Akara/Acaraje: A Street Snack And An Essential Ritual Food
Àkàrà (Yoruba) or Kosai (Hausa), Kose (Ghana) is popular street food in Nigeria and usually credited to the Yoruba culture as it was specially prepared when a person who has come of age (70 and above) dies. It is usually fried in large quantities and distributed across every household close to the deceased. Àkàrà also used to be prepared in large quantities as a sign of victory when warriors come back victorious from war. The women, especially the wives of the warriors were to fry àkàrà and distribute to the villagers.
In Sierra Leone, àkàrà is composed of rice flour, mashed banana, baking powder, and sugar mixed together formed into a ball and fried. It is usually prepared for events like Pulnado (event held to due to the birth of a child), wedding, funeral or party. No matter how big the occasion, this item is a classic in the Sierra Leonean community.
In Bahia, the northeastern state of Brazil, there is a dish that is considered to be the most popular street food called acarajé.
Acarajé is derived from the Yoruba language. Àkàrà meaning “bread” or “pastry” or the dish itself. The Brazilian term “acarajé” derives from either the Yoruba word combinations “àkàrà” (bread) and “onje” (food) or àkàrà (a round pastry) and “je” (to eat). Marcio de Jagun states that the word derives from the Yoruba àkàrà n’jẹ, or “come and eat àkàrà”; the phrase was used to call out to customers by women selling acarajé on the street. It was sent to the Americas especially Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia by the West African enslaved from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Gambia, and Sierra Leone.
Although the base ingredients are the same, there are variations to suit specific taste. Acarajé is made with cooked and mashed black-eyed peas seasoned with salt and chopped onions molded into the shape of a large square cone and deep-fried in palm oil in a wok-like pan and stuffed with spicy pastes made from shrimp, ground cashews, palm-oil, and other ingredients.
Most street vendors selling acarajé are women (also known as baianas) easily identified by their all-white cotton dresses, headscarves and caps. They first appeared in Bahia selling acarajé in the 19th century. Earnings from the sale of acarajé were used to buy the freedom of enslaved family members until the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888. Its sale additionally served as a source of family income. Acarajé is not restricted to Bahia only; it is also available outside the state of Bahia including the streets of its neighboring state of Sergipe, and the markets of Rio de Janeiro.
Acarajé is also an essential ritual food used in Afro-Brazilian religious traditions such as Candomblé. It is offered to the orixá Exu. They vary in size based on their offering to a specific deity: large, round acarajé are offered to Xangô; smaller ones in form are offered to Iansã. Small, fritter-size acarajé is offered to Erês, or child spirits. Acarajé is used in Candomblé rituals in the states of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Maranhão.
Acarajé was listed as a federal immaterial asset (patrimônio nacional imaterial), by the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage in 2004; the role of baianas in the preparation and sale of acarajé was recognized in the same act.