Culinary Adaptations in The New World
Food plays a huge role in Candomblé. Bahian food is largely reminiscent of West African food; red palm oil is an ingredient found in countless dishes. Some of the most popular Brazilian dishes are incomplete without gari or cassava flour that is used to make farofa. Gari is also frequently used to make foods like pade (a dish for Exu) or flour balls (similar to Nigerian eba).
Although the foods that we offer to Orixa in Candomblé remain very similar to traditional West African meals, some adaptations had to be made with certain ingredients. For example, one dish may use hominy flour in Brazil but corn starch in Nigeria, while another dish frequently includes shrimp in Brazil, but crayfish in Nigeria. These minor changes didn’t alter the essence of the Candomblé kitchen; in fact, these adaptations speak to the religion’s resilience over the centuries.
Corn is a food item that is usually included in one form or another while cooking in Candomblé – ground, boiled kernels, and even popped! The documentary below, Ajeum* dos Orixas (Food of the Orishas) explains the importance of corn in Candomblé and how it was used to replace sorghum that was used in West Africa.
I am not presenting the documentary as a declaration of absolute truth, but think that it’s an interesting look into the Candomble kitchen overall.
The documentary is in Portuguese, but I translated much of it below:
“Together with the Portuguese arrived enslaved Africans – and with them, a set of traditions, foods – a cereal in the corn family called sorghum.”
Baba Adailton Moreira:
“Sorghum wasn’t able to survive here [in Brazil]; why could that be? How did this re-signification come about? Corn came to take on the culinary and ritual importance [of sorghum], to make Orisha food – ajeun. The same way it has the trait of feeding the collective, the food that is offered to Orisha is the the food that’s part of our day to day as well.”
Iya Doya Moreira:
“To think of food for the Orisha, a banquet for the Orisha, corn is present for sure. This here is akassa, its base is hominy and is wrapped in a burned banana leaf into this format. Akassa is for all the Orishas; it’s the flour that feeds. From this corn, we make egbo for Oshala. Here is ashosho. Its base is yellow corn – we call it chicken corn because we use it to feed chickens. [We cook it] with a pinch of salt, and strips of dried coconut like this to decorate. Oshoosi really appreciates this dish. Here is ado**, a food for Oshun the goddess of love. Its base is also yellow corn, you soak it in water for a bit, strain it and roast it in a hot frying pan so it gets really toasted, then make it into a flour, add honey – this is so delicious, my mouth is already watering.
“It’s the popcorn that’s called doburu+, it’s popcorn kernels roasted in sand from the beach in a clay pot. This is the dish that goes to Obaluaye, or Omolu. I know a lot of stories of Obaluaye: Obaluaye was a child, he was a leper who was abandoned by his mother Nana. Yemanja, owner of the sea, of the sand, she took him and took care of him with popcorn that was popped on the seashore. …”
*The Yoruba word for food is ounje, but in Brazil it became creolized as ajeun – maintaining the root word “je” meaning “to eat.”
**Ado is a dish made of pounded roasted corn. The Yoruba word for corn is agbado, but a word frequently used to describe a food that has been pounded is ado – as in iyan ado for pounded yam.
+The Yoruba word for popcorn is guguru, but in Brazil it became creolized as doburu – also often pronounced daburu or duburu. While there is actual popcorn in Nigeria today, traditional guguru is popped sorghum.