A saber tooth tiger, fangs bared, greeted us at the entrance to the La Brea Tar Pits, but his menacing grin wasn’t about to deter us from pressing forward to enjoy the culinary treasures at Brazilian Day L.A., an annual festival from the Brazilian Consulate.
Hundreds of native Brazilians showed up dressed in yellow and green to groove to live music on the temporary dance floor. After the crowds built up a good sweat, they lined up for Brazilian-style pizza from Bella Vista, plus food from Angela’s Catering, Pastel de Feira, Zabumba and Luciene Peck, the force behind Rio Brazil Café, which recently closed for business. Plenty of people indulged in feijoada, the national stew of Brazil, featuring black beans and multiple meats, but the regional Brazilian dishes that are hard to find in L.A.’s Brazilian restaurants were more interesting. Street Gourmet L.A. founder Bill Esparza originally unearthed Sabor de Bahia, a regional Brazilian catering duo that’s based in Culver City, and he was at the festival to introduce me to the wonders of Reni Flores and Ilma Wright’s cooking.
Acarajé ($5), their piece de resistance, are black-eyed pea fritters that resemble oversized hushpuppies and were fried in rich dende oil, which is harvested from palm trees. They sliced open the fritters and slathered them with vatapa, a rich orange paste made from coconut milk, shrimp, dende and breadcrumbs; and carurú, a pungent okra-based spread that also involves dende (of course), shrimp, cashews and more. They also piled “pico de gallo” and shell-on dried shrimp into the golden orbs, taking the funk to another level with that final addition.
The wonders of their acarajé came as no surprise, and their Moqueca de Peixe ($15) was at least as good. They lavished red snapper fillets with coconut milk, dende, peppers and tomato slices until the fish was absolutely luxurious. The fish came with vatapa, white rice and a refreshing salad of black-eyed peas, peppers and onions that was treated with a judicious amount of vinaigrette.
Xinxim de Galinha ($15) was the only dish that didn’t deliver. Yes, the plate held vatapa and the black-eyed pea salad, but the chunks of white meat chicken weren’t very juicy, even when treated with a sauce involving dende and cashew. Surely the hen’s thigh would have been more tender.
Sabor de Bahia also sold Moqueca de Camarão, Flan and Abará, which is Acarajé’s tamale-like cousin, split and stuffed. If it wasn’t three hours until dinner, we almost certainly would have devoured the rest of their offerings. Sabor de Bahia doesn’t feature a brick and mortar location, but they’re well worth calling in advance for catering or takeout.