Monday, November 29, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 3) Bases

São Luís, founded in 1621, is one of Brazil's oldest and most historic cities. In many ways, it's also one of the country's most traditional and culturally conservative cities. All of these factors make it a particularly interesting destination for a food-crazed blog like Flavors of Brazil. All of the cultural influences which combine to create Brazilian cuisine are present in Maranhense cooking - African, European and indigenous.

In order to learn as much as possible about food traditions in Maranhão in a very short time, and to sample as many traditional dishes as possible in a short time, Flavors of Brazil will be "basing" itself in the traditional restaurants of São Luís' historic center during the blog's upcoming visit. "Basing" is the appropriate word, indeed, as "base" is the local word used to designate a small homestyle restaurant, headed by a female chef/owner, serving traditional local cuisine. Normally the restaurant is named after the chef - e.g. A Base de Lenoca, meaning "Lenoca's Base" and one of the most well-known of the city's bases.

Bases in São Luís began a long time ago when manual laborers were accustomed take their daily lunch in the kitchen of a local woman - over time, they began to say they were "based" in such-and-such's restaurant for lunch. "I'm based at Dona Maria's" or "He's based at Lenoca's". Eventually, the most successful of these in-home restaurants outgrew their space and the cook/proprietors began to open small restaurants in commercial districts - but continued to use the name their customers used when they cooked out of their own home. Some of these restaurants are still owned by the owners, but now, some have past on to daughters, nieces, or even grand-daughters.
Vintage Photo - Base Rabelo, São Luís

Dining at a base is an essential part of the São Luís gastronomic experience, and Flavors of Brazil will resport back next week on it's experiences in the bases of São Luís.

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