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Brazil

Day 35: Salvador

 
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Dadá's daughter and grandson Bernardino.
Michael Palin - BrazilDadá's celebrity follows her around, and there's much smiling and joking with the people she meets. A man shaving fur off a calf 's leg breaks off for a word, the purveyor of dried shrimps lets her dig around. There is, as far as I can see, nothing ready-wrapped here; every ingredient can be tasted and tested. Dadá is after some particularly strong pepper, and once she finds it, she asks me if I'll grind it whilst she checks out the chillies.

Then she gives me a short treatise on the apparently infinite varieties of manioc flour – white, yellow, a thicker greyer variety, one that looks almost purple. And they all have their own names. Entirely predictably, one is St Anthony, another St Philip and, well, you get the picture. There are beans of all shades from white to jet-black, all in huge open sacks, and a huge choice of herbs and spices. Coriander is the staple for moqueca, but Dadá introduces me to a powerfully flavoured African version called cilantro.

'Bull's coriander,' she explains, with a wink. 'The slaves brought it over. It grows wild.'

Then there's dried shrimp and banana leaf and peppermint and spring onions and cassava and of course various meats – smoked pork ribs, dry salted beef, spicy sausages called calabresa – so we have to trawl through the piles of liver and sweetmeats and the pigs' faces lying there on the slab like ghoulish party masks. By the time we're finished I'm completely wrung out and more than a little peevish when, squashed up between a delivery of custard apples and a man with a box full of football shirts, I find someone at my feet. I think he might have dropped some- thing but he brings out brushes and polish and starts to clean my shoes. He does a wonderful job and I add an extra real or two for being such a sourpuss.

I'm quite relieved when this shopping assault course is over, but if you enjoy people-watching there can be few sites on earth to rival the Mercado São Joaquim. Sad then to be told that its days are numbered, and in a year or so the market will move into new clean, tidy, sweet-smelling, non-leaking, air-conditioned premises nearby. I feel about the Mercado São Joaquim as people feel about Cuba – see it now before it all changes.
 
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Produce can be bought at street stalls all over the city.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 35: Salvador
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Salvador
  • Book page no: 153

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