Hanging Gardens of Ham, Mountain of Salt Cod at A. J. Seabra's Portuguese Supermarket in Newark, NJ
Editor's note: For the next few weeks, we'll be chiming in with snapshots of our recent road trip to the Portuguese and Brazilian Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, thanks to a loaner ride in a Buick Verano. Our destinations, and these articles, come purely from Serious Eats editorial.
It was with a sip of Portuguese Aguardente* in my belly and some serious heat-induced dehydration that I giddily launched myself down the aisles of Newark's A. J. Seabra Supermarket. And I'll level with you—that stuff is crazy strong. So it took me a few minutes to reassure myself that it wasn't just the booze or the heat flushing my face and sending me bouncing from counter to counter, glassy-eyed and greedy.
*Literally, "Burning water."
Seabra's has long been a bastion of the Ironbound, Newark's predominantly Portuguese- and Brazilian-American neighborhood. And with good reason—not only does the supermarket carry a profusion of hard-to-find imports and fresh specialty ingredients, but its owners are the same Seabras of two of the city's most well-known Iberian restaurants, Seabra's Rodizio and Seabra's Marisqueria. (The latter, another pit stop on our recent visit, has since been sold to former employees.) Over the years, the small empire has expanded to encompass six New Jersey locations, along with a handful of out-of-state outposts.
My neighborhood of Bushwick isn't exactly known for its Portuguese cuisine, so once unleashed, I began plucking items from the shelves with reckless abandon, spiraling rapidly into sensory overload. Would I begin with the buckets of pig tails and trotters, or the garlands of blood sausage and chorizo, swaying suggestively overhead like a meat-lover's mistletoe? Or perhaps at the prominent Casa do Bacalhau, its odor sharp, nostril-flaringly fishy, profoundly present.
Bacalhau—dried and salted cod—is pretty much the quintessential Portuguese staple. Seabra's gives it its due, showcasing worm-like shreds to entire butterflied fish, a massive rock quarry of fillets, hard and gray as slate. Of course, reconstituted, bacalhau is virtually unrecognizable—the moist, tender flesh has a bold salinity and pleasantly pungent aroma that takes center stage in any number* of Iberian dishes.
*Skeptical of such a precise estimate? Just take a peek at Wikipedia's list of bacalhau variations.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg—I haven't even touched on the shrink-wrapped sheets of frozen octopus, let along the meat wagon. Yes, there's a wagon. And yes, it's filled with meat. Cured meat. Specifically, ham meat. Also: Um Bongo juice boxes featuring lively cartoon animals; a hairy, spiky squash-like Latin American fruit called spiny chayote; and oh-so-much more. See it all in the slideshow »
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.
Thanks again to Buick for the ride.