Acarajé: Energize Your Taste Buds with Brazil’s Best Food

Acarajé is not only one of the typical foods on Brazilian streets*, but also much more than that: a cultural expression and tradition in Brazilian cuisine. Akara stems from African influences and is firmly established in the Afro-Brazilian culture — it’s particularly found in northeastern Bahia. This iconic dish represents history, religion, and community. This article introduced the reader to how Akara came about, how they began an important part of their culture and society as a whole, all while managing to find ways to stay relevant throughout centuries

Historical Origins

The history of Acarajé is linked to the African diaspora and trans-Atlantic slave trade. Enslaved Africans from West Africa, notably Yoruba people, that were brought to Brazil, introduced many of what would become known as staples of Brazilian cuisine. * Acarajé: A dish that roots go back to “akara,” or a West African bean fritter, the fruits of which often consumed in Nigeria, Ghana and other countries on the western coast of Africa.

The preparation united elements of African origins with available ingredients and traditions in Brazil. A popular street food in Brazil, Akara is closely linked to the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé — and often served as a holy meal during religious celebrations.

A street vendor frying Acarajé in hot dendê oil, capturing the vibrant street food culture of Bahia.

Cultural Significance

In Bahia, acarajé plays a major part in the cultural and religious life of the state. Whilst from Salvador more precisely, Acarajé significant in both Candomblé and likewise,based agenda relevant also on Ifa Oracle religionlore as place offering to Orisas. It is deeply connected to the practices of Candomblé, and in this tradition it is also a food offered to the orixás during ceremonial rites. It is especially linked to Iansã, orisha of winds, storms and fire; acarajé is said to call her protection as well. Offering an togelon acarajé can bless you!

The production and commercialization of acarajé is also a type of work associated to women, called “baianas de Akara”. When they’re wearing the traditional white robes these fully attired women are a common and welcome site in the streets of Salvador. Baianas do not only play a culinary role but also have a cultural function, ensuring the continuity of afro-brazilian formation and knowledge. The mere presence of them and the act of selling acarajé both contribute to the hustle, bustle and vibrancy which is Bahian street food culture.

Preparation Techniques

*It is an art and requires a lot of skill. The important component in this recipe are black-eyed peas, onions and salt. First we soak the black-eyed peas to soften them slightly, and then peel off the skins. This step takes time and is typically done by hand because the skins must be peeled off entirely for a nice, smooth texture.

Peel the peas, then grind them in a pestle and mortar (or blender) to make a paste. They also add onions and salt to this. The batter is then formed into small balls or patties which are deep fried in dendê (palm) oil to create the dende colored, crunchy morsels of delight that we’ve come to know as acarajé.

Dendê oil frying is an indispensable part of the acarajé since it gives that unique taste to delight our palate. Once filled with batter, the oil is heated to high temperatures and then fried to a crispy golden exterior which still retains its supple inside.

Traditional Accompaniments

Acarajé is typically served split open and filled with various accompaniments, each adding layers of flavor and texture. Common fillings include:

  • Vatapá: A creamy paste made from bread, shrimp, coconut milk, peanuts, and palm oil. It has a rich, savory flavor that complements the fried Akara.
  • Caruru: A dish made from okra, dried shrimp, cashew nuts, and palm oil. It adds a slightly viscous texture and a complex taste to the acarajé.
  • Shrimp: Small, dried, and salted shrimp are often added for an extra burst of umami and seafood flavor.
  • Tomato Salad: Fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro mixed with a tangy dressing provide a refreshing contrast to the fried fritter.
  • Malagueta Pepper Sauce: A spicy sauce made from malagueta peppers adds heat and a kick to the dish.

These accompaniments not only enhance the taste of Akara but also reflect the diverse culinary influences in Bahia, combining African, Indigenous, and Portuguese elements.

Modern Adaptations and Variations

While the traditional preparation of acarajé remains popular, modern variations have emerged, reflecting contemporary culinary trends and dietary preferences. Some adaptations include:

  • Vegan Acarajé: Replacing shrimp and vatapá with plant-based alternatives, such as chickpea paste or vegetable-based fillings, to cater to vegan and vegetarian diets.
  • Acarajé Bites: Smaller, bite-sized versions of Akara, often served as appetizers or party snacks.
  • Fusion Acarajé: Incorporating ingredients and techniques from other cuisines, such as adding cheese, different herbs, or international sauces, to create unique flavor combinations.

These innovations demonstrate acarajé’s versatility and its ability to adapt to changing tastes while preserving its traditional roots.

The Role of Acarajé in Bahian Festivals

Acarajé is an important dish in the occasions of various cultural and religious festivals celebrated throughout Bahia. Akara is also made during the Festa de Iemanjá (a feast for the orisha of the sea) and Lavagem do Bonfim (an important Catholic and Candomblé celebration), among other events.100 It’s a colorful expression and yet another clear example of Bahian identity merging on plates, through music via dance and religion in these festivals..

This is a symbolic gesture that indicates the space in these festivals for Afro-Brazilian culture’s connexion between food and spirituality. a is offering not just food but also a way to delve into cultural roots, held in hearth and heart through time (

Economic Impact and Tourism

Cultural and economic implications are the reasons acarajé is more than a cultural icon. The dish is a main source of income for the baianas de acarajé, which sell it in street corners or festivals. At any given point, local and tourist wants to venture these stalls that help support local economy and create a passage for culinary tourism.

It is very popular among tourists who visit Bahia and want to try a taste of this typical bahian cuisine. One of the first and most popular banderas, it soon was included on must-try lists from travel guides to culinary tours. With their popularity, they are also helping to draw attention and importance of Afro-Brazilian culture and its impact on the wide variety of Brazilian cuisine.

Challenges and Preservation

Despite its popularity, Akara faces challenges, particularly from modernization and changing economic conditions. The traditional methods of preparation are labor-intensive and time-consuming, leading some vendors to adopt shortcuts that can compromise the dish’s authenticity. Additionally, competition from other fast-food options and economic pressures can make it difficult for baianas to sustain their businesses.

Efforts to preserve and promote acarajé include cultural initiatives, culinary festivals, and educational programs. Organizations and community groups work to support the baianas, ensuring they have the resources and recognition needed to continue their craft. These efforts aim to maintain the cultural integrity of Akara while adapting to contemporary demands.

Global Influence and Adaptations

Acarajé’s influence extends beyond Brazil, as the dish has found its way into the culinary scenes of other countries. Brazilian communities abroad, particularly in the United States and Europe, have introduced acarajé to international audiences. Brazilian restaurants and food festivals often feature acarajé, allowing people from different cultures to experience its unique flavors.

In some cases, acarajé has been adapted to suit local tastes and ingredients. For example, in the United States, variations might include different types of beans or alternative frying oils. These adaptations reflect the dish’s ability to transcend cultural boundaries while maintaining its essence.

Traditional baianas de acarajé preparing Acarajé on the streets of Salvador, Brazil.

Culinary Comparisons

Comparing acarajé to similar dishes from other cultures highlights its uniqueness and the commonalities in global culinary practices. For instance, acarajé shares similarities with West African akara, which is also made from black-eyed peas and deep-fried. Both dishes exemplify the African influence on Brazilian cuisine and the ways in which culinary traditions can evolve in new environments.

Another comparison can be made with the Indian dish vada, a savory fritter made from lentils or chickpeas. Like acarajé, vada is often served with various chutneys and sauces, showcasing how different cultures create similar dishes using local ingredients and techniques.

The Future of Acarajé

The future of acarajé lies in balancing tradition with innovation. As younger generations take an interest in culinary heritage, there is potential for new interpretations and creative approaches to acarajé. Culinary schools and chefs can play a role in preserving traditional methods while exploring new ways to present and enjoy the dish.

Additionally, the growing emphasis on sustainable and ethical food practices offers opportunities to rethink how acarajé is sourced and prepared. Using sustainable ingredients and environmentally friendly cooking methods can ensure that acarajé remains a beloved dish for future generations.


Acarajé is a culinary gem that embodies the rich cultural tapestry of Brazil. Its deep roots in Afro-Brazilian traditions, its significance in religious and cultural practices, and its enduring popularity make it more than just a street food. It is a symbol of resilience, creativity, and community. If you like reading this article, please consider reading our article about Kolkata.