MuQueCa is a passport to southeast Brazil at it’s nearest culinary consulate in Cambridge on Day 18 of the 30 day ethnic food challenge. MuQueCa’s authentic Capixaba cuisine of the Espirito Santo region features the dish the place is named after. Sometimes spelled Moqueca, it is a sumptuous seafood stew starring fish, shrimp, mussels and squid flavored with cilantro, annatto seeds, and olive oil and cooked and served in a special clay pot.
Begininngs first, nobody loves their salgadinhos (appetizers) like Brazilians. Brazilian Patties were six little fried footballs, bolinho de bacalau, made up of potatoes, eggs, parsley, with dry salted codfish. On each table a covered jar of house made hot sauce is provided. This amazingly flavorful and hot after the fact Farofa de Malagueta is the serious Brazilian hot sauce made with manioc flour and should be kept out of reach of children and handled with care. A pinch on each bolinho was a perfect kiss of fire extinguished with a squirt of fresh lime.
Itaipava Pilsen a Pilsener by Cervejaria Petrópolis (near Rio de Janeiro) was the logical solution to put out any residual heat. The cold bottle delivered a pale yellow super bubbly brew, one of 4 at MuQueCa and one of scads of brands in Brazil, now the world’s third largest beer market. Itaipava has a fruity grainy corn smell and reminds the tongue of beer before microbreweries brought regional styles back.
Heart Of Palm Salad disappeared off the plate faster than you can say Salada de palmito. Selected tomatoes and tender (non canned) palm tree shoot centers are anointed with a pleasant vinaigrette and are delectable. These days natural juices of exotic fruits from the Amazon Rain Forest like: Açaí and Gurana are all the rage. MuQueCa has these and Cupuaçú, a relative of cacao which are 2 to 4 lb white pulpy fruits with hard fuzzy skin. With a taste of fermentation and uniquely fragrant with chocolate and pineapple notes, the juice tastes primarily like pear, with a hint of banana and an alcohol finish (hic).
The MuQueca main event is Moqueca Completa. Brazilians have been making Moquecas for 300 years and here that tradition is honored with tremendous attention to each dish as it is conjured slowly with no water added. It basically consists of fish, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and chives. Our server Linda explained that in moqueca making, olive is used instead of palm oil (coconut milk is never used) and urucum (annatto) pigment is added, At MuQueCa, moqueca is always cooked in a traditional black clay and mangrove tree sap pan, the Capixaba pan; “be careful it’s hot!”
MuQueCa has great endings as well. Flan with a dark home-made caramel sauce was light and not too eggy. But the big sweet winner was Tapioca & Coconut, Manjar de Coco & Tapioca. Here, tapioca mixed with coconut flakes & coconut milk, laced with brown sugar, rum, and condensed milk was a dessert game changer begging for coffee. In Brazil, cafezinho means “little coffee” and the invitation to pause and enjoy the thick, sweet coffee, conversation and dessert. More coffee is used than the joe we know so the method of cafezinho guarantees a far stronger concentration of flavor and customarily has plenty of sugar. Great service in a family atmosphere, MuQueCa is typically affordable unless you order several rounds of the expertly mixed national cocktail, the Caipirinha. The sugar cane juice firewater cachaça based drink shouldn’t be missed. MuQueCa is a friendly place to linger over a great carefully cooked meal where in this case not a drop or a crumb was left but a happy memory remains.
Opened Sunday at 12:00 Noon Until 9:30 PM • Tuesday to Saturday at 11:00 AM until 10:30 PM • Closed Mondays
1008 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02141