If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know I’m from Bahia, Brazil. In a land where the African roots are deep and strongly recognized through music, dance, festivities, literature, art, and religious practices, the Bahian cuisine is no different. Moreover, blended with Portuguese and native Indian cultures, our Bahian culinary arts are like nowhere else in the country.
So, what is Bahian cuisine? First of all, it is the variety. From traditional rice and beans to seafood, desserts, and everything in between, you have many dishes to sample. Second, it is integrated. Blending ingredients and techniques of three cultures, we have as an example, our renowned moqueca. Along with side dishes, moqueca requires ingredients such as dendê oil (a palm oil brought from Africa), farofa (made of cassava flour, a native Indian influence), and rice (a Portuguese inheritance). Last, but not least, it is yummy.
Let’s not forget about the population’s appetite for drinking. Although beers are often consumed on the beach, happy hours, and at friends’ houses, caipirinha is our national cocktail. Caipirinha is a muddled blend of cachaça, cane sugar, and lime. Caipiroska, a variation of caipirinha, uses vodka instead of cachaça. It also uses pineapple, mango, umbu, cajá, caju, or strawberries among other fruits, instead of lime. Caipirinha is widely consumed from fine dining to mom-and-pop bars and restaurants by the beach.
So, if you find yourself in the vibrant city of Salvador, you can’t leave without saying you’ve tasted some of the most delicious and authentic food and drinks we offer. No worries, if you don’t like it. You will find a variety of international restaurants, a wide list of imported wines, and fast food chains. However, if you agree that trying local flavors is one of the best ways to absorb the culture of a new destination, not only will I tell you the dishes that you should try, but also where you should go for the best experience.
Hungry yet? Here we go.
Bahian cuisine: places to eat and flavors to taste
For an authentic breakfast: Solange Cafe
No other place will give you a better experience and the variety of flavors of our traditional breakfast than Solange Cafe. The cozy, family-friendly restaurant is beautifully decorated with both rustic and vintage furniture, photos, antiques, bird cages, fresh flowers, and colors that conjure up images of the simplicity and beauty of my grandparents’ farmhouse. It is definitely a charming place. Additionally, it reminds us that their products come directly from the countryside to our tables.
Solange Café offers a wide selection of organic items available for sale. In addition, the restaurant menu provides a large array of food. When it comes to our freshly made cheese bread, beiju, tapioca cuscuz, corn flour cuscuz with coconut flakes, juices, cakes, biscuits, and breads, the most difficult part will be to decide what to get.
If you need a recommendation, start with beiju. It is probably one of my favorite breakfasts when I’m back home. Better described as a tapioca crepe, it can be served with savory foods like cheese or smoked turkey, or a sweeter version with bananas, condensed milk, and shredded coconut. Although the filling options are limitless and appetizing, tapioca crepes are delicious when served with butter alone. Indeed, it is always my top choice. Do not forget to add a cup of coffee. Solange Cafe, open seven days a week is a popular destination in the late afternoons when locals gather to have some of the foods listed above as the last meal of the day.
Address 1: Rua das Hortênsias, 422 – Pituba, Salvador
Address 2: Rua da Paz, 18 – Graça, Salvador
Recipe: Brazilian Tapioca-Flour Crepes
For poetry, music, and flavor: Casa di Vina
Vinicius de Moraes, the composer of the popular song “Girl from Ipanema,” was born in Rio de Janeiro. After marrying the Bahian actress Gessy Gesse, he moved to Salvador. Casa di Vina (“Vina’s House” is a play on the words Casa Divina, which means Divine House) was the title his friends used to refer to his house. Not only does this title symbolize the romantic nest for Vinicius and Gesse, but it is also the place where the poet and composer welcomed friends who had the same passion for music and poetry. In fact, his residence was the birthplace of famous songs and some of the extraordinary creations left by the poet.
Nowadays, Casa di Vina Restaurant resides beautifully in the restored house where the poet lived for several years. Featuring its own gallery, Casa di Vina Memorial showcases photos, documents, and personal objects that tell the life and legacy of the poet. At the Casa di Vina Restaurant, the Noite di Vina musical project occurs on the last Saturday of every month. The Noite di Vina project endeavors to cultivate Vinicius’ adoration for live music.
The Casa di Vina Restaurant is an ideal spot for lunch and dinner. It provides an interesting combination of regional and Italian cuisine with excellent selections of small plates, salads, seafood, pasta, desserts, and more. Start off with Gesse’s creation – the drink, “Afternoon in Itapuã.” Then move on to “Frango a Gesse Vina.” The seafood dishes will always be a good option, but quite honestly, chances are you won’t go wrong with whatever you order.
Address: Rua Flamengo, 44 – Itapuã, Salvador.
Music: Garota de Ipanema
For a happy hour with acarajé and cold beer: Acarajé de Cira
When visiting Salvador, in the late afternoon you’ll likely see beautiful African-descended women selling street food on many corners of the city. Baianas, as they are known, present themselves in a traditional wardrobe consisting of multiple layers of white (devotion to the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomblé) or colorful dresses, plenty of colorful bead necklaces, and headscarves that symbolize their African roots. They are, by themselves, an attraction.
In their stalls are a variety of delicacies. Acarajé, the most popular item, is freshly made from peeled beans shaped into a ball and deep-fried in dendê (palm oil) until crispy. Cut in halves, acarajé is usually accompanied by vatapá (a pasty condiment made mainly with shrimp, coconut milk, and bread), tomato and onion salad, dried shrimp, and a pinch of malagueta peppers. Other items will be on their boards. Abará, a healthier version of acarajé, has the dough wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed instead of fried. You will also enjoy cocada, a typical dessert made of shredded coconut and condensed milk.
Although you can find Baianas in many places in Salvador, Acarajé da Cira is known as one of the city’s best for its outstanding flavors. Located in Rio Vermelho plaza, Cira attracts locals who gather for happy hour on weekends to taste these delicacies and drink beers from nearby bars. Give it a try. Acaraje is good, but the atmosphere is even better.
Address: Largo da Mariquita – Rio Vermelho, Salvador
For a beach-stop restaurant and bar: Barraca do Loro
Beach culture is a big part of the Bahian lifestyle. The long coastline with beautiful white-sand beaches lined with coconut trees and warm water is an invitation for fun and pleasure almost all year round. Moreover, the amenities offered by beachside restaurants and bars are impressive.
Barraca do Loro, situated on Flamengo Beach, is an example. This family-friendly, laid-back destination offers everything you will need while enjoying the sunshine. Starting with umbrellas, tables, beach chairs, and bathrooms, you also have access to fresh-water showers for cooling off from the hot and humid tropical heat or rinsing off after swimming in the ocean. The comfort continues when food and drink orders are brought to your table on the warm white sand by the water or in the lovely restaurant itself.
For deliciously popular beach food, look no further than Barraca do Loro. From the full menu, do not forget to order bolinhos de bacalhau (codfish croquettes), espetinho de queijo coalho (cheese curd skewers), and caipirinha. Acarajés and abarás are also available, but you will certainly spot a Baiana nearby. In case you didn’t have a chance to try it from one of the authentic stalls, here’s your chance.
Am I missing anything else? Yep! Fresh coconut water. The cold liquid inside green coconuts is not only extremely healthy and slightly sweet, but also hydrating when sitting on the beach under the sizzling sun. The roaming vendors will have the coconut in thermal containers with ice before having it cut open on the top and served with a straw. As an extra tip, when you finish the water, ask the vendor to cut it in half so you can enjoy the fresh coconut meat.
Address: Rua Desembargador Manoel de Andrade Teixeira, 266 – Praia do Flamengo
Recipe: Salt Cod Croquettes
For a happy hour at sunset: Caffelier
The spectacular sunsets over the Baia de Todos os Santos are not to be missed! The views are endless. Pick a spot near Farol da Barra or Elevador Lacerda. Stroll along the beaches and stop at Monte Serrat Fort or any of the romantic bars and restaurants that stand over the cliffs of the upper city.
According to your required level of comfort, you can choose to watch while sitting on the beach, standing near the Elevador Lacerda, or many options in between. However, if you prefer to slow your roll and enjoy a glass of wine or a caipirinha, savor a coffee, or have a small bite while the sun dips below the Baia de Todos os Santos, your best bet will be one of the restaurants or cafes overlooking the bay.
Cafelier, a nicely furnished colonial-styled shop is located in one of the most interesting and cool neighborhoods in Salvador. Santo Antônio Além do Carmo is a popular spot. The small cafe, loaded with charm and character offers tasty cappuccinos, rich chocolate cake, tapas, wines by the glass, and the best caipirinhas.
Note: reservations are recommended; no credit cards are accepted.
Address: Rua do Carmo, 50 – Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, Salvador
For the best moqueca: Casa de Tereza
Casa de Tereza is an intimate restaurant tastefully decorated with Candomblé artifacts. Located in a centennial building in the Rio Vermelho neighborhood, its interior reveals its history through beautifully exposed brick walls, rustic furniture, wooden floors, and whitewashed wooden banisters. The welcoming ambience is an attraction itself.
Casa de Tereza is definitely my favorite restaurant in Salvador. Options are plentiful from small plates to entrees and desserts, from vegetarian to seafood and meat. The menu offers the largest assortment of local dishes. Most important of all, everything is delightful! Look out for typical Bahian cuisine names on the menu as caruru, vatapá, beiju, moqueca, bobó de camarão, sarapatel, feijoada, carne do sol, maniçoba, and escondidinho de fumeiro. Be adventurous, experiment, and discover Bahia’s best-loved dishes.
Moqueca is a seafood stew usually made with shrimp and flavored with garlic, parsley, sweet pepper, onion, tomato, coconut milk, and the magical ingredient dendê oil (palm oil). Slowly cooked over low heat, moqueca is served with rice and a couple of other side dishes. Although a quite heavy dish, it is certainly a must to try while in Bahia.
Because moqueca is one of the most popular foods in Salvador, expect to see it in plenty of restaurants. Despite being unbelievably good almost everywhere you go, moqueca at some places will stand out. One of them is with chef Tereza Paim who takes any recipe to the next level.
Note: Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside of fresh coconuts; Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the grated pulp of a mature coconut.
Address: Rua Odilon Santos, 45 – Rio Vermelho, Salvador
Recipe: Shrimp moqueca
For the best Portuguese cuisine: Casa Lisboa
One of my fondest memories as a child is savoring my mom’s salt codfish dish. In my modest world, there was no fancy name; we just called it cod casserole. Layers of carefully constructed sliced potatoes, salt cod (soaked in cold water overnight), and sautéed onions were all baked together, topped with boiled eggs and olives, and infused with olive oil to form a perfect balance of flavors. Still, to this day, codfish is one of my all-time favorites.
Casa Lisboa, Salvador’s most authentic Portuguese restaurant in town, is an invitation for authentic flavors and a terrific experience. They do not serve my mom’s dish, but their menu is rooted in the culinary crossover between Brazil and Portugal. Casa Lisboa combines the timeless history of Portuguese recipes with the zest and vibrancy of Bahian cuisine resulting in a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
The stylish setting delivers graceful details, plus European-inspired classic furniture and Portuguese music. The sophisticated atmosphere makes it an ideal venue for romantic dinners, families, or friends’ get-togethers. The outdoor area, which is naturally decorated with vines, can be an excellent choice if the weather permits.
Although their tasty dishes will satisfy the most demanding of palates, the Duck Rice is to die for. Do not skip the signature cod dishes, including the bacalhau croquettes. From the dessert menu, try Pastel de Belém and sweet rice. The knowledgeable servers will help you to pair the wonderful and extensive selection of more than 200 Portuguese wines, ranging from red to white, with the chosen dishes. Port is also available.
Address: Rua Manoel Dias de Morais, 35 – Jardim Apipema, Salvador
For the feeling, you’ve discovered a hidden gem: Cuco Bistro
Although Cuco Bistro is situated on one of the main squares of Pelourinho, near San Francisco Church, you will still get the feeling it is a hidden gem. At first glance, the humble facade of the centennial building and ordinary wooden tables placed outside can definitely fool you. It is a good option for those who enjoy the hustle and bustle of the area.
Inside, Cuco Bistro is a charming, welcoming place with a local cultural touch. On the menu, there is the hint of slightly Mediterranean cuisine plus the local flavors’ fusion. Instead of requesting a full meal, you can order several small plates which have complex flavors that are difficult to describe. Probably, it is best to say: it is O-U-T-S-T-A-N-D-I-N-G!!
Ordering the Furduço sampler, which comes with crab croquettes, bean balls, tapioca square, and crispy pititinga, each bite is an invitation for the second and all the delicious bites that follow. Followed by the Mutulão, a flavorful piece of roasted cheese curd served with grilled banana puree and cane molasses, enjoy the shrimp cuco style and crab croquettes. You will leave this restaurant stuffed and pleased. Although Cuco Bistro seems like an elementary shell from outside, it truly hides precious pearls.
Address: Largo do Cruzeiro de São Francisco, 6 – Pelourinho, Salvador
Recipe: Crab croquettes
And finally, a must-try when in Salvador: Toca do Açaí
Açaí, a product that long ago was consumed only by the indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest and Northern Brazil, made its way to the lower states of the country and later to the world. Rich in vitamins C, B1, B2, minerals such as iron, calcium and potassium, plus protein, fiber, and lipids, this super fruit’s health benefits are boundless.
Açaí can be consumed in juices, sweets, ice cream, jellies, and as a meal in a bowl. Whether you have tried it before or not, go to Toca do Açaí, in Farol da Barra, for an unparalleled experience. Their specialty is a bowl of acai pulp topped with fruits, granola, shredded coconut, and honey. Take your order, sit in the outside area, and enjoy this cool and vitamin-rich delightful meal while appreciating Salvador’s coastal promenade.
Address: Avenida Oceânica, 11 – Farol da Barra, Salvador
Recipe: Açaí Bowl