Recalling some of the tastiest Ecuadorian flavours
How exciting it is to arrive in one of those places where the heat and humidity hits you as soon as you get off the plane!
Las Peñas - famous neighbourhood in the centre of Guayaquil
Guayaquil, a port city on the coast of Ecuador, is one of those places where you always feel hot - from the moment you wake up until you wake up the next morning. I went back there recently to visit my family, and I was keen to find out more about the secrets behind Guayaquil’s food.
The day after my arrival my family surprised me with a trip to a small coastal town called Olón (‘Big Wave’). During the three hour journey, I was daydreaming about ceviche (my favourite Ecuadorian dish, without a doubt).
Olón - "Big Wave" one of the most popular beaches in Ecuador
So, what is ceviche? It is a cold seafood dish made from fresh raw fish cured in lime juice, which is mixed with tomatoes, onions and coriander, and spiced with chilli. The origin is a bit unsure it is believed that the dish originated in Granada in Spain and was brought to Peru by Moorish women, who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors. Even though ceviche is a popular dish in different countries in South and Central America, Ecuador has the greatest variety as you can get prawn, octopus, shell or even a vegetarian version of ceviche made with a type of beans called “chochos”. Weirdly, in Ecuador it is eaten with popcorn, fried plantain and rice on the side.
Ceviche with a hot sauce!
I was very keen to prepare fish ceviche at home for the first time, so we went to a tiny port called Santa Rosa, where we met an amazing woman from Esmeraldas, an Afro-Ecuadorian province in the north of the country. Here she is gutting the fish - along with her hungry companions.
The fishmonger and her hungry helpers!
I bought prawns for ceviche and sea bass as well. From the shop next door, I bought the rest of the ingredients which were fresh coriander, lots of lemons and limes, oranges, onions and tomatoes. The outcome was absolutely delicious!
Encebollado de pescado - Guayaquil's famous soup with chifles on top
After this short trip to the beach, I was very curious to try some typical recipes back in Guayaquil. I don’t usually cook in Ecuador, but working at The Spicery has made me want to understand how typical Ecuadorian dishes are made. So once back in Guayaquil, I decided to cook a new dish: encebollado de pescado which is a hot fish soup. Known as the best hangover cure, it is eaten early in the morning. Even though Guayaquil is a very hot place, Guayaquileños are great soup-eaters - we love soup! The hotter, the better! You normally see people dripping with sweat while enjoying this tasty dish. The main ingredient is tuna, but it also contains onions pickled in lime juice, tomatoes, cassava, coriander, chilli and chifles - made of fried plantain.
In Guayaquil, you can buy fruit and vegetables when you’re stuck in traffic. At each of the traffic lights you can shout, ‘Tomatoes please!’ and the vendor will run towards the car with their goods. They are masters at giving back your change before the light turns green.
Typical street scenes in Guayaquil
Unfortunately, you can’t buy fresh fish at the traffic lights. So on this occasion we had to also go to the market - it’s hectic! I couldn't stop myself taking a photo of a truck full of plantain, then suddenly someone opens the back door and all the plantain spills out. In the park opposite the market, there is a small park with intriguing inhabitants - Iguanas. The park is crammed full of them and you can hardly sit on one of the park bench without feeling the prick of one of these spiky layabouts. It surprises me how well these prehistoric creatures have adapted to urban living.
Plantains and Iguanas, both are always commonly seen in Guayaquil, not together though as Iguanas don't eat plantain!
Once finished, I couldn’t stop myself from eating two full plates of this incredible dish!
I couldn't stop myself eating two big plates of this amazing fish soup - and neither eating it with fried plantain!
Now back in Bristol, I’ve been inspired to make more of an effort to prepare these typical dishes at home for friends - hopefully one day I’ll become an expert!