Salvador da Bahia. Plates get licked clean here, whether from satisfaction or necessity. Ants appear as if from nowhere to gain any leavings. Spiders, lizards, bands of macacos, squirrel monkeys, and/or rats may soon follow. The simplest home kitchens and baths get wiped down continuously. Used, soiled tissues aren’t flushed. They rest in small covered cans near the toilets, regularly changed relative to class, season and mores. Sewage treatment is rudimentary even in hotels and rambling upper middle class homes.
Everything reflects a certain skill. Impromptu futbol happens on the beach with a balled up piece of paper, discarded plastic bottle or a true soccer ball. The hand-eye coordination that renders tissue thin slices of onion or steaming skewered churrasco meats. The deft hand pounding the silky white mash of black-eyed peas or scooping consistently portioned quenelles into the hot red fat. Simple, clean, quick and cared for. All hand packed goods are wrapped in the thinnest waxed paper or flimsiest plastic. Money doesn’t come cheap. Though the dollar still rides high above the real. Notwithstanding Dilma’s loan to stave off the U.S. economic crisis two years back.
Life can be simple too. A leather sandal, or more upscale designer types than one’s daily Havianas-flip-flops; or causas, slacks both connote formality over the uniform Bermudas-shorts, and flip-flops everyone sports to stay cool. Any day may necessitate showering twice or thrice. For those less mobile, eles vão tomar um banho, and jump into the Atlantic for an oceanic baptism and quick dip. Their Bermudas may need to be scrubbed of work grit, armpits may be slightly rank; but the skin is clean.
Conceptually fome and apetite, hunger and appetite are indelibly connected. They go together, but are not mutually equivalent. Without appetite the Delta alluvial clay eaters might have won out. That particular fertile earth fills the gut pulls out toxins leaving the consumer with a certain level of satiation. Women, often pregnant are the primary lures there. Appetite causes a hungry person to want more.
Cheiro, perfume/aroma; informs taste. Toasting garlic in oil, bubbling dendê, glistening rounds of Calabresa sausage simmering in mulatinho beans, heady stews of moqueca, pipoca on the street, salgado or doce; salty or sweet. I like my fresh popcorn with thin shards of young coconut instead of extra salt or margarine masking as butter. Sweet folks can add condensed milk to their caramel corn. Walking through city streets means encounter vendors and smells. Goiaba, guava beginning to shrivel in its husk, reveals an unmistakably irresistible aroma.
Sometimes the aroma is good enough. I love the taste, but the aroma does almost say it all. Fede is the opposite of cheiro. Xixi, lixo. …Stale piss, rotting garbage and animal feces. They are all there too. I am constantly assaulted with aromas. Concurrently given options for consumption or disgust.
Walking to the bus transfer point from home wiffs of goiaba’s perfume pleasantly encircle me, just before the slight putrefaction of carne do sol, hanging pieces of heavily salted sun dried beef cure uncovered twenty feet in front of the fruit and vegetable stands. Between them is an entrance to the fishmongers and the larger feira, market. The saline nature of the different types of live crabs and clams with their freshly dug muddy veneers and shallow tubs of heads on shrimp floating in a mold briny baths are now in my nose. Now I can see the goiaba. All in a moment.
Often if I look up almost anywhere, in alleyways, between the ad hoc favela settlements, on undeveloped hillsides or in my beach-town Itapúan backyard I find banana and mamão trees sprouted and bearing fruit. Augusto says if you have money you make your moqueca with camarão, shrimp or peixe vermelho, red fish. If you cannot afford shrimp or fish, you’ll make it with ovos, eggs. And if you haven’t any eggs or money for them you’ll use mamão. Fome and apetite.
On the bus, at every other or every third stop either vested young men, retirees or cripples enter on the front with the women, children, infirm and elderly sporting coolers, hand held display racks or mini tabuleiros, akin to 1940’s nightclub cigarette vendors, hawking gum, candy, water, beer, refrescantes, sodas, picolet, sorvete, fresh toasted nuts, Doritos and Lays™, caramel covered packaged nuts, sometimes freshly fried hand packed potato chips, cough drops, and sweet vials of fruit comfits: tamarindo, doce de leite-milk, ameixa-prune, etc. Occasionally the items are utilitarian such as mini fans and batteries too. Their vests identify them as licensed. The colors indicate their jurisdiction.
They all have their singsong hawkers calls. Some in gravelly base monotones, others in the best tradition cover two or more octaves to market their wares. Most things are $1-2 reais, between fifty cents and a dollar. They walk up and down the crowded bus aisles trying to interest someone, anyone: a precocious child, or sullen worker, lovers, and sweet-toothed aficionado passengers. On a major route they may stay on for two or more stops, but they generally hop on and off at the next intersection. They don’t pay to get on, though some of the motoristas, drivers may get an occasional sweet kickback.
This year more and more of the products are packaged. Commercially produced consumer products. The cottage industry of small bags of sand roasted Spanish peanuts; cashews and almonds, potato chips and the doces or fruit comfits have given way to more gum, candy and chips. The locally produced picolet and sorvete generally sold in six to ten flavors by each vendor maintain their position. All of these items, some without aroma until the packages are ripped open or the frozen treats melt on fingers and chins mix with the saline sea breezes from the Atlantic a few yards away. In the hour ride to get to the Centro, or commercial districts I guess there are a minimum of ten vendors in off hours and double at rush hour when the aisles are sardine can jammed.
Leaving the bus, inevitably you are accosted by the street sellers with their discounted summer clothing, whatnot’s, tchotchkes and more food. Agua de coco, piles of green coconuts rest on the ground next to a man wielding a machete perched aside a small battered stainless ice chest. He’ll deftly crack the top, shave a hole and pass you a straw. If you’d like when you’re done he’ll crack the nut and give you a wooden spoon to scoop the delicate young flesh. The more commercial vendors have a pedal powered big green plastic stand cum refrigeration unit vaguely tinted to resemble a coconut. They periodically process coconuts and pour the juice in a hopper to keep their juice bem gelada, bracingly cold.
Café. Young men carry hand held versions or ride on jerry-rigged foot powered scooters that have six to eight tall thermos’ of freshly brewed coffee mounted on the running board between their handle bars and seats. The good news is that the coffee is hot, not bitter, cheap and available with or without milk. The bad news for me is that it is generally all pre-sweetened. Little shots for forty cents a pop.
The suco de cana stalls are easy to spot. They are marked by their centerpiece, a bouquet of six to eight foot tall listing stalks of peeled sugar cane. The cane sprouts from the center of these stainless contraptions. On one end two opposing gears meet tongue and groove. A conical opening above the gears accepts the cane. Attendants turn the crank, crushing the cane. The juice mixed with a little of the fine fibers quickly drips into a small plastic cup. Sugar high…
Large tabuleiros of common and uncommon fruits: sweet plums, pessegos-peaches, apples-don’t try them they are mealy and soft if you like them firm, bananas, custardy sapoté, cherimoyas, pale green astringent carambola, star fruit, oranges, maracuja, passion fruit, sour-sweet umbu with their large black pits, tart acerola-cherries, strawberries right now, mangos-hard green or ripe golden Champagnes and red tipped Cavendish, mangosteens, etc. With the larger, oversized fruits they’ll subdivide them into manageable sections. Depending upon your purse and belly, you can buy a few ounces or an 18” piece of watermelon, papaya, hard husked jaca or cupuaçu.
Beiju stands are getting harder to find outside of major intersections. Beiju, one vowel separates a thin chewy filled manioc crepe from a kiss, beijo. They come in twelve to twenty flavors depending upon the size of the stall. Tubs of grated fresh manioc/cassava sit in the shade, periodically replenished by the kerchiefed female staff.
Massive steel hot plates separate seller from consumers. The women have thin ten-inch rings half an inch high hanging from hooks dangling from the umbrellas stays that shield their hot plates. An 8-10 inch long, narrow wooden shovel is used to pack the ring tightly with the thin shards of manioc after the surface has been brushed with oil. The latent starchiness of the tuber melds it together without any additional ingredients.
When they are nearly halfway cooked, they are flipped over and your desired fillings are added. Cheeses, shredded chicken, ham, shredded coconut, cloyingly sweet stewed prunes, condensed milk, chopped chocolate if you’re lucky. Before they are sealed shut you can request an schmear of butter, actually margarine, mayonnaise, additional caramel or hot sauce. Delivered in a thin paper envelope that doubles as a napkin. You’re off with a warm treat for $3-6 reais.
Of course acarajé reigns supreme. In busy intersections or thriving neighborhoods it is hard to walk two blocks without finding a small tabuleiro or well outfitted barraca where women cook and serve the famous local fried black-eyed pea fritter sandwiches. The larger stalls have the steamed alternative, abara. Both are born of soaked and husked dried peas that are pureed with water and a little salt. Traditionally they are made in a two-foot high mortar and four-foot pestle, until smooth with a few nubbins for texture. The larger stands produce it this way. They support two-six workers to prep the fritters, take money and assemble the finished goods. The individual vendors usually have a partner in tow who is scurrying to an unseen location to get more bean puree in a five-gallon tub.
The bigger stalls also have a larger range of goods for sale, cocada, soft and sticky round discs of coconut caramels. Pale white and still crystalline. Chestnut brown caramel, Pastel yellow flecked with black from addition of fresh passion fruit juice or dusky pink for the goiaba flavored varieties. Some also sell the caramel variety in blocks that they shave pieces from. There are warm-to-cool small filets of fried fish, and ferrous-black hunks of fried cows liver. These double as offerings to the gods. The women traditionally are all priestesses in training at Candomblé temples. Their street food traditions approved by the goddess Iansã who loves acarajé and dendê palm oil and licensed by the city have gone on for over two hundred and fifty years. This is a deep root of Baian food culture.
Urban economics and modern realities have changed these stalls too. Today there is a smattering of male vendors. More of a conundrum is the rise of Evangelical Baianas de Acarajé. Ostensibly holding up the tradition, but none of the monies goes to support the African temples. These women are most likely not performing the early morning lavagem, or ritual cleansing of their stall and workplace in honor of their deities. Nor are they consistently offering those other products that while comestible are concurrently offertory foods. Another wrinkle right now is the heady debate for the World Cup playoff contract. Originally it was a given that the Baianas de Acarajé had it. They have always cooked and served at the playoffs. But now McDonald’s is vying for that right. Tempers are out and virulent.
The aforementioned cocadas often generate stands of their own. These are enhanced by other local cottage industry confections, soft or firm doce de leite, doce de banana, goiabada, tamarindo, ameixa, pé de moleque, literally and impolitely nigger foot, or the occasional salty cheese all carefully hand-wrapped in plastic. The softer varieties will be bound with a thin slab of wood or coarse fiber strips to maintain their shape until you open your treasure. They may have a small set up with everything pre-packed for portability, or have larger slabs of their wares ready to be sliced and packaged.
There are all manner of treats and fritters not cooked in palm oil or deemed sacred too. Coxinha, tear dropped shaped breading protect moist fillings of shredded chicken, mayo and temperos. Lightly puffed rectangular pillows of dough shroud mashed bananas or picadillo of ground meat, spices, raisins and peppers. Mini pies stuffed with bacalhau, salt cod, more chicken or beef. Hunks bolos, sweet cakes: coconut-corn bread, slippery moist sweet potato or cassava bread, prune studded cocoa colored coffee cakes. The list goes on.
Downtown you can find men in the shade selling cured meats and sausages too. Some offer freshly griddled sticks of churrasco. Bite-sized hunks of beef, calabresa and chicken all on one stick. Order a complete and you’ll get thin rounds of peeled cucumber, green tomato, farofa and bracing molho de pimenta; chunky hot salsa. If it can be consumed, or save a trip to a store it can be hawked, packaged and sold out of hand. This characterizes Salvadoran street culture. Be it a broom, beer, sunglasses, religious charms, cheap leather or plastic purses or sweetmeats.
All of this mingles with car exhausts, street grit, the corners men turn into toilets late at night or even in the day in a pinch. I often see adult men urinating in public. Behind a car, in a ditch, a field or alley. Frequently with their wives/girlfriends or children standing aside them with backs turned away from their privates. These ablutions are not the only excreta smelt. Garbage piles up in residential neighborhoods and near vending areas. In an instant you can nurse a hunger pang, gag or have a nostalgic reverie for the last or next bite to savor. This fluidity, contrasts and counterproductive stimuli are as ubiquitous as the malleable ever present cultural cues. The juxtaposition of the Afrocentric carved clenched fist with thumbnail peaking up between fore and ring fingers next to an image of Christ or Nossa Senhora de Conceição at the beauty salon or newsstand. I am reminded to keep a cross or medallion with the Virgin in my pocket. But to just not to place it close to my money. All bases are covered all the time. You never know what will come next. You need to be ready, come apetite or fome.
Itapúa-January 24, 2013
 el-lēēs vah-ō tō-mar oom bah-nyō
 Fōmē and apeh-teetchē
 mō-cake-ah, Is a fundamental dish of the Baian kitchen, moqueca is a light stew of tomato, sweet and pungent peppers, lime juice, coconut milk, dendê/palm oil, ginger, onions and ______.
 pēē-pō-kah, saal-gaadō or dōs-ē
 fed-gay.. shē-shē and lēēshū
 kah-mah-rharouw or peh-shē vir-māyō
 tabū-lair-ohs, Literally tabletops/shelves to rest your wares on. Commonly associated with the Baianas de Acarajé
 hef-ess-kant-shēs and pēē-kō-lay, soar-veht-shē (popsicles and frozen sorbet/sherbet on sticks)
 lay-tchē, ah-may-shaa
 soo-cō gēē cah-nah
 sah-pō-tāy, kar-ahm-bō-laa, mah-rah-koo-ja, oom-boo, ah-sair-rol-ah
 Jah-kah, koo-poo-ah-soo
 bay-joo, bay-jō
 goy-yah-bad-ah…pay day mol-eh-key
 fahr-ō-fah, mōl-yō gēē pee-ment-ah
 Nō-sah Sehn-yor-ah gēē Con-say-souw