O que é que a Baiana tem? What does the Baiana have? The answer to that age old question can be summarized into two words, Palm Oil. Though I am pretty certain Dorival Caymmi was not thinking of palm oil when composing that iconic song for Carmen Miranda, but still. Palm oil is one of my favorite ingredients to use. So much so that when determining what signature dish to make for Gordon Ramsey on my MasterChef appearance, the one and only requirement I had for the dish was that it must include palm oil.
Like I've told you all before, Brazilian cuisine is ridiculously diverse. Bahia - more specifically Salvador, BA - has an amazing and unique cuisine, which is heavily African influenced. Bahia was the main portal in which the African slaves were brought to be processed and then sent to other parts of the country. And so, the African slaves brought their delicious cuisine and techniques, which evolved into the Afro-Bahian cuisine that we have today.
It really irks me when I see recipes say "1 tbsp palm oil (or vegetable oil can be substituted)”. I am sorry to break it to you folks but, palm oil can absolutely NOT be substituted by any other oil. You will lose everything that makes the dish what it is, in turn creating a whole new dish. The beauty of a Moqueca, Bobo, etc., is the color and flavor that the palm oil brings to it! So go that extra mile in search for palm oil, which actually shouldn't be that hard to find. For you Seattleites, the El Mercado Latino in Pike Place Market always has it in stock. For those of you non-Seattleites, you can search Latino or African stores in your town. Wherever it is you find it, you will not regret it!