By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the days get shorter and the nights slightly cooler in tropical Rio, many are drawn to heartier foods that simmer on the stove for hours warming the bones. The moqueca baiana, or Bahian-style moqueca, is a classic option and finding the best in Rio is a worthwhile endeavor.
Moqueca is a hearty fish stew based on coconut milk and traditional fish from the state of Espírito Santo and Bahia. The customary main ingredients are; coconut milk, dendê oil, shrimp broth, onion, green and red pepper, tomato, various fish and seafood, olive oil, lemon, saffron, salt, pepper, and coriander, seasoned to taste with the ubiquitous spicy pimento (hot pepper) sauce.
Bahian-style moqueca tends to make more of an appearance in the winter months in Brazil, and especially in time for “Festas Juninas” (June Parties); traditional celebrations that honor Northeastern culture and take place between June and August.
British expatriate living in Rio, Tom Le Mesurier of popular food guide Eat Rio, shares his thoughts on moqueca. “First off, when talking about moqueca, you need to differentiate between ‘Moqueca Capixaba’ (from Espírito Santo – a simpler dish which includes urucum) and ‘Moqueca Baiana’ (from Bahia – made with coconut milk and dendê – unrefined palm oil).”
“Both dishes have their devotees, but I personally favor the richness of the coconut milk and the tang of dendê found in the version from Bahia.” Adding, “When it comes to accompanying dishes, a lot is made of the pirão (a thick gravy/sauce made from the fish/seafood juices), but for me, a really good, crunchy farofa de dendê is what makes the dish.”
There are a number of lists (in Portuguese) about where to find the best Bahian-style moqueca in Rio, and it is not hard to find on the menu from everywhere like the high-end Miam Miam in Botafogo to traditional Brazilian eateries like Belmonte (multiple locations).
One that seems to top the charts in Zona Sul (South Zone) is Nomangue in Copacabana, which made the VEJA Rio’s latest Comer & Beber edition, among the best in the category that takes into consideration price and quality, with a menu full of Bahian cuisine.
Nohelia Sanchez, co-founder of travel and tourism agency RdJ4U agrees, and told The Rio Times, “The best place for moqueca in Rio is Nomangue in Copacabana. It is the place where our moqueca experience takes customers, and it is by far the best restaurant for moqueca in the city.”
Tom Le Mesurier adds a few more recommeded options. “It’s a long trip and only opens from Thursday to Sunday, but Bira de Guaratiba serves an excellent moqueca with spectacular views over the Restinga de Marambaia. Other excellent options a little closer to Zona Sul include Aconchego Carioca in Praça da Bandeira and Café do Alto in Santa Teresa.”
The main variable for Bahian-style moqueca seems to be a mixed seafood or shrimp, but for vegetarians or vegans there are also ways to enjoy the dish. Rane Souza, director at RS Language Services, is from Minas Gerais but has lived in Rio for years shares, “I’m vegan. So, my favorite moqueca place is Tempeh. A kilo restaurant in downtown Rio.”