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Day 35: Salvador

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At the Mercado São Joaquim. Soon to be redeveloped, it's a hustling, bustling place where you can get fresh chickens, a surprise shoe shine, and just about anything else.
Michael Palin - BrazilHaving gathered the ingredients we repair to Sabores da Dadá, the restaurant she has recently opened on the sea front. The decoration has Candomblé overtones. The front is decorated with a colourful swirl of fitas, the ubiquitous good-luck wristbands. Inside there are images of the orixás, looking like figures out of fairy tales, and on the wall a figure of St George/Oxóssi and a small shrine to John the Baptist, portrayed as a young boy with a mass of black curls, a halo and a fleece wrapped around him. Once in the tiny kitchen Dadá exchanges her long white scarf for one in vivid yellow, which she ties around her head, before setting to work. She begins by marinating the redfish in lime, salt and ice whilst giving me the task of slicing onions and chopping chillies. As we work she tells me a little more of her history. Her mother worked in the fields for a big landowner, and as a menial in the kitchens Dadá's first acquaintance with good food came from eating the leftovers of the pots and pans before washing them up. She came to Salvador at the age of fourteen to be a housemaid and, except for some time in São Paulo, has been here ever since. Her mother died of cancer and more recently her brother died too. As she tells me this she blinks back tears and I don't think it's just from slicing onions. These losses strengthened her resolve to work even harder. Her tenacity and ambition paid off with the opening of her first restaurant some twenty years ago. When I ask her if she is bored with cooking after all this time she stuffs the sauce of onions, tomatoes, green and red peppers and coconut milk into the fish's underbelly and shakes her head dismissively.

'Each day that goes by I like it more, much more,' she declares adamantly. 'Cooking for me is like having sex. I feel complete, as if I was having a great orgasm.'

'It must be exhausting every time you make a meal.'

She considers this for a moment, then chuckles.

'No. Making love is more exhausting.'

As a series of fierce downpours whip in off the bay, buffeting the little restaurant, Dadá efficiently but unhurriedly puts together a banquet. Apart from the moqueca, there are mussels with coriander, and redfish stuffed and served with coriander, the kidney bean and shrimp dumplings known as acareje, and farofa, the yellow manioc flour fried in oil with bacon and onion to which I'm rapidly becoming addicted. Then passion fruit and mango to cleanse the palate. Dadá leans across the table when I ask her what makes Bahian food so special, so envied in Brazil.

'Bahian cooking is like the Bahian people. It's very colourful, it smells good, is full of flavour and has a soul.'

When we come out there's a patch of sun amongst the downpours. Whatever the guide books may think about her restaurant, Dadá has been responsible for the best meal I've yet had in the North-East. She's a remarkable, ambitious and determined woman who you feel can do anything she sets herself to. Except, perhaps, for the one thing she really needs to be able to do. Clone herself.
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At the Mercado São Joaquim. Soon to be redeveloped, it's a hustling, bustling place where you can get fresh chickens, a surprise shoe shine, and just about anything else.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 35: Salvador
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Salvador
  • Book page no: 154

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  • Eating
  • Day 5 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
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