For a more authentic, vibrant, and sensual—albeit chaotic—market experience than Mercado Modelo , grab a cab or hop a bus (with the destination “Ribeira” or “Bonfim”) from Praça Cairu and head for Salvador ’s oldest and biggest outdoor daily market, Feira de São Joaquim. It’s only a short ride away in a neighborhood known as Calçada.
São Joaquim is not for the faint of heart. Its labyrinthine lanes are riddled with potholes, puddles, and rotting fruit, and you’re always in danger of being run over by a wheelbarrow full of mangoes or smacked in the head with a jackfruit.
If you’re not a vegetarian, the gory meat section will make you consider the possibility. And if the sight of people tossing live roosters into the trunks of cars surprises those for whom poultry is usually a packaged deal, remember that they’re usually for Candomblé rituals.
Indeed, São Joaquim is not at all set up for tourism, and for this reason, it’s somewhat of an adventure. Pyramids of spices and tropical fruits assault the senses with their fragrant scents and dazzling colors. There are areas where you can buy traditional ceramic pots and vases, and others selling woven straw hats and mats.
However, the most interesting section is where the stalls are devoted to Candomblé artifacts: fistfuls of brightly colored beads associated with different orixás, fragrant leaves for sacred baths, and traditional ceramic serving dishes for food and other offerings.
Unless you have a strong stomach, it’s probably not a great idea to chow down at one of the many barraca restaurants serving up dirt-cheap fare. However, do stop for a beer or a shot of cachaça and take time to observe and absorb the action.