manioc, coconut milk (lots of it!), dendê palm oil and the sweet fresh shrimps for which Brazil's north-east coast is so famous.
A bobó is a manioc cream or puree, which can be served unadorned or finished with shrimp or other protein. Depending on the recipe and on the cook the puree can be as thin as a soup or something more substantial. The word bobó comes to Brazil from the language of the Ewe people who inhabited current-day Ghana, Togo and Benin and who were brought to Brazil as slaves in large numbers during the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In their language, bobó means "a dish made with beans." Today, there are no beans in bobó, at least in Brazil. Instead the cream is made with manioc, a native South American staple and one to which Afro-Brazilian slaves took enthusiastically when they were introduced to it in the New World.
For anyone who has any culinary curiousity or interest in Brazilian cooking and eating traditions, going to Salvador or anywhere else in Bahia and not trying bobó de camarão at least once would be nearly as great a gastronomic sin as not trying acarajé while visiting Bahia. (Nearly as great, but not quite). Fortunately, bobó de camarão is easy to find in restaurants that feature local dishes and is a staple dish on buffet tables in Bahian self-serve restaurants. It's also quite easy to make, and can be a great centerpiece for a casual dinner for a small group. This recipe serves 8 well. White rice is an obligatory side dish, and if you add a green salad you have a complete meal.
The only ingredient that can be difficult to source outside Brazil (and which is absolutely necessary in a bobó) is the shockingly-brilliant orange palm oil called dendê. In North America and Europe it can be ordered online, or usually can be sourced in Latin American and African food markets. If the product is destined to the African trade, it might just be labelled "palm oil" - if it's orange and solid or semi-solid at room temperature, then it the right stuff. Manioc is available in the same markets, though it may be labelled cassava root, or yuca depending on the ethnic variety of the market.
RECIPE - Shrimp Bobo (Bobó de Camarão)
For the manioc cream:
2 lbs (1 kg) cooking onions, peeled and chopped
2 lbs (1 kg) firm, ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
4 Tbsp finely cilantro, finely chopped
2 lbs (1 kgs) manioc/cassava/yuca root, peeled, boiled and mashed
2 cups (500 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups (1 liter) coconut milk
For the shrimp:
4 lbs (4 kgs) medium or large shrimp, peeled, deheaded and deveined, with tails left on
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 medium onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups (1 liter)coconut milk
2 Tbsp dendê oil
Prepare the manioc cream: In a large heavy saucepan, combine the onion, tomatoes, green pepper and cilantro with the mashed manioc. Stir in the olive oil and coconut milk, then heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the cream begins to pull away from the bottom of the pan when you stir. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Prepare the shrimp: Rinse the shrimp well in plenty of cold running water. Drain. In a large, deep saucepan combine the drained shrimp, chopped garlic, salt, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, green pepper and the olive oil. Heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently. When hot, add the coconut milk in 1/2 cup amounts, stirring after each addition to completely mix. Continue to cook for 5 minutes more, stirring constantly.
Add the reserved manioc puree to the shrimps and continue to cook for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Just before removing from the heat, add the dendê oil and mix it in completely. Remove from heat, pour into a decorative deep serving platter, sprinkle with additional cilantro if desired and serve immediately.