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Brazilian Falafel! Acaraje, the storied Brazilian street food ~ Sabor da Bahia

Acaraje with vatapa, tomato salad, and malagueta pepper sauce.
Acaraje with vatapa, tomato salad, and malagueta pepper sauce.

The state of Bahia located in the North-East of Brasil is has the most distinctive african culture in the country. From capoeira (afro-brasilian martial arts dance), african derived music forms such as samba and axe (aah-shay), the west-african derived religion called candomble, to its cuisine with strong links to Africa, Bahia is a treasure. Dende oil (palm oil), extracted from the West African palm tree that was brought by slaves to Brasil is a defining ingredient in Bahia cuisine.

After missing eachother for the past month and a half due to my busy schedule, I finally hooked up with Reni(hay-ne) and Ilma(Eel-ma) of Sabor da Bahia catering for some acaraje(a-cah-rah-jay) today. Acaraje is like a Brazilian version of falafel. A black eyed pea fritter which is deep fried in dende oil then shaped into ball, split open when cooked, and then stuffed with vatapa.Vatapa is a creamy paste made of bread crumbs, shrimp, coconut milk, and dende.Malagueta peppers, Brazil's chiles, are ground into a sauce to put in the acaraje, and a tomato salad adds to the party, but not without some dried shrimp thrown in.In Brasil, acaraje can be the size of a softball, quite a filling meal. This is street food, the most common item you will find in the colonial part of Salvador da Bahia called Pelourinho. The baianas(bahia women) wear traditional white clothes with a head wrap.Baianas are so cool that every samba school in Rio and Sao Paulo has a procession of baianas in traditional costumes.

Reni and Ilma make party size acaraje, the same size of falafel. And friend and I stopped over to watch them make it to order. This is a labor intensive food.Their are baianas in kitchens at our Brazilian restaurants here in LA, but they don't have acaraje. Too much work.

Whole black eyed peas are first ground into smaller pieces. These are then soaked in water and peeled. The outer layer of the black eyed pea must be removed to yield a perfectly white batter.

For the spice,malagueta peppers are soaked in vinegar and spices then kept refrigerated until use.You can buy them here in LA at the Brazilian markets, but the homemade version is much more satisfying.For Sabor da Bahia's pimenta(hot sauce), they mash it up so it spreads easily on the split open acaraje. When we peeked in the kitchen, the vatapa was in a bowl of warm water on the stove to preserve its consistency.

The batter for the acaraje is stirred constantly before deep frying, but only the hands of a baiana are suitable.Reni chatted with us about Bahia, and axe music, she is a singer. Never once did she stop stirring, loving care from baiana to the hot dende.

For $10, you get five acaraje, pimenta(hot sauce), tomato salad, and vatapa. The vatapa is thicker than many I've had on the street in Brasil, but for this smaller sized acaraje, it's perfect. The more runny vatapa would not stay on these party size delicacies. And, Reni and Ilma like it this way. I do too.They also make a version of acaraje called abara. It's a similar preparation except for that the ingredients are steamed in banana leaves. It's a Brazilian black eyed pea tamal with shrimp and dende.You get three abara for $10.

Reni and Ilma are baianas, their apartment is immersed in Bahia culture, wish I could have heard Reni's music. She could'nt stop stirring black eyed peas long enough to go put on her CD. This is a true gem. Acaraje, from a baiana cooked in her own home. Next best thing to being in Pelourinho and getting it on the street. All you have to do is call them a place your order. They have acaraje on Fridays, and need at least an hour to prepare your order, so call in advance. Call a day ahead, ;eave a message if they don't pick up and they will get back to you.Abara is available every day. They work during the week, but sometimes can get orders out in the evenings Monday through Thursday.I've been asking restaurants for years to make this stuff, thanks Reni and Ilma for this taste of Bahia.At present, Sabor da Bahia is the only place in town to get acaraje. Look for them at Brazilian festivals too.

Sabor da Bahia
The Authentic Taste of Bahia
baianas:Reni/Ilma
Catering and Festivals
310-841-2729
Orders are for pick up only
cash only

More pics at:
http://streetgourmetla.blogspot.com

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