Sunday, July 26, 2009

Brazilian falafel! Acaraje, the storied Brazilian street food at Sabor da Bahia.

You order is served, acaraje para viaje(acaraje to go).

The state of Bahia located in the North-East of Brasil is has the most distinctive african culture in the country. From capoeira (afro-brasilian martial arts dance),african derived music forms such as samba and axé (aah-shay), the west-African derived religion called candomblé, to its cuisine with strong links to Africa; Bahia is a treasure. Dendê oil (palm oil), extracted from the West African palm tree that was brought by slaves to Brasil is a defining ingredient in Bahia cuisine.

After missing eachother for the past month and a half due to my busiy schedule, I finally hooked up with Reni and Ilma of Sabor da Bahia catering for some acarajé (a-cah-rah-jay) today. Acaraje is like a Brazilian version of falafel. A black eyed pea fritter which is deep fried in dende oil then shaped into ball, split open when cooked, and then stuffed with vatapa. Vatapa is a creamy paste made of bread crumbs, shrimp, coconut milk, and dendê. Malagueta peppers, Brazil's chilies, are ground into a sauce to put in the acarajé, and a tomato salad adds to the party, but not without some dried shrimp thrown in.

In Brasil, acaraje can be the size of a softball, where the cost of ingredients like dendê oil are cheap quite. This is street food; it's the most common item you will find in the colonial section of Salvador da Bahia, called Pelourinho. The baianas (bahia women) wear traditional white clothes with a head wrap. Baianas are so cool that every samba school in Rio and São Paulo has a procession of baianas in traditional costumes.

Reni and Ilma make party size acaraje, the same size of falafel. And friend and I stopped over to watch them make it to order. This is a labor intensive food. Their are baianas in kitchens at our Brazilian restaurants here in LA, but they don't have acarajé. Too much work.

Black eyed peas, the foundation of acarajé.

Whole black eyed peas are first ground into smaller pieces. These are then soaked in water and peeled. The outer layer of the black eyed pea must be removed to yield a perfectly white batter.

Ground black eyed peas.

Malagueta peppers are soaked in vinegar and spices then kept refrigerated until use.You can buy them here in LA at the Brazilian markets, but the homemade version is much more satisfying. For Sabor da Bahia's pimenta (hot sauce), they mash it up so it spreads easily on the split open acarajé.

Pimenta the traditional way.

When we peeked in the kitchen, the vatapá was in a bowl of warm water on the stove to preserve its consistency.


The batter for the acarajé is stirred constantly before deep frying, but only the hands of a baiana are suitable. Reni chatted with us about Bahia, and axé music; she is a singer when not in the kitchen.

The hands of a baiana stir the dough for acarajé.

Acarajé deep frying in dendê.

For $10, you get five acarajé, pimenta (hot sauce), tomato salad, and vatapá. The vatapá is thicker than many I've had on the street in Brasil, but for this smaller sized acaraje, it's perfect. The more runny vatapá would not stay on these party size delicacies. And, Reni and Ilma like it this way. I do too. They don't put the dried shrimp in their acarajé though because they haven't found the kind they use in Brazil here in LA, and Americans aren't used to eating whole dried shrimp with the shell on. To many strange looks at their catering events, so they don't put the dried shrimp in with your order, not to mention the difficulty in obtaining dried shrimp from Brasil. They also make a version of tamal using the same ingredients, called abará. It's a similar preparation except for that the ingredients are steamed in banana leaves. It's a Brazilian black-eyed pea tamal with shrimp and dendê. You get three abará for $10.

Acarajé stuffed with vatapá, salada de tomate, and pimenta.

Homemade malagueta peppers in vinegar.

Ilma and Reni's apartment is rich in Bahia culture.

Reni and Ilma are bananas; their apartment is decorated in Bahia culture--wish I could have heard Reni's music. She couldn't stop stirring the batter long enough to go put on her CD for me. This is a true gem. Acarajé, cooked by a baiana in her own home. It's the next best thing to being in Pelourinho and getting it on the street. All you have to do is call them a place your order. They have acarajé on Fridays, and need at least an hour to prepare your order, so call in advance. Call the day before, leave them a message; if they don't pick up and they will get back to you. Abará is available every day. They work during the week, but can sometimes get orders out in the evenings Monday through Thursday.

Their apartment is located near Overland and Venice Bl. in Palms; they'll give you their address after you've placed your order. I've been asking Brazilian restaurants for years to make this stuff, so I'm grateful to Reni and Ilma for these treats from Bahia. At present, Sabor da Bahia is the only place to get acarajé. Look for them at Brazilian festivals and other events around town, too.

Reni fries acarajé outside her apartment in her makeshift deep fryer.

Sabor da Bahia, (located near Venice Bl. and Overland), 310-841-2729,,
cash only


Exile Kiss said...

Hi Street Gourmet LA,

Great find. This looks delicious; I'll have to check it out the next time I need something catered (wish they had a restaurant). Thanks!

streetgourmetla said...

Just call them up and grab an order of five.I had it for lunch yesterday, it was fantastic.

Unknown said...

I had it three times already, and it is still finger licking good! At $10, it is a bargain. Try it once and you will get hooked (not a bad habit to have).

streetgourmetla said...

Good for you negussie!! I just came back from having some more myself today with friends.It's such a sensational flavor.Absolutley addicting! Maybe I'll run into you there sometime, as I'm now a regular.

Renni said...

Hello Street Gourmet LA,

We make this just the way we do in Bahia. "The old fashion way".
We are so happy to provide this to everyone who knows and enjoys ACARAJE.

streetgourmetla said...

Hello Renni,I've had this on the street in Salvador, and your acaraje is absolutely the genuine flavor of Bahia.Muito obrigado!

Grecco Buratto said...

The best Bahian food I've ever tasted ! Renni and Ilma are a treasure not to be missed !

streetgourmetla said...

Grecco, you speak the truth. Their food is not to be missed.

Joshua Lurie said...


With "secret street food," I should have figured you were involved. This looks like an excellent spot. Thanks for sharing.

Do you know of any upcoming Brazilian festivals in L.A.?

streetgourmetla said...

Yes sir,Sept. 12 is Brazil Day LA.I'm goin',how about you?

Gastronomer said...

This is such a fantastic find! I studied a lot of Afro Latin religion in undergrad and have always wanted to eat the food of the orishas!

streetgourmetla said...

Hey Gastronomer. You need to try this stuff.AFro-Brazilian cuisine is amazing, and with dende, you are truly in favor of the spirits!

Sarah said...

I never heard of these before and I am a big fan of falafel. I am definitely going to try these. Thanks for the recipe

streetgourmetla said...

You're welcome, Sarah! Hope they turn out great.