Ecuadorean food has been the best so far in south America, and hands-down the best dish in this country is encebollado. It’s a albacore strew, with cassava and plenty of onion (cebolla is in the name after all). It’s usually served with fresh limes, chili sauce, cilantro and some sort of accompaniment (popcorn or chifles, for example). The dish is a staple of coastal Ecuadorean cuisine, but it can be found just about everywhere in the country by looking for a Manabí or Esmeraldeña restaurant.
After extensive research, sampling this dish about a dozen times, from the Galapagos to the highlands, I present my official encebollado rating guide.
- Broth (3 possible points): Sometimes the broth isn’t hot. Sometimes it’s only luke-warm. For me, this will cost a point. The remaining two points are for general quality of the broth; I don’t think I’ve had a broth I didn’t like, but some are just better than others.
- Cassava (2 possible points): Is the cassava warm all the way through? How big are the chunks? Smaller chunks are better, and usually solve the former problem too. The cassava is always cooked ahead of time, and added to the broth when serving. I’m not sure how the cassava is cooked, but some definitely do this better than others. Sheena hates the cassava and actually ordered her last one without it… sacrilege!
- Fish (2 possible points): Like the cassava, the fish is precooked and the quality can vary quite a bit. Size also matters here, with more points going to stews with smaller pieces of fish.
- Accompaniment (1 possible point): the chifles, or fried banana or plantain chips, and fried/salted corn kernels are my favorite. The popcorn… not so much. The best scenario: receiving all three and trading popcorn for kernels with Sheena.
There you go, eight possible points for the perfect encebollado. And have I found a perfect one? Indeed I have. Maybe a couple. The stew in Bahia de Caraquez was amazing, and the one in Baños had me coming back for seconds, but hands down the best was in the Otavalo central market. Everything was perfect, including the atmosphere. Sitting at a tiny counter in the noisy market, you could watch them make every bowl and chat or watch a soccer match while you ate it. Congratulations Otavalo!