Encebollado in Esmeraldas
It’s noon, and the whole flat is waking up, hungry, with thumping headaches. Trying to piece the together the night before is a daunting task. The best way to do it is over some encebollado, Ecuador’s famous fish soup. We head out, tired and sweating on a hot, cloudy day in Esmeraldas, a city on Ecuador’s northern Pacific coast.
Lucien, a cocky French aid worker, hops on a bus, and I follow. “I won’t eat encebollado just anywhere,” he says. All Ecuadorians have their own ‘secret’ spot they believe serves the best version of this thick tuna, cassava, and onion-based soup. They usually take great pride in ‘their’ place, so you’d better like it, too.
Lucien leads us to a small, no-frills corner restaurant in the chaotic downtown district. Most of the patrons are families with young children. Most Ecuadorians eat encebollado—which originated on Ecuador’s coast—for breakfast, with plantain chips or bread, depending on which part of the country it is. It’s a favorite both for hard-partying revelers and for families doing brunch, Ecua-style.
Looking the worse for wear and surrounded by five-year-olds excitedly ordering soup for their families, we pay our USD$2.50 each. Lucien starts piecing the previous night together. The bar had closed at Ecuador’s mandatory time—2 a.m.—but then there was a lock-in, where they had too much to drink. For once, I’m glad I left the bar before they did. I pretend to listen, and look at the street outside: empty, like the rest of the city on a Sunday morning. The only activity for blocks is this restaurant, its white plastic chairs spread on the sidewalk.
We finally get our bowls of soup. The encebollado is thick, orange-hued, with bits of chopped parsley and cilantro on top. I squeeze all the juice of a lemon wedge into the steaming liquid. The first taste is soothing; it’s comfort food, but it’s also nutritious. It makes this grey Sunday morning bearable. I have to give Lucien credit: he’s chosen his encebollado joint well.