I was in Bahia, Brazil, recently, researching a story on Trancoso. Trancoso has become – partly thanks to the arrival of Wilbert Das’s Uxua Casa Hotel and a handful of other very high-style-focused pousadas – one of the most fashion-forward yet still rustic resort towns in South America. Everyone I spoke to in the first few days asked me if I’d been to Silvinha’s for lunch yet. “Oh, it’s amazing… It’s on the most beautiful beach in Brazil… She’s a legend.” It felt churlish not to visit.
The eponymous Silvinha has lived in a small candy-coloured shack on Espelho beach in the grounds of Fazenda Cala for more than 16 years. During that time, she has opened up her porch to friends and those “in the know” for lunch. Reservations are essential so that she knows how many she’s cooking for, and she doesn’t speak much English, but absolutely every pousada manager knows her – I was staying at Etnia Clube de Mar and they called ahead for me.
Her restaurant is a 40-minute drive south of Trancoso, on a mildly treacherous dirt road. You pass Amerindian reservations and water-buffalo farms, turn left towards Espelho when you see the sign and then pass through various gates and driveways until you see the water. After a morning enjoying the beach (truly beautiful, with golden toffee sand and a mirror-like shoreline), you walk on to the grass and then Silvinha’s porch through a veil of colourful beads and wood-carved hangings.
There are three tables, simple place settings and a little dog sleeping on one of the many cushions that Silvinha has hand-decorated. There’s no menu, and there’s no wine list – if you want wine, there’s one on offer: a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (R$50, about £18). But most people drink passion-fruit caipirinhas (about £3.50) or lime-muddled caipivodkas (about £5). I went for the passion-fruit caipirinha, although apparently that marked me as a “gringo” – Brazilians all opt for caipivodka. But some things are so appealing that I don’t mind being spotted as a tourist.
The dishes change from day to day, but there’s always one fish plate along with a medley of other side dishes – a veggie feijoada bean stew, rice, banana purée, chutneys, lentils and all manner of things with purple cabbage, tomato, coconut and mango. Everything lands on a single, huge plate (about £23 per person).
I’d been told that Silvinha had a reputation for spicy dishes, but on the day I visited there was nothing very piquant. It was all, however, truly delicious. My white fish with ginger and soy just seemed so in tune with a sunny day in Bahia. Everything about the lunch was colourful, feelgood and comforting. The experience overall is nothing short of wonderful – like visiting a best friend’s family home to try much-talked-about secret recipes. Once you’ve eaten your way around the pretty Quadrado in Trancoso, Silvinha’s should be your next stop.