Food is one of the perks of volunteering abroad, and we now have opened a new site with new dishes to try! Nutrition is a key area in which we focus for many of our project sites, and you can learn about the communities through their food. Our FOM Rachel Good and volunteers Olivia & Jessica share with us a taste of Anconcito, Ecuador.
Anconcito is a fishing town. So if you love seafood, like I do, then you’re in for a treat! Grilled and fried fish, shrimp, calamari, lobster, clams, crabs, and even octopus can be found in abundance in this coastal town! I absolutely love seafood, especially shellfish like shrimp so the meals here have been wonderful, and not to mention a lot cheaper than you would find anywhere in the US!
In addition to all of the excellent seafood, one of the first things we noticed about the lunches here in Ecuador is that they always have to start with a soup. Always. Even if it’s 90 degrees outside people eat soup before the main dish! The soups range from a hearty chicken noodle filled with vegetables to creamier shrimp or seafood soups, similar to chowders. Every single meal also has to have rice. In fact, I don’t think they consider it a complete meal without a heaping serving of white rice that they often shape in aesthetically appealing round mounds on the plate! Plantains are also a big staple in Anconcito and they can prepare them in vastly different ways. Sometimes they are grilled in a skillet and are soft and sweet. Other times, they are made salty and extra thin and crispy like potato chips! Overall, the food here follows similar patterns but is full of flavor and no meal is ever boring!
popular local dishes
Ceviche - Ecuadorian ceviche is different from the typical ceviches prepared in Peru in that it’s served as a soup, with pieces of fish, shrimp, crab, clam, and other seafood cooked in lime juice. The soup also includes generous portions of salt, cilantro, onion, and tomato, and depending on the region is often garnished with chifles (plantain chips), popcorn, ketchup, mustard, and even peanut butter in some places! Delicious and always fresh, this dish is perfect for a day of relaxing by the beach in coastal Ecuador.
Encebollado - This word basically translates to “fish soup with onions”, and it is an unlikely but delicious breakfast staple on the coast of Ecuador. Brewed with yuca, pickled onions, cilantro, and tomato, this soup is regarded as a national dish of Ecuador and is definitely worth a try. It is commonly prepared with albacore, but also tuna, billfish, or bonito. It may be served with ripe avocado as well as ají (a spicy sauce), lime, plantain chips, and/or popcorn.
Encocado de Pescado/Camaron - Encocado (literal translation "in coconut") is one of the most popular and delicious dishes on the Ecuadorian coast, and it should be considered a crime to visit Ecuador without trying it at least once. It's basically a shrimp or fish stew, but the fresh coconut milk brings it to a whole new level. The fish, shrimp, or other seafood is seasoned with citrus and spieces and then cooked in a sauce of cilantro, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and coconut milk. It's typically served with rice and patacones (which we'll cover next on our list!).
Patacones - Patacones are a staple side dish for almost all coastal foods in Ecuador, basically the Ecuadorian equivalent to french fries. They are green plantains that have been fried and smashed to form small round disks. They are topped with a sprinkle of salt and added as an accompaniment to almost any dish!
favorite FIMRC dishes
Olivia: My favorite meal was when the family of one of our most dedicated community census volunteers made us lunch one day! They prepared lobster tail for us that had been brought fresh to them that day! It was amazing. The lunch also included a chicken noodle soup, salad, rice (of course), and chifles (thinly cut plantains that taste like chips)! The lobster was delicious and the family that prepared it for us was extremely sweet and welcoming! Definitely my favorite meal here, by far.
Jessica: Well since I have had a lifetime obsession with shrimp, surprise surprise my favorite meal here was a special fried shrimp we ate down by the beautiful fishing port in Anconcito. It was very different from how fried shrimp is normally prepared in the US. Here, the whole shrimp (including the shell) is actually fried and then the shell is cracked open to reveal the meat. It was different, but so amazing! The meal also came with rice, plantains, and a shrimp soup.
Rachel: Ever since my host family during Peace Corps brought me to a roadside stand to eat hot fish soup at 8am on a Saturday, I’ve been obsessed with encebollado. Every weekend I make sure to eat it at least once, typically at pop-up restaurants on the beach, under a tent, sitting in a plastic chairs. Those are the best places to find fresh, hearty encebollado. Add some lime juice, hot sauce and crushed chifles, and you’ll stay full for the rest of the day!