but the idea of dressing up and heading to an expensive restaurant for a long meal does not seem to be in the wheelhouse of most soterpolitanos. Which is why, as Chicagoans, we had to give Salvador’s most acclaimed restaurant a try.

When we read Veja Salvador’s annual food issue and their glowing reviews of Paraiso Tropical (Best Moqueca in the City! Best Chef in the City! ), we knew we had to go. That would be the difficult part: tucked away in the central Cabula neighborhood, the restaurant is almost impossible to get to from Barra. We had to take a bus to a large shopping mall and from there a cab – gasp! – through the only road leading to the isolated bairro. A confused cab driver to boot, and a trip of nearly two hours and R$40 (about US$25) and we were finally there.

But no one else was. We were so sure to make a reservation, we had to laugh when we arrived at 5:30pm on a Wednesday – about four hours before Bahians usually eat – to a huge, and largely empty restaurant. Inside, though, it was something of a paradise. The dress code seemed typically Bahian, with the only other couple donning jeans and tennis shoes. Simple wooden tables surrounded a central area of greenery. Our second floor table looked over the restaurant interior, while a large jabitiquaba tree’s branches nearly touched our plates – and oh how we wanted to grab some of the fruits!

The menu was extensive, with many moqueca offerings. Beto Pimentel, the Chef, has done a masterful job putting inventive and welcome touches on Bahia’s most famous dish. His offerings were divided into traditional and special moqeucas, and we opted for one of the special shrimp moquecas, to split. To this day, we are not quite sure of all that was in it. Fibrous nuts, tomatoes, peppers, any number of small sea creatures, long noodles of gelatinous consistency, and much more dendê oil than we were accustomed too (and we believe less coconut milk). Accompaniments were shockingly good farofa, with an orange peel added to absorb a little moisture and add flavor; spicy sauce made of malagueta peppers (good for M and his spice addiction), dried yucca; and rice.

All of which was fantastic. The combinations of flavors of the moqueca felt more like intriguing contradictions we were pleased to be eating. The many different textures and shades of foods all cooked together was a seeming metaphor for all Bahian cuisine in one dish. Unwaveringly complex and yet consistently delicious, we know this would easily be the best moqueca we would have in Bahia, or at bare minimum, the most inventive. We were sure to eat slowly, savoring this dish, as we knew we would not be back anytime soon. But, of course, there was dessert!

Paraiso Tropical, in addition to moquecas, is famous for its roscas: think of these as fresh fruit juice, frozen, and then very lightly thawed to a smooth but icy consistency, then piled high on a dish. We opted for the mango. Admittedly there was not much to it – essentially frozen mango juice, but still smooth and fresh. We had to be sure to eat quickly, otherwise it was going to melt all over our hands.

Our best surprise of the evening: a second dessert. With the check, the waiter brought us a tray of fresh Brazilian fruits and a plastic bag. We were baffled about what to do with them until we saw the restaurant’s other patrons putting the fruits in a bag to take home. We were happy to oblige, picking up a week’s worth of fruits: guavas, pinhas, and a mango.

To be honest, if you only have a few days in Salvador, this is not a place you should go. Stick to the wonderful beach and street food and the more famous parts of town, where you can meet more locals. But if you have a lot of time, and are willing to splurge, meander your way to Paraiso Tropical and experience the finest dining the city has to offer. The ambience is definitely Bahian upscale – read: American casual – and your taste buds will not leave disappointed.

Our favorite part? We only learned upon trying to pay they didn’t accept credit cards, only cash. We had no cash, and no ATM. The solution – apparently a common problem – was to give us a sheet of paper with the chef’s bank account number, and instruct us to just deposit the money tomorrow. We could have left getting this meal for free. But for food like that we are more happy to pay, so the next day I walked into Banco do Brasil and deposited R$160 (about $90) into the account. Well worth it.

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Bahian Moqueca Tour, Stop 1: Sorriso da Dadá

Sorriso da Dadá
Rua Frei Vicente, 5
Pelourinho, Salvador, Brasil

One of my first days in Salvador, I knew I wanted a moqueca. The word flows off your tongue smoother than the dende-oil infused coconut milk that is the backbone of this traditional Bahian seafood stew, and garnished with farofa (toasted manioc flour, usually with a little dende) and vatapá, there really is nothing like it. I was walking through Pelourinho, operating on the recommendation from a friend to try Panela da Bahia, a place he told me to go if I needed a “moqueca made with love.” Boy, did I!

But, sadly, the “love” would have to wait another day. Panela da Bahia was closed on this Monday, and I had to settle for the restaurant next door, another moqueca-specialist place called Sorriso da Dadá (“Dadá’s Smile). It was not until after my meal, returning home, that I discovered Dadá has one of the most famous restaurants in Bahia. So, to give the readers a luxury I forgot to afford myself, please read the following reviews and ask yourself: would you have gone to this restaurant? From Frommer’s, via NYT:

Dadá has made quite a name for herself and contributed to a renewed appreciation of Bahian cuisine. Brazilians and foreigners come from far and wide to taste her food, journalists write articles about her, and gourmet magazines rave about her restaurant. Her food certainly showcases the best of Bahian cuisine, specializing in seafood moquecas, vatapá, and bobó de camarão. However, Dadá may be coasting a little bit on her success. We found service uninspired and the prices higher than at other restaurants — typically 25% more than elsewhere. The food, however, was still as delicious as ever.

An OK review, I suppose. I’ll take uninspired surface as long as the food is justifiably delicious. However, my own guidebook, Bradt (2010), had this to say:

The restaurant takes its name from the perpetual smile of the former queen of traditional Bahian cooking, Aldaci ‘Dadá’ dos Santos. She began her career selling acarajé on the streets of Salvador. In her heyday Tropicalista & culture minister, Gilberto Gil was a fan of her moquecas & Dadá was serving her spicy, Afro-Brazilian dishes to distinguished visitors to Bahia, including Hillary Clinton. But when we ate here last, Dadá had either taken her eye off the ball or was busy in one of her other restaurants in Salvador or on the Costa do Sauipe. The food was bland, lukewarm & over-priced.

So, what to take from these two reviews? Potentially bland and lukewarm food with uninspired service? Turns out that is exactly what I got. And while the food was acceptable, it was a little pricey for what was received, and I would recommend to anyone they try any number of other solid moquecas in Salvador (three of which will have glowing reviews on ETW in the coming days).


Dadá’s restaurant is not an uninviting space, but I also didn’t find it the most welcoming. The windows to the outside don’t do the best lighting job, and I found the eating space surprisingly dark for always-sunny Salvador. On this day I had the restaurant to myself; an American couple were finishing up their meal just as I arrived, but otherwise the place was empty. Service was a little inattentive by Bahian standards (where service is usually inattentive; it is seen as impolite to bug the customers unless they want to be bugged), though Pelourinho usually operates on a more touristic agenda for the Europeans and Americans coming through seeking an authentic meal.

I decided quickly on a traditional fish moqueca, with a white fish filet cooked in coconut milk and dende, garnished with tomatoes, green peppers, and cilantro, and served with vatapá. It was not, however, served with farofa – something in the coming weeks I would come to cite as a cardinal sin.

Though this was my first moqueca in Brazil, and the flavors were new and inviting, I could tell there were problems. A lack of flavor punch, a watery moqueca broth, and the fish a tad undercooked for my taste (perhaps stemming from the thin broth, which probably needed more time to cook down). “Watery” is a word one should never have to utter in reference to a moqueca, as water is not an ingredient. But it tasted watery to me, and lucky for the restaurant I am not a Bahian, otherwise someone may have made a scene. Portions were generous, more than what was needed for one person at R$39 – but less than what one usually gets in Salvador for the same price, and better quality, elsewhere. The uninspired food left me hungry for what I knew were better moquecas in the city. And our next three posts will let you know: boy, did we find them!

StGeorge (Oxóssi) stands guard over the cash register at Sorriso da Dadá.

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Eating Bahia: Moqueca


Moqueca by Rude Nugget

We are Brazilophiles here at ETW, and one of our favorite parts of Brazil is Bahia, a state in the Northeast. Our goal is to get there by next summer, but in the meantime we will cook up some Bahian flavors here in the Windy City. Seafood, coconut milk and palm oil (dende) are all staples of Bahian cuisine – a dish that combines them all is Moqueca, a well-beloved Bahian fish stew. I’ve found a few recipes for Moqueca recently, includeing one on the ever-reliable Simply Recipes. Another version comes from Global Gourmet.

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