An Ode to Bahia's Moqueca
The golden stew of coconut, palm oil, and tomato—simmered with seafood in a clay casserole—soothes like a childhood memory.
Bahia, a state in eastern Brazil, encapsulates the country’s confluence of flavors, simmering together the region’s African and Portuguese heritages with indigenous ingredients and maritime bounty. Of all its inimitable dishes (and there are many, like acarajé, deep-fried black-eyed-pea patties stuffed with shrimp), I salivate the most for moqueca, a golden stew of coconut, palm oil, and tomato simmered with seafood in a clay casserole. It’s one of those dishes that defies logic: It’s perfect on a summer afternoon, even though it will make you sweat with its spice and temperature, and it soothes like a childhood memory, even when you taste it for the first time.
A road trip with Bahian friends took me from the state’s Baroque capital of Salvador along a 200-mile highway, called the “Green Line” for its lushness. Travelling without an itinerary, we stopped at nameless beaches, jumping into the blue sea and napping under coconut trees. If there was a barraca, a beach snack bar, we downed passion fruit caipirinhas with grilled coalho cheese.
I hoped to see sea turtles, which lay eggs in the golden dunes of Bahia and always return to the very spot where they were born. Even from a distance, I wanted to spy on the hatchlings in the wild. But alas, we found no turtles anywhere. (Understandably, this vulnerable species is wary.) On my way back to the airport, we made a final stop at an outdoor restaurant in an otherwise unremarkable village. Under the canopy of mango trees, my friends and I tucked into moqueca one last time before my flight home. This comfort dish was the best consolation for failing my mission. And like those reptilian wanderers, I knew I’d be back in Bahia someday.
Explore Bahia from the secluded beach town of Trancoso, which counts Beyoncé among its fans. The heart of the scene is Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa, a cluster of restored casas that grounds your stay with top-flight food, drink, and connection to local art and culture. (Rooms from $519; uxua.com)