Saturday, May 26, 2012

Moqueca in Espirito Santo and Bahia

Moqueca on the Brazilian Coast The coastline of the Espírito Santo and Bahia states is dotted with tiny fishing villages and glorious bays, where turtles nest in warm white sands and whales calf around the coral islands offshore. It was here that Europeans first set foot in Brazil, 500 years ago, and were doubtless offered a form of moqueca, a creamy seafood stew that is still the regional dish today.

Like Columbus before him, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral was on his way to India in search of spices when he stumbled on Brazil on Easter Day in 1500. His coxswain sighted the spectacular verdant peak of Monte Pascoal, shrouded in rain forest and fringed with coral sand beaches. Instead of spices, Cabral found tantalizing tropical fruits and brilliantly colored berries, both of which were used in the rich cooking of the local Tupi-speaking peoples. The first Portuguese person to write about Tupi cooking was Padre Luís de Grã, who commented on the delicious way the locals prepared meat and fish – carne and peixe – as a moquecada, where the meat or fish is wrapped in a leaf or placed in a clay pot with Brazilian herbs, chili peppers, and root vegetables, then cooked over red-hot embers.
The dish was transformed by the Portuguese, who added European fruits and spices to the pot and served the dish with rice and green vegetables. Renamed moqueca, it quickly became one of the most popular dishes in the country. But in the 20th century it sparked a bitter rivalry between the two coastline states of Bahia and Espírito Santo, first sighted by Cabral – as both claimed the dish as their own.
The Bahian moqueca is certainly the most Brazilian, though it is a blend of Portuguese, Tupi, and African influences – the shrimp are cooked in dendê palm oil and creamy coconut (both introduced to Brazil from Africa). The people of Espírito Santo curl their lip; their moqueca – known as moqueca capixaba – is, they insist, far closer to the original. It is also preferred by cooking connoisseurs. Juicy shrimp or snookfish are marinated in lime juice and then pan-fried in olive oil in a clay pot. The chef then adds tomatoes, cilantro, and the blood-red juice of urucum (annatto) berries, before leaving it to simmer for an hour or so. The dish is served piping hot with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

A view over the Abrolhos Marine National Park Bahia
Regardless of who’s right, it’s hard to quarrel in such a peaceful region. The tiny, tranquil villages, forested mountains, and wildly beautiful coastline induce feelings of both awe and contentment, surely echoing Cabral’s first impressions, 500 years ago.

The Best Places to Eat Moqueca

Restaurante Céu-Mar
This brightly painted little restaurant overlooking the lush banks of the Itaúnas River has been a favorite with visiting Brazilians in the know for well over a decade. They come for the delicious seafood, which is as fresh as it gets – the restaurant’s chef plucks the choicest catches of the day from local boats every evening.
The menu is broad but the highlight is the seafood moquecas capixabas, served bubbling with bright red urucum berry juice in traditional clay pots. Portions are big enough for two and come with white rice and a green salad.
Av Bento Daher, Itaúnas, Espírito Santo; open 11:30 AM–midnight; +55 27 3762 5081

The creamy fish stew of moqueca includes tangy lime-marinated fish and fresh tomatoes

Also on the Coast
Maresia’s (+55 73 3293 2471; inexpensive) is a modest, family-run restaurant on Avenida Atlântica, overlooking Alcobaça’s beautiful beach. This is where the local Bahian people come for a great moqueca. The shrimp and snookfish are so fresh they are almost wriggling, and the huge Bahian moquecas, cooked in coconut and dendê palm oil, come in a simmering earthenware pot. Be sure to wash them down with a glass of tangy mangaba juice, made with fruits plucked from the trees that grow along the nearby river.
Also in Brazil
Bahian chef Neide Santos has created a mini-Bahia in Rio at Yoruba (+55 21 2541 9387; moderate), a colorful little restaurant on Rua Arnaldo Quintela, near the Sugar Loaf mountain. The dining room is decorated with brightly colored Bahian ribbons and drapes and the menu consists almost entirely of Bahian dishes, including huge fish or shrimp moquecas big enough for two.
Around the World
Made in Brasil (www.made-in-brasil-bar.; moderate) in Camden, London, aims to re-create the relaxed feeling of a Brazilian beach café with its tables of unfinished driftwood, shuttered windows, and Latin American music.
Its Brazilian chefs produce several types of moqueca, including the classic Bahian moqueca de peixe, as well as other Brazilian dishes such as feijoada (see pp320–21) and bobo de camarao (tiger shrimp in a creamy cassava and palm oil sauce).
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Brazilian-owned and run Muqueca Restaurant (; moderate) serves seven types of moqueca, including a plantain and tofu version for vegetarians.
Dishes come accompanied by a range of uniquely Brazilian super-fruit juices, including açai (see p303), tart Amazonian cupuaçú, and acerola, a vitamin-C super-fruit.
Three Days in Espírito Santo and Bahia
The pretty, unspoiled towns and villages of these regions sit against a backdrop of Atlantic coastal rain forests and border some of the finest beaches in Brazil.
DAY ONE :Visit the rain forests of the Monte Pascoal National Park, which shroud the peak first sighted by the Portuguese and hide jaguars among the trees. Continue to Alcobaça, the region’s festival capital, whose streets are lined with crumbling 19th-century houses.
DAY TWO :  Take a boat trip from Caravelas to whale-watch and snorkel in the Abrolhos Archipelago. These waters are home to some of the most extensive coral reefs in the South Atlantic and are one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales, who calf here between July and December. Stay the night in Caravelas.
DAY THREE : Drive south to the relaxing little fishing resort of Itaúnas, which sits nestled in dunes behind a string of magnificent beaches visited by three species of marine turtles.

Humpbacks and other species can be seen on whale-watching trips off the Bahia coast from July to October

Getting to Espirito Santo and Bahia
The state’s main international hub is Salvador- Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães airport; domestic airlines fly into the smaller Porto Seguro airport; both have car rental facilities.
Where to stay in Espirito Santo and Bahia
Vila Morena (inexpensive) in Itaúnas offers colorful and friendly bargain accommodations a stroll from the sea.
Brisa dos Abrolhos (moderate) in Alcobaça is great for families. +55 73 3293 2022
Marina Porto Abrolhos (expensive) in Caravelas is the best hotel in the region, right on the beach.
Bahia:; Espírito Santo:

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