Monday, December 17, 2007

Yemanja – Salvador (Brazil)

In Brazil one of the most interesting restaurant experiences I had was at Yemanja, in the town of Salvador. Salvador is the oldest colony in Brazil and has a heavy African influence from the days of the slave trade. This has played a significant role on the food in that region. Yemanja is one of the restaurants that serve typically Bahia/Salvadorian food.

Even the hostess at Yemanja is dressed in the national Salvadorian clothes, which is this crisp white outfit accented with an equally elegant head scarf. Having grown up in West Africa myself, it is clear to me how similar this dress is to the ones I see on the women in Ghana.

The menu was packed with an immense variety of dishes and we were in a fairly large group. Had we all ordered a la carte we might have sampled a lot of what Yemanja had to offer, but then again we might miss out on the real specialties. And in places like these it is more customary to order a couple of large dishes that people can eat off of right in the middle. So we left the obligatory duties to our host Paulo.

The most noteworthy feature in the establishment had to be the beer cart. In the Far East we have a similar concept where cart move around the restaurant serving appetizers and dim-sum, but in Brazil they keep it real! The beer moves around in a chilled trailer insuring that all mugs are kept full.

But being only our first few days in Brazil, we had not sampled nearly enough Caipahrinas. Apart from just the common lime or lemon variety, the local establishments whip up flavored caipahrinas like strawberry and passion fruit. I assure you these bad boys packed quite a punch. What I would not give for another one right now.

We did not beat around the bush ordering appetizers and space fillers while waiting for the grub. We cut straight to the chase and ordered 3 different Mokekas. A Mokeka is the traditional Salvadrian food which is a sort of seafood curry served in a clay pot with a side of spicy sauce, rice, and a powdery starch. This powdery is starch is a very common food in Ghana called Gari and I was quite surprised to see it served up here in Brazil. The Mokeka is cooked in a clay pot that also resembles a clay pot we use in Ghana called the Asanka. The similarities in the cultures were totally blowing me away. And although I said the Mokaka is a bit like curry, it is only so with the texture. There is absolutely nothing curry about the flavor. The spices in Indian curries can be so monotonous and tend to overpower the entire dish. In the Mokeka you can taste the flavor of vegetables and each item of seafood used, be it crab, squid, or fish. I wish I had taken more pictures but when you are sitting to a meal with 7 other hungry bruthas, there is no time to waste unless you want scraps.

We ate for almost 2 hours, which is how all good meals should be passed. And we finally capped things off when the desert trolley came by. And for anyone who has a sweet tooth, this selection was orgasmic. You cant even see the variety of ice creams they had tucked away under there. The local spatiality was actually a combination of the 3 items in the large bowls on the top. They came together to form a sort of coconutty, spiced cinnamon, creamy concoction. Fucking mind blowing I tell you.

This was by far the best meal I had in Brazil and it was also one of the first. The cuisine of Bahia is unique and intoxicating. These flavors invoked a sense of what the people of Bahia represent with their free spirits and mystical African roots.

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