Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 10) - Caldeirada Maranhense

In almost every coastal region of Brazil (and with over 4650 miles, or 7500 kilometers, or coastline there are a lot of coastal regions in this country) there is a traditional dish consisting of a variety of fish and/or seafood served in a spicy, soupy sauce. In the state of Bahia this dish is usually called moqueca and is highlighted by the presence of dendê palm oil in the sauce. The neighboring state of Espírito Santo is also famous for moquecas, but theirs don't include dendê. In Flavor of Brazil's home state of Ceará it's known as peixada, and in Maranhão the locals call their variation caldeirada, which has the same linguistic roots as our English word chowder.

During our recent visit to São Luís, Maranhão, we sampled a caldeirada Maranhense during a dinner in a charming restaurant called Antigamente, located on one of the principal squares of the historical district. Housed in a centuries-old two-story building that was once a home, the restaurant is located at street level, and at night literally spills out into the square with tables and chair covering the sidewalk in front of the restaurant and out onto the cobblestoned street in this pedestrian-only zone.  Owned by self-taught local chef Ana Lula, who started her career with a hot-dog cart on the same square where Antigamente sits, this restaurant has been open for more than 20 years and is one of the established stars of the São Luís food scene.

Antigamente's caldeirada is a rich, heady mixture of fish and shellfish and generously feeds two people. The sauce is tomato-based and is enriched with coconut milk. In addition to the seafood, the caldeirada included whole hard-boiled eggs (peeled) and chunks of potatoes. The stew is cooked, in traditional style, in a large unglazed-ceramic bowl, and brought to the table in the same bowl. It is served with plain white rice and pirão, which is an extra portion of the sauce thickened with manioc flour.

The dish was absolutely delicious and brimming full of seafood. When we ordered the dish our waitress had confirmed that one serving would be enough for two, but she was wrong - it would have easily sufficed for three or perhaps four persons. As wonderful as it was we were unable to finish it and had to leave a disconcerting amount of caldeirada in the bowl, even though we'd eaten sparingly of the rice and pirão.

Our next post here will feature a typical recipe for caldeirada maranhense. It's not Antigamente's recipe which is a proprietary secret of Ana Lula's, but I would guess that it's very similar.

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