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Acarajé is a compound word derived from the African language Yoruba: ‘akará’ = ‘fireball’ and ‘jé’ = ‘eating’, or in other words,‘eating a fireball’. Its origin comes from a legend about the relationship between Xangôand his wife,Iansã.


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Last update: 22/11/2016

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

One of the most characteristic of Bahiancuisine delicacies, acarajé is a dumpling made of cooked, crushed cowpea seasoned with onion and salt. After being fried in palm oil, the dumpling is cut in half and stuffed with a sauce made with finely-crushed combination of dried shrimp, pepper and onion, and fried in palm oil. It is very similar to ‘abará’, another dish fromBahiancuisine, differing only in the cooking method: the first is fried and the second is steamed.

Acarajé is a compound word derived from the African language Yoruba: ‘akará’ = ‘fireball’ and ‘jé’ = ‘eating’, or in other words,‘eating a fireball’. Its origin comes from a legend about the relationship between Xangôand his wife,Iansã.

According to legend, Iansã, the goddess of the winds and storms, went to the house of an Ifá(African oracle) to seek food for her husband. The Ifágave some to her, recommending that onceXangô ate it, he should talk to the people. Suspicious, Iansã tasted the food before handing it to her husband,but nothing happened. Arriving home, she delivered the food toXangô, passing on the information from Ifá. Xangô ate the food,and when he was talking to the people flames started coming out his mouth. Distressed, Iansã ran to help, but flamesbeganto come out of her mouth as well. At this, the people began to hail them as ‘great rulers of Oyo’, or in other words, ‘great rulers of fire’.

When made to honour deities, or in a sacred context, acarajé should only be fried. Its sizes and formats have their own symbolism and are addressed to specific deities. The big and round ones are offered to Xangô, the small ones are catered for the ‘iabás’,such as Iansã– the mighty queen, wife of Xangô – or for the‘obás’(Xangôministers) and ‘erês’ (intermediaries between the person and his deity).

A main attraction on the traysof Bahia, acarajé has a strong religious connection withCandomblé. Every detail is important in the selling of it on the streets: the costume – the strings of beads, bracelets, and the ‘panodacosta’(piece of fabric worn over the shoulders);the preparation of the palm oil and dough;the respect to the food and holy days devoted to the gods. On Fridays, colourfulfood should not be prepared, especially with palm oil, in order notto offendOxalá, who only accepts white dishes without condiments.

In Rio de Janeiro, acarajé is also prepared with olive oil, with the same rigor asthe one fried in palm oilin Bahia. This ritual food is part of the offerings to deities that do not use palm oil or make little use of it.

Even when sold in asecular way, acarajé is considered a sacred food by Bahians and cannot be dissociated from the Candomblé. Its recipe must not be modified and should only be prepared by ‘filhosdesanto’(sons of saints).

Currently, there are those who dispute this principle, believing that it is important to maintain the respect for the traditions, but the sale should not be restricted to members of Candomblé.

Heirs of urban slaves, the ‘baianas do acarajé’(Bahian women with traditional costumes who sell acarajé on the streets)have existed in Salvador for at least a century. In 2005, the work became a cultural patrimony of Brazil, registered by the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN).


½ kiloof cowpea;
150g onions;
one litre of palm oil;
700 g shelled smoked shrimp;

Filling: four to six cups of palm oil, three chopped onions, garlic to taste, smoked shelled shrimp, coriander and spring onions,sautéedfor 10 to 15 minutes. Tomatoes and coriander,‘caruru’,‘vatapá’and pepper sauce can be added.


Soak the cowpeasuntil theyswell.
Remove the skin.
Grind with mortar or grinding machine.
Season the resulting pulp with salt, chopped onions andfinely-grounded, peeled dried shrimp.
Mix well until dough is smooth and homogeneous.
Place palm oil in a frying pan and, using a spoonto measure, fry portions of dough.
Serve with a filling of dried shrimp, pepper and onion.

Recife, december 27, 2010.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.
(Update november 22, 2016).

sources consulted

ACARAJÉ. Foto neste texto. Disponível em: <é-da-barra-copia.jpg>. Acesso em: 26 jul. 2016.

BRANDÃO, Darwin. A cozinha bahiana. Salvador: Livraria Universitaria, 1948.

CANTARINO, Carolina. Baianas do acarajé: uma história de resistência. Disponível em:<>. Acesso em: 6 dez. 2010.

A HISTÓRIA do acarajé. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 15 dez. 2010.

LODY, Raul. Santo também come. 2.ed. Rio de Janeiro: PALLAS, 1998.

PEREIRA, Marcos da V. (coord.). A culinária baiana no restaurante do SENAC Pelourinho. 2.ed. rev. atual. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Senac Nacional, 1999.


how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Acarajé.  Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.