1Culinary tourism has become mainstreamed. Restaurants, cooking schools, and markets are now standard components if not highlights of the traveller’s itinerary. Glossy cookbooks and magazines proliferate in many languages and supplement the standard dining guides. How do we explain this abundant interest in gastronomy? Is culinary tourism a product of affluence, a reflection of new hedonism, or recognition of the vital role that food plays in all aspects of our social and cultural life? In this gourmet bonanza, Brazil offers a sensuous feast. Popular visions of Brazil focus on bikinis, samba, and sex. In this mix, food (and drink) are increasingly prominent as one of the sensory experiences in this reputedly sensuous place. Several Brazilian foods, and even whole cuisines (such as the foods of Bahia or Minas Gerais), have circulated in an increasingly global society. Brazilian Restaurants have opened around the world, so tourists arrive with expectations about the foods they will sample. Enjoyment of such delights becomes a principal way that Brazilians and others overcome distances between outsiders and themselves. Feeding others and sharing foods are almost universal ways to show solidarity and create good will. Receiving food with respect and enjoyment fosters this relationship and creates a pathway to sharing both substance and meaning. But food plays an important role in drawing distinctions as well. Food is an important marker of identity, and is thus used to emphasize difference as well as similarity.
2As in other large countries, Brazil has no single cuisine. Foods and methods of preparation differ dramatically across this diverse country from the Amazonian fruits of the North to the plentiful barbecues of the South. Many of theses differences can be traced in history, geography, climate, and ethnicity. Particular ingredients and modes of preparation form a distinctive basis of regional foods and by association of the identity of the people who consume them. However, there is more embedded in the regional cuisines than just ingredients and preparation. Ethnicity, race, and class infuse all aspects of life, including food. This paper examines how what appears to be a culinary distinction among various sub-regions may reflect differences in wealth and resources but may also convey a value system of racial prejudice and ethnic bias. Social factors such as these have played an important part in the analysis of Brazilian culture and society, but they have not been particularly evident in discussions about food. In discussing food of one region, Bahia, they become more salient. Are the African ingredients so valued in Bahian cuisine seen as a liability elsewhere? As some of these ingredients and cuisines are exported (both to other parts of Brazil and abroad), do these ingredients retain their local meanings and values? Or do the meanings and values they have in their regional context change as the dishes become known outside their region of origin?
3Several decades ago, Bahia became renowned for its vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, which highlights music (axé, samba, reggae, samba, capoeira, Angolan drumming, Yoruba drumming), food, and religion. Activities that had been stigmatized in the context of poverty and racism in the Northeast were suddenly touted as rich components of a cultural heritage which gave the region a unique identity (van de Port, 2005). One of these cultural elements is Bahian food, which constitutes a small but distinctive cuisine based on the intersection of foods from Europe, the Americas and Africa. Although the food is a well-integrated mixture of indigenous, African and global ingredients, styles and techniques, it is best known for its African qualities. These characteristics are what set it apart from other regional cuisines in Brazil1. These foods combined in the historical context of slavery in Brazil and the food created as a result of fusion in the diaspora continues to carry the connotation of this history down to the present. Although Bahian food has been well known for its distinctive characteristics for a long time, in the last several decades it has emerged as one of the icons of Bahian identity.
4Bahian ethnicity and identity became recognizable around the country, primarily symbolized by the image of a Bahian woman dressed in frilly white clothes of 18th Century design. This woman sits on a street corner cooking and selling acarajé dumplings and traditional sweets made from boiled coconut and sugar. The symbol of the Bahian woman represents roots, nurture, continuity and a kind of purity; the roots are with Africa; the ability to feed and nurture with scant resources is associated with female values; while being able to maintain a frilly white attire on an urban corner while deep frying dumplings in hot red oil is an amazing feat which epitomizes purity. Acarajés, which are Bahian dumplings, and other dishes such as moquecas, bobó, caruru, and vatapás became well known in Bahian restaurants not only in Bahia but across Brazil, and even abroad. The symbol of the Bahian woman has travelled along with the dishes2.
Moqueca @J. Fajans
5In part because of the image of the acarajé vendor, people believe that authentic Bahian food ought to be made by a Baiana (a woman from Bahia)3. Many Brazilians outside the region have a hard time believing anyone else can make the food. If you want Bahian food in Rio or São Paulo, popular knowledge says you should hire a Baiana4. Inside Bahia, however, many men are proud of their cooking skills and enjoy cooking for their families. Cooking and eating are equally valued activities. Bahians are also pleased to teach others to prepare their signature dishes and although they are not as prevalent as in some parts of the world, there are an increasing number of cooking classes and cook books in Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Many of the language schools of Bahia offer a trinity of extra-curricular classes to represent the culture: these include cooking, capoeira5, and samba.
6Food in Bahia is a family affair. Discussions around food focus on who made it, what was served, and who was there to eat it6. Family meals, especially family gatherings are important and frequent, and many extended families gather for a weekly meal. Friends like to describe the different meals which their families enjoyed on weekends. One man described how he cooked on Saturday mornings and made bobó de camarões (a shrimp and cassava dish), which he presented to his extended family at mid-day. Another described how his family gathered every Sunday for cozido (a meat and vegetable stew). Most families gather on Saturday, but this family accommodated the schedule of one son who took courses on Saturday. The family get-together as well as the food consumed inscribe a comfort zone of familiarity and satisfaction. Along with the popular cozido, bobó de camarões, and moqueca, one finds other dishes like frango ao molho pardo (chicken with a sauce of its own blood), and abobóra com camarões (pumpkin stuffed with shrimps) for family celebrations.
7As in other parts of the world where food is so embedded in the meaning and rhythm of everyday life, Bahian food is seen as enmeshed in the fabric of family and religion. Modes of preparation are passed down between generations and among friends. Although distinctive in flavor, many Bahian dishes are relatively simple to make (the exception is Acarajé which requires a number of time consuming steps and is often done in groups). When I first went to Bahia in 1982, I became enamored with the food and wanted to learn to prepare it myself. Although I collected recipes from friends, I also searched for a regional cookbook; I finally found two small collections of recipes in Portuguese with no illustrations (Junqueira, 1977; de Souza, 1979; Radel, 2005). These collections were just slightly fancier than mimeographed collections such as those put out by clubs or associations in the United States, and they have fallen into pieces with the years of use I have given them. On more recent trips over the past few years I have noticed a florescence of glossy cookbooks with fabulous color photos and expanded discussions of the role of food in the regional cuisines of Brazil. These new books are very much oriented towards a tourist market and they have full translations in English and more extended discussions of the ingredients employed. Cookbooks symbolize several processes of identity building (Appadurai, 1988). They also betoken a change in the attitude people have toward their cuisine. A cuisine which can be represented in a book is alienable. It can be detached and exchanged with others, taught in the aforementioned cooking classes and laid out in print and photos. It is no longer embodied in particular subjects and understood as an extension of that subject’s relations with the world.
8As I mentioned above, the quintessential symbol of Bahia is a Baiana woman selling acarajé and doces (coconut sweets) on a street corner. This food is one of a number of street foods sold on the plazas and beaches of Brazil. Street food is very popular in Brazil and people, often whole families, spend hours on the beach during which time they snack on a variety of foods such as shrimp, cashews, grilled cheese, popsicles, coconuts, popcorn, soft drinks, beer, and acarajé. The informality of beach culture, and the skimpy clothing that people wear there, contrasts greatly with the formality of the Baiana cook. She sits amongst these scantily clad people in her full skirt, turban and lace. She is like an anchor to the past, a representative of what has transformed in today’s society of leisure and relative plenty; she is a symbol of what is particularly Bahian in the midst of the more generic Brazilian past-times of the beach and carnival. Yet she is also a symbol of an idealized past. In her lacy, frilly, white outfit she can only represent the most privileged of slaves. In the combination of bean dumpling, shrimp, red palm oil (dendê) and bread pudding with hot sauce that go to make up an acarajé dumpling, she integrates the various cultural flows which have converged upon Bahia. The African dumpling (Hamilton, 2001) combines with the abundant sea food of Bahia with its miles of coastline, the European legacy of bread and wheat, and the native crops of cashew and pimento. Although messy to eat, this whole dish is portable and can be eaten as you walk or loll in your beach chair. It encapsulates Bahia.
9While the Baiana is the public face of Bahia, behind the scenes there is a less elegant and pristine side to Salvadorian cuisine. São Joaquim market in Salvador is a vibrant and fascinating place. Unlike other markets I visited in Brazil, São Joaquim is neither a street market nor a designated municipal plaza filled with market stalls. The market is a warren of streets and alleys in which some stands open into small store-like spaces and others are just stalls set up in the middle or sides of the alley. São Joaquim is a permanent market which has grown and involuted on itself over the many decades of its existence. Although there are sections of the market which specialize in certain foods, meats, beans, flours, fish, live chickens and ducks, cooking pots, etc., this order is not complete and different types of foods co-exist haphazardly with Candomblé artefacts, tropical birds, and soaps and utensils. On the fringes of the densest part of the market are small corrals where goats and chickens are kept until they are butchered. Butchering takes place in the market itself, and on several occasions I was nearly run down by a wheelbarrow carrying a goat from one section of the market to another. This bustling and frenetic place is the heart of food culture in Salvador but is off the beaten track for tourists and outsiders.
10In an attempt to change this, and coincidently underscore the African heritage of the community, the Municipal Government sponsored a photo exhibit in the market itself. This exhibit, Lá e Cá, was hung on lighted boxes throughout the market, hung over the aisles, in the corner of an open stall, on the wall of a building, and any other nook which could possibly take a photo. It was hard to imagine that one had actually perused the entire exhibit since the pictures were essentially camouflaged and there were so many other visual stimuli in the market. This exhibit certainly made more people aware of the market (it was advertised in newspapers, brochures and on the sides of buses) but I did not notice much difference in the clients actually strolling around the market.
11The photos were taken in and around Angola, Africa and Salvador, Brazil, both “there and here” as the exhibit title connotes. The theme of the exhibit stressed the similarities between the two historically connected regions. The photos consisted of children playing, of women cooking, of portraits of old and young, of female and male, of streets with people and animals, and of market stalls with bottles of dendê oil and piles of ceramic pots, etc. None of the pictures had labels or designations on them indicating where they were taken7, and no one I spoke to claimed they could tell which picture had been taken in which place, and I certainly did not have any grounds for distinguishing this. It seemed a matter of pride to many of the Brazilians I spoke with that they could not tell the origin of one photo or another. This exhibit had the effect of making visual what had been strongly believed and valued already: Salvador retains much of its African heritage.
12Near the São Joaquim market is a municipal fish market. This market is about as different as can be from the bustling and undisciplined activity of the Feira de São Joaquim. Here, in a new and tiled building with a ceiling two stories high, fish vendors sell their wares in neat cubicles. The fish are kept in refrigerators or on trays of ice, and counters and scales are clean and clear. Many of the stalls have pre-packaged containers of cut-up sea foods ready to be used for moqueca, the signature Bahian dish. These plastic bags have layers of shelled mussels, shrimp, crab, fish, etc. ready to be marinated in lime and simmered in a wok-shaped moqueca pot. Shoppers do not need to choose or weigh their selections; they just pick a bag of the appropriate size. To make the dish even easier to prepare a small stall containing crates of tomatoes, peppers, limes, and coriander leaves, the principal ingredients for moqueca, stands near the market entrance. This stall provided the only non-marine products available in this market. Assuming a household has dendê and coconut milk, a busy cook could drop by here and in one stop pick up the wherewithal for the evening or week-end meal.
13For more festive occasions, personal celebrations, religious holidays, or to fulfil a vow to a deity, people prepare whole feasts with a set menu, like a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. One such feast is caruru. Ordinary caruru is a vegetable dish made with okra, and is called caruru só but if you invite some one to a caruru festa, they expect a ritual meal of ximxim de galhina, vatapá, acarajé, caruru, farofa, efó, milho branco, yams, beans, and pipoca8. This meal is prepared on saints’ days like those of São Cosme and São Damião9, or for a festival like the 2nd of February, the day of the sea goddess, Iemanjá, or for a birthday, or family reunion.
14These foods are associated not only with African heritage in general, but with African religion. Syncretistic cults like Umbanda and Candomblé are part of the mixture of African and Catholic religion which are the result of a long history. Although understood as a celebration of the African gods, the Orixás, they are also associated with certain Catholic saints such as São Cosme or São Damião, Santa Barbara and many others. Each god in Candomblé is associated with a saint in the Catholic Church. In addition, each god has a day of the week, an ecological habitat, forest, sea, river, field, etc, a special color, blue, red, white, or green, and a particular food. Everyone in Bahia wears white on Fridays, the color of Oxalá, the god of creation whose day it is. One food, popcorn, pipoca, has taken on symbolic meaning and uses beyond what people in other parts of the world imagine. Popcorn in the U.S. is a snack food which is associated with children and entertainment, the most common food eaten while watching a movie. It is used in similar ways in Bahia as well, sold on the streets and in movie theaters, but it has additional properties associated with Candomblé and Catholicism. Popcorn is used to wash or cleanse some of the most important saints in the liturgical calendar, and people bathe in it too. Several of the churches, the Church of Bonfim and the church of Itapuã have services in which the icons representing the church are ‘washed’ in popcorn. Popcorn has multiple meanings in Bahia. Popcorn is a food in which the inside becomes the outside: the inside is white and represents purity; the outside is brown which may be seen as either representing dark skin or a person who has not yet been cleansed. In addition to being used in the religious services, pipoca is a term used to describe a person who hangs out in the streets, especially during carnival. The pipoca does not pay to participate in any of the more formal carnival activities, such as joining a bloco10 and following a particular musical group, or watching the events from the luxury of a camarote, which is a balcony overlooking the street. Rather he/she jumps from one activity to another like popcorn when it is being popped.
15Although the indigenous conception of Bahian food focuses on its African ingredients, many of these ingredients are indigenous to the Americas. Non-marine ingredients in moqueca, tomatoes, peppers, and the cassava meal polenta are all native American foods (Foster & Cordell, 1992). In Bahia, and especially in Salvador, the most common description I heard was that Bahia was a region in which Portuguese, African and Indigenous cultures came together. Although this “myth of origin” is prevalent throughout Brazil it is particularly salient in Bahia, and I was quoted this “history” on numerous occasions. Whether or not this history is accurate, it is important to the people of Bahia. This historic confluence emerges in several domains. Socially, the confluence emerges in the variety of mixed race people throughout the state. This mixture is further evidenced during syncretic rituals such as candomblé. When participants of this ritual go into trance they can be possessed by one of two types of spirits: an African spirit or a caboclo spirit. The caboclo is a person of mixed race (Brazilian or Afro-Brazilian and Indian). The different types of spirits have different personalities; the Caboclos are more serious while the Africans are “happier” and imbibe a great deal of alcohol while in trance. The same person can be possessed by both spirits (at different moments) and on-lookers observe their behavior to judge which spirit has taken possession.
16The interweaving of the various ethnicities is also present in the language, where words like orixá, candomblé, acarajé, etc. are part of the daily language which is not shared in the rest of Brazil. A parallel case, not considered in this paper, is the influx of Amazonian Indian words in the daily language of the Northern region.
17The syncretic religion is also the locus of another big festival in Bahia. This one is a Catholic ritual celebrated for the festival of São João, St. John, and occurs around Mid-winter’s eve, the 24th of June. This festival occurs across the country, but in Bahia it is associated with the interior part of the state. People head into the interior for a 24-48 hour period of all-night music, dancing and eating. São João is a family-and-friends gathering, a return to the pequena cidade (small town) one or one's family hails from. Some interior cities now promote São João parties in June - putting on shows and hosting quadrilhas (square dancing) for the general public. The music and dancing during this festival is more ‘folkloric’ than the popular music and samba traditions of the urban area, that is, it is more reminiscent of European traditions than African ones. The main instruments are the guitar, zambumba, triangle, and accordion. The principal dance is the forró.
18At this festival all the food must be made of corn: corn fritters, corn cakes, corn porridge, corn on the cob, etc. These foods are accompanied by bonfires, firecrackers, and licor de genipapo (a sweet liquor made from the black juice of the genipapo fruit) (Anonymous, 2006). São João is a harvest festival, and as a family celebration, it feels a lot more like Christmas than Brazil's "real" Christmas (or Natal). The immediate association between this food and this festival stems from the fact that corn is the main staple of the interior; the abundance of corn dishes is a celebration of this region’s bounty. Both corn and genipapo plants are native to the Americas, and both have been extensively used by the indigenous population. Genipapo is not just food, it is also commonly used by indigenous peoples to paint their bodies black. In this way it represents an amalgam of Indian, black and white symbols.
19Beyond this rather obvious connection of bounty and harvest, however, lies the association of corn with the culinary exchange which occurred when Portuguese, Africans and Native Americans converged. Corn or maize has been an important crop throughout the Americas, and has been extensively written about elsewhere. Throughout Brazil, corn does not currently constitute a major part of the diet, that role being taken by rice and beans, or manioc. Nevertheless, corn retains its association with its indigenous origins and can symbolize the ritual which celebrates people’s return to their roots, to their homes in the interior from which they or their ancestors migrated, to the agricultural life-style which is far from the quotidian experience of urban dwellers, and to a less sophisticated time when whole families celebrated holidays together.
20As people migrate from the interior rural areas to urban ones, aspects of their culture move too. Foods are frequently carried from one region to another, and while they can continue to be enjoyed in their new setting, the meanings they embody may change in the transition. When these foods get exported to other regions these associations may be attenuated or lost entirely. As mentioned above, caruru is made for certain occasions in Bahia. In Pará, however, caruru is not part of a religious calendar or invested with ritual potency. It is simply a delicious dish that accompanies other dishes as a component of regional cuisine. We cannot reconstruct all the transformations that occurred as these dishes moved from Africa to the New World and in many cases back again. We cannot completely trace the changes which have occurred over the centuries that they have been prepared in Brazil, but we can look at the differences that have evolved in different regions to help highlight the value of these culinary symbols.
21In Bahia, most locals do not know that other regions produce moquecas, vatapás, and carurus too. They think of these dishes as a local, regional specialty unique to the ethnic confluence of Portugal, Africa and Brazil. People were surprised to hear that I had eaten moquecas in Espírito Santo and vatapás in Pará. In particular, they were aghast to learn that Espírito Santo claimed superiority in the art of making moqueca. Outside Bahia, however, the moquecas of Espírito Santo are well known and touted by the cognoscenti. I was first told of them by acquaintances from Rio and planned a visit to Espírito Santo on their recommendation. In Espírito Santo the competition is best expressed by the saying – “Moqueca é so Capixaba11 o resto é peixada” (the only moqueca is Capixaba, i.e. from Espírito Santo, the rest is only fish stew) which is flaunted on posters throughout the capital of Vitória.
Moqueca de capixaba (in a typical regional ceramic dish). @J. Fajans
22This culinary competition pits the old Afro-Brazilian state of Bahia12 against the more European-influenced state of Espírito Santo – the travel literature on Espírito Santo emphasizes the Swiss-like farms and lush scenery of the interior which produces wine and cheese. While both moquecas are delicious, the Espírito Santo moqueca is more like what we would call fish stew (peixada) (SENAC, 2002). The Bahian moqueca is a distinctly different sort of dish. Bahian moqueca is made from seafood, shrimp, crab, mussels, fish and/or a combination of the above. These ingredients are marinated in a ceviche-like lime, hot pepper, and coriander leaves mixture and cooked in coconut milk and red palm oil called dendê, originally brought from Africa. The result is a creamy distinct flavor with a bit of bite. The moqueca is served with rice and a polenta like porridge (pirão) made with cassava flour and dendê. Bahian food, which is based on dendê oil, is very distinctive. The ingredients which go into Bahian food are self-consciously understood by Bahians as representing their cultural/ethnic mix, European, African, and Indigenous (cassava flour is recognized as indigenous.) The Capixaba moqueca, in contrast, does not include coconut milk or red palm oil, and instead uses urucu (anatto) and tomato to give color to the stew.
23Capixabas say that their moqueca is purer and that a good fish stew does not need the extra flavors of coconut milk and dendê. For them the extra flavorings, tempero, are excessive (da Silva, E., 2006, Personal Communication), and they claim their moqueca is simple and pure. But what is this simplicity and purity? It is the absence of African ingredients. Without saying it, but with an implicit meaning, the Capixaba moqueca advertises itself as a white dish. There is, thus, a racist undertone to the culinary competition. In effect, the Capixaba are saying, “We have no African heritage and thus we make a purer moqueca13”. The competition between Espírito Santo and Bahia over fish stew is also a way of marking differences between the two states and their people. Espírito Santo is whiter, richer, and more European in outlook. The food embodies messages of race and class, of difference, purity, and exoticism. Because moqueca has become such an important part of Bahian identity, Bahians presume it is a Bahian dish. The Capixaba are trying to undermine this presumption and prove themselves superior in the culinary domain. They actively promote their cuisine as a tourist attraction and as a symbol of their distinctive identity.
24But how is it that Espírito Santo focuses on this competition while Bahia does not? Here lies the power of identity politics. Although poor and until recently economically underdeveloped, Bahia has preserved a strong regional identity and presence in the national and international arenas. Bahian music, religion, and food are markers of place and community. In the past, and frequently in Brazil today, people have a hard time conceiving Bahian food outside of Bahia, and even if it is prepared outside of Bahia, they imagine it prepared by a Baiana (Bahian woman). These foods are not just recipes: they are the residue of a history which is known and passed down through the conjunction of the particular foods they eat. Eating certain foods makes you Bahian, and food is Bahian because of where and by whom it is cooked. You are what you eat, but you also make/cook what you are. For this reason, Bahian food is intrinsically associated with those whose essence it embodies. Espírito Santo does not seem to have such a definite identity, and it is not generally seen as an interesting tourist destination, either inside or outside Brazil. Food and foodways do not immediately differentiate a Capixaba from anyone else in Brazil except Bahians. Capixaba are different because their history is more European and the society is wealthier. Interestingly enough, according to my personal, non-random, and unscientific sample, when middle or upper class Brazilians from other regions attempt to make moqueca or order it at a restaurant, they tend to prefer the Capixaba to the Bahian variety. Is it that they feel more comfortable with the “purer,” less African, version? These preferences are hard to express in overt cultural terms, so the differences are masked by displacing them onto an external object, a fish stew, which takes on symbolic importance beyond its substance. Food is identity and identity is food. For this reason, moqueca can never be just fish stew.