Vatapá & Acarajé – Bahian food

Vatapá

Vatapá (vat-a-pah) is a Brazilian dish made from bread, shrimp, coconut milk and palm oil mashed into a creamy paste. This food is very popular in the North and Northeast, but it is more typical in the northeastern state of Bahia where it is commonly eaten with acarajé, although vatapá is often eaten with white rice in other regions of Brazil.

Alternatively, the shrimp can be replaced with ground tuna, chicken, or turkey, among other options.

Acarajé

Acarajé is a dish found in Nigerian and Brazilian cuisine. It is traditionally encountered in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, especially in the city of Salvador, often as street food, and is also found in most parts of Nigeria and Ghana.

It is made from peeled black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in dendê (palm oil). It is served split in half and then stuffed with vatapá and caruru – spicy pastes made from shrimp, cashews, palm oil and other ingredients. A vegetarian version is typically served with hot peppers and green tomatoes. In Nigeria, it is commonly eaten for breakfast with gruel made from millet.

For more on acarajé, see this NYT article.

Tacacá soup – Specialty of Belém

Tacacá may sound funny to the foreign ear but it’s serious business in Northern Brazil, particularly the states of Amazonas and Pará, where it is well loved and widely consumed. It is made with jambú (a native variety of paracress, a flowering herb with slight anesthetic properties), and tucupi (a light yellow broth made with wild cassava), as well as dry shrimps and small yellow peppers. It must be served extremely hot in a cuia (gourd). The dish is said to derive from an local indigenous soup called mani poi.

Traditionally, one doesn’t use any type of utensil to take out the shrimp or jambu, aside from one’s own fingers; but in the interests of being practical, it’s not uncommon to see a small wooden spoon being used.

The Paraense (person from Pará) journalist Raymundo Mário Sobral states, “It is in the tacacá that one recognizes the Paraense. The legitimate way would be to never commit sacrilege by consuming tacacá while using even a toothpick.”

Given that the dish is served quite hot, it became custom around the 1990’s to use a small basket at the base of the gourd, so as not to burn one’s hands.

It is also custom to consume tacacá in the afternoons, purchasing it on a public street at certain points throughout the city of Belém from vendors called tacacazeiras. Serving the delicacy as a main dish, however, is not common.