Encebollado, Manta's Breakfast
Encebollado is a traditional Ecuadorian fish stew commonly served at breakfast time. This rich stew has been recognized as the national dish of Ecuador. The translation of the word “encebollado” means ‘cooked with onions,’ to put it simply. However, the flavor of this tasty dish cannot be summed up that easily. With a host of toppings and accompaniments, it is a lot more complex than fish and onions.
Encebollado originated on the coast of Ecuador. It came from the tuna fisherman at a time when they were out at sea and could not get home for meals. They had fresh fish available, a few spices, and made the most delicious soup out of necessity. Encebollado has become widely popular and is consumed all over the country. It is not just a coastal dish anymore.
Although not so common in the U.S., many countries like to have a hot bowl of soup for breakfast. Ecuador is the same in that encebollado is eaten at breakfast time. However, that doesn’t stop Ecuadorians on the coast from eating it any time of the day. Many of the seafood restaurants in Manta open early to serve hot bowls of this fish stew from early morning to late afternoon. If you ask anyone in Manta, the quip is that encebollado is the best hangover cure the morning after a night on the town.
Encebollado is a soup traditionally served with the main ingredients of fresh albacore tuna, yuca, and onions. However, for the more adventurous seafood lovers, I have seen encebollado with shrimp, octopus, and crab added. Those are referred to as “encebollado mixtos.” To prepare, vegetables such as onion and tomato are cooked with spices, then water and cilantro is added to create a broth. The yuca is added to the broth and cooked until soft. Fresh tuna is then added and cooked until well done. The yuca is cut into chunks and the tuna is shredded before serving. This is the ultimate one-pot meal. One of my favorite parts about encebollado is the toppings. It is customary for it to be served with pickled red onions and chopped cilantro on top. It is also served with fresh cut limes on the side. Many restaurants will give you a side of chifles (thin fried green banana chips) for a crunchy element as well. Throughout Manta and other cities, restaurants are offering a whole host of toppings like avocado, ají (hot sauce made from tree tomato), mustard, deep fried green banana slices, or even toasted corn.
I asked many of my Ecuadorian friends the best place to get encebollado in Manta and they all recommended Wachos Encebollados restaurant. They told me this was the best place in town for encebollado. I tried it and can say that I was not steered in the wrong direction at all. The tuna was fresh and cooked well. The broth of the soup was seasoned perfectly and had an amazing rich flavor. And of course, it was topped with onions and cilantro just as it should be. It came with a side of fresh cut limes and lots of chifles for a nice crunchy bite to eat with the soup. I like to squeeze the lime over the soup and add chopped avocado and ají because I love spicy food. It was comforting and delicious. I think I found my new favorite food in Manta.
Wachos is located on the corner of Calle 14 and Avenida 13, a five minute walk from Mercado Central. However, you can find encebollado at many places here in Manta. I’ve seen encebollado vendors on the street near popular shopping areas. I’ve also seen encebollado sold at the food courts at Mercado Central, and at the Nuevo Tarqui shops. There are many opportunities to try encebollado in Manta, but I recommend Wachos as they have the best.