Salvador has a fantastic street food culture.
It seems like no matter what you are in the mood for, Salvador has it. Sweet, salty, finger food, shareable or single-serving — Salvador has you covered.
As you go through the list, you’ll definitely find a theme when it comes to ingredients — local and traditional. Tapioca, coconut, sweetened condensed milk, bean paste, and deep-frying in dende (palm oil) are common elements of sweet and savory street treats alike.
Bonus: because of the heavy use of tapioca, all but two of the items on this list are gluten-free.
Like its better-known sibling acarajé, abará arrived on the shores of Salvador through the slaves of Western Africa. This important food plays a traditional role within Candomblé, but is popular outside of Candomblé as well.
Abará, like acarajé, is made of the paste of shelled black-eyed peas (it’s better than it sounds). Once the peas are shelled and ground until fine, the resulting paste is seasoned with dried shrimp, onion, garlic and other flavors until it’s savory. From there, it is rolled in a banana leaf, and steamed until done.
The easiest place to find abará is on the beach. Vendors walk the boardwalk and the beach with a hand cooler filled with warm abará, calling to customers by singing, abará temporada. It makes a great snack and the savory flavor combines well with beer.
Abará is a gluten-free treat.
Price for abará is generally 6-8 reais.
Acarajé is the street food that Salvador is best known for.
Brought to the northeast of Brazil from Western Africa as a part of the Yoruba/Candomblé tradition, these deep-fried bean fritters still play an important role in Candomblé. But, like abará, acarajé is a street food enjoyed by Candomblé practitioners and non-practitioners alike.
The fritters are always served hot with a variety of fillings. The standard fillings are shrimp (with the shell on), vatapá (a flour-based fish paste), hot sauce, and a tomato/onion/green pepper salad. Some vendors also have carurú, an okra-based dish, as a filling option.
If you are turning up your nose at that ingredient list, you aren’t the first one. Acarajé is traditional food that and loved by many, but not all.
You’ll recognize an acarajé stand by the traditionally-dressed baiana working in it. You’ll find these lovely ladies dressed in traditional attire — a large headwrap, necklaces, and large skirt.
My two favorite places to get acarajé are Acarajé de Tania in front of the Farol in Barra and the acarajé stand inside of the Pelourinho stage Largo Quincas Berro D’Agua. They both use high-quality ingredients with fresh, young shrimp (which makes the shrimp shells not-crunchy). There are hundreds, if not thousands, baianas of acarajé throughout the city, and there are many awesome acarajé stands — these are just the two that I have personal experience with that my husband and I particularly like.
Acarajé is a gluten-free treat as long as you avoid the vatapá.
Price for acarajé ranges from a couple of reais up to about 10 reais.
This is my favorite street food, probably because it re-defined breakfast for me. A beiju is the Brazilian version of a crepe. And, like the French crepe, can be either sweet or savory.
The beiju shell is made from tapioca flour mixed with just a slight amount of water. When the flour mixture hits the heat, the same properties that make it an awesome pie filling thickener kick in, and the shell congeals. If the tapioca is made properly, the shell is slightly crunchy on the outside and a bit chewy on the inside.
As the shell cooks, toppings are added, and when almost ready the tapioca is folded over and served like a street taco.
The classic beiju pairing in Salvador is the Romeo and Juliet — goiaba jelly and cheese. Other common sweet combinations involve chocolate, nutella, coconut, sweetened condensed milk, fried plantains, banana, and more.
Savory options are varied, but carne do sol (salted, jerked beef) and chicken are the most popular meat options, often with cheese. And, of course, there are a number of vegetarian options, like mozzarella, tomato, and basil.
You can find tapioca stands throughout the city, but my personal favorite is the cart that rolls up on the Orla in Barra at night during the summer. Not only do they stuff their beijus with toppings, but the ingredients are high quality and they have fantastic juices they sell on the side. There is almost always a line, and even the police make a stop there a part of their route.
Beiju is a gluten-free treat.
Prices vary widely, but you can expect to pay anywhere from 6 to 13 reais.
The bolinho estudante is a sweet most commonly sold at acarajé stands. Made with a base of tapioca, rolled in coconut, deep fried, and then sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, it’s pure sweet, gooey goodness.
To follow in the footsteps of the locals, first eat an acaraje and then enjoy either a bolinho estudante or cocada for dessert.
Bolinho estudante is a gluten-free treat.
Price is generally just a couple of reais.
The brigadeiro is the Brazilian version of a truffle — made from sweetened condensed milk, butter, and flavorings. As it should be, the most common flavor is chocolate, but coconut is another popular flavor you’ll find on the street.
You’ll typically find vendors on the beach and along the Orla (boardwalk) selling them out of shallow containers.
Pro Tip: If you need some to take back with you, there is a shop in the São Paulo airport that sells dozens of different flavors. You’ll pay more, but you’ll get a nice box and many more choices.
Brigadeiro is a gluten-free treat.
Price is just a couple of reais.
Another Candomblé food that has entered the mainstream, cocada is a coconut-based sweet that is most commonly found at an acarajé stand. Like the bolinho estudante, it is a popular chaser after a savory acarajé.
There are a couple of different variations of this popular treat, but all have the same base. The most basic variation contains sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk, and grated coconut heated together on a stove and pour out into a flat cookie-like shape.
Additional variations to the cocada have chocolate powder and/or peanuts added.
Cocada is a gluten-free treat.
Price is just a few reais.
a favorite of Brazilians and expats alike, these teardrop-shaped, deep-fried goodies are found throughout the country and are a staple street food.
A coxinha consists of a ball of shredded chicken, often mixed with cheese, then wrapped in a layer of floury, gooey dough. This mixture is deep-fried until it’s crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The size can vary from just a bit more than an inch across to something palm-sized.
Best eaten when warm, with a bit of hot sauce if you wish. You will generally find them in little street stands or in luncheonettes (lanchonetes).
Coxinhas are not gluten-free.
Price is just a few reais.
Churrasco is the universal term for “grilled meat.” You are probably familiar with “churrascaria” as a type of Brazilian steakhouse where servers walk around slicing chunks of meat off of large skewers right onto customer plates.
Those types of churrascarias certainly exist in Salvador, but much more common are street vendors with portable grills selling on the street, the Orla (boardwalk), or the beach. Skewers will be either beef or chicken (pork is not terribly popular here).
Churrasco is a gluten-free treat.
For just a couple of reais, you can get a skewer of grilled goodness.
Cuscuz Doce de Tapioca Baiana
Sweet tapioca couscous, baiana style, is a popular type of sweet cake that is often found on the street. This no-bake cake is made from tapioca pearls, coconut milk, grated coconut, and sweetened condensed milk to drizzle on top.
My husband loves this specific type of couscous for breakfast with coffee, because the coffee cuts the sweetness — although I have yet to get on board.
Vendors make and sell it out of these large, flat silver carts (covered in plastic wrap). When you buy a piece, the seller cuts off a sizable piece and serves it to you with a disposable plate and fork.
Vendors are most commonly found along the boardwalk (Orla).
Cuscuz Doce de Tapioca Baiana is a gluten-free treat.
A single serving is typically 4 or 5 reais.
Where you find coxinhas you will probably find pastels. Of Middle East origins, they they are a light, flaky dough stuffed with either chicken or beef and cheese. I like to think of them as a Hot Pocket the way they should have been done. (If you aren’t from the US or a child of the 80s, then I apologize for the Hot Pocket cultural reference, and I offer you this comedy bit about them to explain.)
Pastel is not gluten-free.
Like the ubiquitous coxinha, pastels generally run just a few reais.
The Salvador street vendors sell two types of popcorn — savory and sweet. Savory is what you would expect — popcorn with salt and butter. Sweet popcorn is drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, and is a surprisingly delicious, albeit sticky, treat.
You can find popcorn vendors all the way along the Orla (boardwalk) as well as throughout Praca da Se and the Pelourinho.
Popcorn is a gluten-free treat.
Price is generally just a few reais.
Toasted cheese. I think that is probably all you need to know to understand that it’s delicious, but I’ll elaborate a bit more.
Queijo coalho is a lightweight, slightly salty cheese that is cut into rectangles and put into skewers. The street vendors selling them can be seen with a small, silver, portable stove. The stove is filled with red-hot coals, and when you call a vendor over, they will toast your cheese right in front of you. Once it’s toasted, they will offer you oregano and honey to put on your toasty, slightly-melted cheese.
If savory/sweet is your thing or you like cheese curds, then this is a can’t miss treat.
Vendors are always walking the beaches, as well as on the Orla and any public square where beer is sold.
Queijo coalho is a gluten-free treat.
Each stick is typically just a couple of reais.
Hardly exclusive to Salvador, nonetheless, peanuts are an incredibly popular street food. Most commonly they are sold shelled and roasted, still warm, in white paper cones. Unsurprisingly, peanut vendors are most likely to be found where there is a lot of beer being sold.
Toasted peanuts are gluten-free.
Price is generally two reais for a cone.
My Top Picks
Here are the top three I think every visitor to Salvador should try:
- Acarajé — You may or may not like it, but trying it is a rite of passage. If you ever talk to someone else that has been to Salvador, they will ask you, “did you try acarajé?”
- Queijo Coalho — A uniquely-northeastern Brazil treat. And honestly, there isn’t much better with an ice-cold beer when you are on the beach. (I’m originally from Wisconsin, so maybe that’s a case of you can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but you can’t take the Wisconsin out of the girl.)
- Coxinha — I don’t find a lot of tourists that seek out coxinhas, but in the expat groups I’m in, every expat that leaves Brazil later laments not having coxinhas in their home country. So, I feel it’s my responsibility to introduce you to them in Salvador.
My husband’s top picks
These are my husband’s go-tos when he is in the mood for street food:
- Churrasco — It’s grilled meat on a stick. What’s not to like?
- Acarajé — His mom was a baiana of acarajé, so he’s not only super-picky about acarajé, but also a huge fan when done right.
- Beiju — Getting a beiju from the Barra street vendor is a part of our summertime Sunday evening tradition. Delicious, and one of the few not-deep-fried options on the list. I originally had beiju in my top three as well, but traded it out for coxinha since I feel like I have a responsibility to you to make sure you try it.