Eat Ecuador – The Cultures that Influenced Ecuadorian Food – Encocado
Read about this series here: the Eat Ecuador Food Series
Encocado -- African-Ecuadorian coconut seafood dish
Ecuadorian food showcases the country’s varied environment, but it has also been influenced over the years by the variety of cultures that now make up the citizens of Ecuador. The cuisine has come a long way since the early days when the original Indigienous people discovered potatoes, corn, cassava, and other crops that have made their impact on the entire world.
The absolute biggest change in Ecuador’s history was when the Spanish rolled into town and colonized almost the entirety of Central and South America. They brought many technologies with them that changed the continent. They also brought food. Both pigs and cows were introduced to Ecuador by the Spanish. Before this, the indigenous people struggled to get enough protein. Chicken was much more scarce in those days, so the people were eating llama, guinea pig, occasionally even monkey. The Amazon had a wide variety of wildlife, but none of it could compete with the yield of a cow or pig. I can’t imagine what it must have been like the first time they sunk their teeth into a piece of pork.
The Spanish were also the first to introduce sugar to the Americas. Before this, the indigenous were using a type of agave nectar to sweeten their food. The beginning of sugar production in South America was a huge undertaking. It required a lot of man-power, a lot of forced man-power. The Indigenous people of Ecuador had been used as slaves since the Spanish set foot on the continent, but Spain needed more people, so they brought over African slaves. The demand for these slaves grew and the number of Africans in Ecuador increased.
In 1533, a ship packed with slaves wrecked off the coast of Ecuador. It was headed for Peru, but the Africans on the ship managed to escape and they started a community in Esmeraldas, Ecaudor’s northern most province. This establishment became a safe-haven for Africans in Ecuador. There are numerous stories about slaves escaping to Esmeraldas, growing the community and the cultural roots of Afro-Ecuadorians. This included food. Esmeraldas is blessed with a long beautiful coast, and many of the Africans living there came from countries that enjoyed the foods of the sea. They used recipes from back home, adapted them to use the Ecuadorian ingredients, and created some incredible dishes like encocado, the dish featured in the video.
Encocado is a coconut sauce that is often added to fish (encocado de pescado), shrimp (encocado de camarón), or pretty much any type of seafood. It’s made by cooking both the milk of the coconut and the flesh along with butter, oil, onion, cilantro, and more. The fish or seafood is sometimes cooked right in the sauce, or it’s placed over the cooked seafood afterwards. The combination is bright and flavorful. It’s similar to a Thai coconut curry, but no curry is used in the recipe. Usually, it’s served with a pile of rice and some patacones (twice-fried banana slices). It’s the perfect example of Ecuador’s cultural diversity in a single dish.
Where to Eat Encocado in Quito
Apparently, the best place for encocado is at the Rumiñahui Market. The lady that runs the booth “La Sazon de Quitena” has won awards for her bowls of encocado de camaron. I said, “apparently” because I didn’t get to try it there. After going all the way there and finding the booth, I discovered that they weren’t making it -- at least on the day I was there. Watch the video to hear the lady’s explanation in Spanish. I couldn’t understand it, but maybe they only do it a certain day or something.
Another option would be to head to El Esmeraldas, a restaurant that specializes in food from the province where this dish was created. They are a higher end restaurant, so expect to pay around $12 for their encocado with shrimp. You can find their menu and location here.
Of course, the influence of other cultures on food doesn’t stop there. The French and the English arrived in Ecuador to show off their ingredients and cooking techniques. The French mastered chocolate, an ingredient that Ecuadorians had been growing for centuries, but never quite perfected like the French did.
Other outside cultures to influence Ecuador’s food include their surrounding neighbours. Peru is said to have invented ceviche, which is now one of the most popular Ecuadorian dishes (they have their own take on it). Even the favorite student snack salchipapas, a combination of fries and a deep-fried hotdog wiener, came from Peru. Empanadas, which came over with the Spanish, are widely popular across Latin America. Each country has their own version, but you’ll find all varieties in Ecuador.
I love multi-culturalism. I consider myself a man of the world. I’ve lived in 5 different countries, and traveled to more than 30. I was very pleasantly surprised when I arrived in Ecuador and I saw the mix of races. The country is very multi-cultural, which makes it more interesting, and more delicious.
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