Regional Bahian cuisine has a flavor and style all its own in the landscape of Brazilian food. Its Portuguese and Dutch European backings, and Native Brazilian undertones and flourishes, and all heavily impacted by Bahia’s major western and central African influences. And you can experience the best of all of these wonderful flavors served up at the SENAC Restaurant School, which offers both “food by the kilo” and all-you-can-eat buffet options at reasonable prices. We opted for the buffet, run by the state restaurant school, and offering a wide variety (40+) of dishes including appetizers, mains and desserts, all prepared by students. The restaurant is open for lunch every day from 11 AM to 3 PM and the cost is 36 Reais per person as of writing (about $20) which is a pretty good price for an all you can eat buffet, even by Salvador’s very reasonable food prices.
For sheer breadth alone, this is a great way to get an introduction to a wide variety of Bahian foods. The appetizers and main courses are displayed in a traditional steam table, with a separate little table for desserts. Our chosen appetizers included:
- Acarajé – Iconic Bahian fried bean patties (as described previously here) flavored with ginger and dried shrimp
- Abará– a variant on acaraje, but cooked in a banana leaf, much like a tamale
- Farofa – toasted manioc
- Vatapá, – paste made from coconut oil, peanuts, cashews, peppers and dried shrimp – typically used as a garnish for acarajé
- Coconut Rice
- Xinxim – chicken stew flavored with dende oil and spices
- Carurú– Stewed okra in palm oil
- Moquecas – one of the classic Bahian dishes, the food everyone’s Mom makes best. Moquecas are usually seafood stews made with coconut milk, and garnished with farofa, carurú, cilantro, and tomatoes. SENAC also served a chicken moqueca, but in tasting this was indistinguishable from the xinxim.
- Feijoada – Brazil’s national dish, a hearty and smoky black bean and meat stew
- Crab and Shrimp Salad
And the desserts:
- Cocadas – fresh coconut patties mixed with a lot of brown sugar, coming in a variety of tropical fruit flavors
- Quindim – Egg and Coconut tarts
- Portuguese egg tarts
- Ambrosia – Condensed milk, cinnamon and egg dessert(almost pudding-like)
- Fresh fruit
We can only assume that there is little change in variety each day, especially given the wide range of selections they already put out. We’ll readily admit that while none of the food blew us away, the price, variety, and very solid and tasty dishes definitely met our expectations. And in addition to the food, the view is nice as well – located on the 2nd floor of one of the Pelourinho district’s many restored colonial buildings, it looks out onto Salvador’s most famous square below, and the many windows provide a nice breeze. SENAC’s friendly waitresses are dresses as baianas, and are very attentive (drinks are extra, about R$2). So if it’s your first day in Salvador and need a reasonably-priced way to experience Bahian cuisine, head to SENAC.