African Diaspora in Brazil
Moqueca is one of the most famous dishes in Brazil and a staple of Afro-Brazilian cooking. In Paraty, Flavia runs a restaurant out of her home that specializes in Bahian cooking. She showed us how to prepare the dish and talked about the importance of this food to her, her family, and her community.
This is Flavia's restaurant in Paraty, Brazil. She specializes in Afro-Brazilian food, or what she also called Bahian food, including acarajé, okra, a variety of different stews, and lots of fresh seafood.
Another key ingredient of moqueca, and many Afro-Brazilian dishes, is coconut milk, which Flavia adds here. According to Dr. Kenneth Olson, coconuts were introduced to the West Coast of Africa by the Portuguese, who first got them from trade on the Indian Ocean. When the Portuguese colonized Brazil, they brought them to grow there too (Lutz). The prevelence of coconut milk in many dishes is another example of culinary traditions that were used in West Africa and were kept alive to create new dishes in Brazil.
Dende oil (shown here in the yellow container) is a staple of Afro-Brazilian cooking. The oil comes from the fruit of palm trees originally found in West Africa but brought to Brazil alongside the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Watkins, 142-143). Throughout slavery in Brazil, enslaved women continued to produce dende oil from the palm trees to supplement thier diets and to sell in the market. The fruit of the palm trees was also used in religious ceremonies, including dances in Candolmble (Watkins, 146-147). These practices by enslaved people ensured the survival of culinary traditions that began in Africa and are widely popular in Brazil today.
KEEPING HISTORY ALIVE
Throughout history, African and African descendent women in Brazil have used their culinary skills to create their own spaces in a world that sought (and often continues) to exploit and oppress them. During slavery, some women were able to buy freedom for themselves, their families, and others using money they raised selling their food. After abolition, this continued to be an important way for Black women in Brazil to make money for themsevles and their communities (Gaspar). Flavia said that cooking Bahian food keeps her directly connected to her history and culture and that she's proud to carry on this tradition.
Gaspar, Lúcia. “Bahia Acarajé Women (Baiana Do Acarajé).” Bahia Acarajé Women (Baiana Do Acarajé), Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, 17 Nov. 2010, basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar_en/index.php?option=com_content&id=1038%3Abahian-acaraje-women-baianas-de-acaraje.
Lutz, Diana. “Deep History of Coconuts Decoded.” The Source, Washington University in St. Louis, 13 Jan. 2016, source.wustl.edu/2011/06/deep-history-of-coconuts-decoded/.
Watkins, Case. “Landscapes and Resistance in the African Diaspora: Five Centuries of Palm Oil on Bahia's Dendê Coast.” Journal of Rural Studies, vol. 61, 2018, pp. 137–154., doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2018.04.009. Accessed at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0743016717305727