What is acaraje? Where to find the best of the Brazilian street food


Acaraje, Brazil


You may not have heard of this dish, but trust me, you need it in your life. Your arteries probably don't. And your calorie counter doesn't. But you do. Acaraje is a street-food specialty in the Brazilian state of Bahia, a ball of mashed black-eyed peas that is deep-fried in palm oil, then split in half and stuffed with deliciousness, usually spicy pastes made with cashews and prawns, plus whole-fried school prawns, served with more hot sauce. These snacks are legendary throughout cities such as Salvador, Ilheus and Itabuna.


Acaraje's roots lie in the West African dish akara, a very similar preparation of mashed, deep-fried black-eyed peas, though these cakes are typically not split and filled with paste and meat in the Bahian style. Akara was brought across from Nigeria and Ghana by people enslaved by the Portuguese. It was quickly adopted as a street-food staple in Bahia, and became known as acaraje, probably as a portmanteau of words in the West African Yoruba language, given vendors used to shout "akara n'je", or "come and eat akara" to passing customers. These days most acaraje vendors are women, who typically wear all white.


Acaraje is sold throughout Bahia, but for the best you really have to go to Salvador. This is true street food, so your best bet is to wander the alleyways and keep your eyes open; however, Acaraje de Regina, a small stall permanently set up in the Rio Vermelho district, is an eternally popular classic.


This is a hard dish to find even in Brazil (outside Bahia), so it's no surprise Australia has very few vendors. Contact Abrisa (abrisa.org.au), a Melbourne-based Brazilian community group, to ask who might be able to make acaraje near you.


Acaraje has spiritual significance in Bahia as well: the dish is used as sacred offerings in Candomble, an Afro-Brazilian religion. These acaraje are offered to the "orixa", spirits sent by the supreme creator, Olodumare.