Monday, October 22, 2012

On the Road - Salvador - Pt. 7 - The SENAC Restaurant-School

In Salvador, one obligatory stop for anyone interested in Bahian gastronomy and cooking is the SENAC Restaurant-School, located in a historic colonial house on the Largo do Pelourinho, the sloped square which is the epicenter of the Bahian universe. SENAC is a national Brazilian institution which teaches vocational skills in centers throughout the country, and the Salvador Restaurant-School is part of SENAC's cooking faculty in Salvador.

The restaurant was opened in 1975, and since then has served as an introduction to classic Bahian cuisine to hundreds of thousands of tourists and as a review of the riches of the cuisine to local residents. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, and is invariably very busy, although it's almost always possible to get a table fairly quickly. (One thing to note - there are, in fact, two SENAC buffets housed in the same mansions. On the street level is a small buffet that serves standard Brazilian dishes, those that can be found in almost any pay-by-weight restaurant in Brazil. The Bahian buffet is up two flights of stairs on the top floor of the house.)

As the restaurant fuctions as a teaching facility as well as a restaurant, the cooks, bartenders and wait staff are all students at SENAC working under the supervision of the faculty's teachers and professors. Because of its non-profit status, the school's charge for the unlimited-serving buffet is a reasonable R$40 (about USD $20). There are cheaper Bahian restaurants in town (and there are definitely more expensive, too), but at no other will you be able to sample such a wide variety of Bahian dishes in a single location. Every day there are at least forty dishes available on the buffet, including an amazing selection of traditional desserts, something that Bahian cooks have been noted for for centuries. The number of dishes one can sample is limited only by one's appetite and capacity. You'll find abará and acarajé, of course, but also almost a dozen types of moquecas - everything from traditional standards like fish and shrimp up to moqueca de fato (fato meaning entrails). There are numerous rice and bean dishes, steamed fish and vegetables, sweet potatoes, various treatments of manioc and three or four traditional Bahian pimentas (hot sauce). A word to the wise when it comes to SENAC's pimenta; the restaurant makes no concessions to non-Bahians' limited tolerance for hot peppers. SENAC's hot sauces are very hot indeed, so be careful.

The service staff is hardworking and earnest, though it must be said that as it is composed of students, the service isn't always what one might call polished or speedy. But what the waitresses and waiters may lack in velocity they make up for in charm and friendliness.

The food at SENAC is good, at times very good. It may never be the best Bahian food on the planet, but it is the spot for newcomers to Bahian food to discover which dishes they love, which ones they like and which they'd prefer not to return to. A visit to SENAC should be made early in one's trip to Salvador. Later, in other restaurants, armed with what you learned at SENAC, you can knowledgeably read a Bahian menu and revisit those dishes that particularly appealed to you.

3 comments:

  1. This is a school restaurant that offers different types of Brazilian cuisine everyday. The service is very courteous but one needs to be aware that everyone in the restaurant is in training. Highly recommend for lunches.

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