Fish. The reason why we moved to Itacare Bahia was because of fish. You see, my husband is researching how Itacare went from an economy that survived on fishing to an economy that now survives on tourism. Itacare is a beautiful beach town where it's not uncommon to meet someone who tells you that they came on vacation and then never left. The good thing (and I guess the bad thing too) about tourism is that tourists often want to consume culture. They want a taste of the local and the traditional and here the local and traditional often tastes like fish. Moqueca Baiana, a traditional fish stew in Bahia, is served in almost every single restaurant you walk into. I'm glad because that means that there is still a demand for fish and so fishermen still have jobs.
When the sun starts to set the fishermen are usually coming in from a hard days work, bringing in the catch of the day. That's when Christian returns from his fieldwork and when I grab my iPod and head to the beach for a quick run. I like to run on the Orla, which is where all the colonial houses are, where the fishing boats dock, and where there is always soccer games and volleyball games and children playing in the sand. It's a mighty good place to be at, with an unbeatable energy.
I feel very lucky that I get to buy fresh fish on a regular basis. I feel very lucky that I get to be here, period.
I just realized that we've been here for a whole month. Time goes by so fast, there are so many dishes I want to learn how to make. Luckily I have someone who is helping me learn. Her name is Giovanna, we call her Gio. We hired her to come in the afternoons to help us with housework and with cooking. She is seriously a blessing in our lives, so dynamic, and super organized. She can whip up dinner in no time and it's always delicious. As a mother of two small children she's learned how to be quick in the kitchen, a talent I admire. Her husband is the son of a fisherman and so there is always fish at Gio's house. Last week she taught me how to make Moqueca.
I bought Spanish Mackerel for this dish, in Portuguese it's called Cavala. Unfortunately this fish is only found on the Atlantic Ocean which means that if you're back in California you probably won't find it. Use Mahi Mahi instead. That was my second option but I went with the Mackerel because it was super fresh, it had just been caught that day.
Fish is obviously the main ingredient for this dish. The second two which gives it 90% of the flavor is coconut milk, which I'm assuming you can easily find in most supermarkets, and palm oil, which will be a hassel to find, unless of couse you live close to a Brazilian ex-pat market. Palm oil is essential for this dish. I've seen recipes where they replace the palm oil for olive oil but it's not the same. I've seen it in some health food stores back in the States. If anything I'm sure you can buy it online. It's a good oil to have around, the deep nutty taste is unbeatable.
And the offer still stands, if you're ever in Brazil come visit me.
We can cook together.
Moqueca Baiana de Peixe // Traditional Fish Stew of Bahia
2 lbs Mahi Mahi or Spanish Mackerel cut into slices that are 3 inches thick1 tomato
1 medium bunch of parsley
1 green pepper
¼ cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons palm oil
salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse out the fish under cold water to clean it out
- Layer the slices of fish in a big cooking pot
- Chop the onion, parsley, and ½ of the tomato into small cubes and spread it over the fish
- Drizzle the coconut milk and the palm oil over the fish and season with salt and pepper.
- Cut the rest of the tomato into thin slices and add as the last layer of the dish.
- Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Don’t overcook otherwise the fish will start falling apart. You want the fish slices to stay firm when you serve.
- This dish is best served warm with rice.