Moqueca is a Brazilians’ favorite dish for many reasons: it is practical to make, it is healthy, and involves a combination of ingredients that is genuinely Brazilian. Fish, Urucum , coriander, tomatoes, plus coconut milk, pepper and dendê oil (the last three only in the baiana – version) are the main stars of this complex combination of flavours. According to many sources (family and friends mostly) I consulted to write this text, moqueca is a plate with indigenous and African origins. While the moqueca capixaba (from the State of Espírito Santo) seems to be more connected to the indigenous origins of the dish, the baiana version (from the State of Bahia) uses African ingredients like the dendê oil and coconut milk.
Until today, we prepare moquecas in a clay pot (panela de barro). Most Brazilian houses have at least one clay pot for moquecas. I remember at my mother’s home how our panela de barro was always stored in a secret spot in the kitchen, only put out in the ‘moqueca’ occasions, as it was fragile and heavy. Moqueca, as many other main course Brazilian dishes, is served with rice. The never-to-be-missed companion of the moqueca is called Pirão, which is made with the fish broth from the moqueca thickened with cassava flour. Moqueca, pirão and rice, that’s all you need for a perfect Brazilian easy-going Sunday.
If you are going to cook moqueca, you have to know that it is so loved by Brazilians that there is a dispute between capixabas and baianos about it. Some capixabas (individuals from the State of Espírito Santo) claim that the only true moqueca is the one made in Capixaba lands. “The rest is fish stew”, many capixabas would say. In my experience, there is no way of disliking any of the available versions. There is a variation of the moqueca for vegetarians in which fish is replaced by banana da terra (plátanos) and there is also moqueca of siri, which is one type of crab. To every moqueca, you can add shrimps and make it extra special. What makes it really special, however, is cooking it with a nice music in the background, without any hurry, and surrounded by friends and family as the Brazilian ritual commands.
If you want to be on the mood for cooking a moqueca, I have selected a top 10 songs moqueca-cooking soundtrack:
- Moqueca de Idalina (Nei Lopes & Zeca Pagodinho)
- Você já foi a Bahia? (Dorival Caymmi, sang by Caetano Veloso)
- Em memória do Candeia (Martinho de Vila)
- Falsa Baiana (Mariene de Castro)
- Canto das Três Raças (Clara Nunes)
- Feira de Mangaio (Sivuca, played by Dominguinhos, Sivuca e Oswaldinho)
- Borzeguim (Tom Jobim)
- Amanhã é Sábado (Roberta Sá e Martinho da Vila)
- Marginália II (Maria Bethânia)
- Muito obrigado axé (Maria Bethânia e Ivete Sangalo)
With thanks to my dear friends, one capixaba (Laura) and one baiana (Kamila), who helped me figuring out the nuances of moqueca within each region.