Annual Mango Festival

Yesterday was the city of Portoviejo’s 5th annual mango festival. The festival was hosted by the Universidad Técnica de Manabí, at the jardín botánico (botanical gardens), a beautiful and enjoyable place to visit in its own right.

Mango Festival poster

Poster for the Mango Festival, held at the botanical gardens in Portoviejo

 

The gardens, created in 1993, boast 10 hectares of tropical flora to explore and even includes a surprisingly challenging maze formed from tall hibiscus hedges. Other features include a nursery with plants for sale, food pavilion, open park area (see photo below) and a host of natural fauna that call the gardens and the surrounding 35 hectares of hillside reserve their home, including large iguanas, turtles, and many tropical birds (mot-mots, oropendula, and parrotlets to name just a few).

View towards the stage and food vendors

 

We are pretty serious about mangoes in our household, often consuming multiple mangoes in a single sitting, especially during mango season (Nov-Feb). During this season, mangoes are ridiculously plentiful and very inexpensive. Tom recently purchased a giant bag of  big, juicy mangoes for $15. The price per mango came to roughly $12 cents each. So far we’ve eaten about half of them, chopped and froze another quarter (mango smoothies, mango daiquiris!) and we still have so many left!

Remaining mangos

The remains of our disappearing bag of mangoes

 

We’ve even gone so far as to request a custom mango painting for our kitchen from our artist friend Kerri (the same artist who created our beautiful ceibo painting that we featured on our ceibo blog post).

mangoes

Mango painting made locally by our friend Kerri (feel free to contact us if you’d like to get in touch with the artist to see more of her artwork for sale)

 

So with this background it comes as no surprise to find our crew at the mango festival. There we enjoyed mango cupcakes, a meal of grilled chicken smothered in a mango sauce, and even sipped on a couple of mango mojitos.

Mango cupcakes and ice cream

Mango cupcakes and ice cream

 

There are a surprising variety of mangoes grown in Ecuador. At one booth they had 16 different kinds on display. Our favorite mango thus far is the “Reina” mango, a giant yellow-skinned mango that is pure juicy pulp with no stringy fibers that get stuck in between your teeth.

Many types of mangoes are grown in Ecuador

Many varieties of mangoes are grown in Ecuador

 

The festival also had the requisite, WAY-too-loud music which may be found at any public event in Ecuador but we actually enjoyed the live music and dance performances. There were also locally made goods for  sale, products for which the province of Manabí are known, such as hand-woven straw hats and bags,

Hats woven from straw

Hats and headbands woven from paja toquilla straw and banana leaves

 

tagua jewelry and bamboo knick knacks,

Hand crafted products made from bamboo and tagua

Hand crafted products made from bamboo and tagua

 

Plus fruits jams, chocolates, and assortments of ají (hot sauces) flavored with mango and other fruits.

Assortment of products from Manabi

Assortment of products from Manabi

 

While Kai got his face painted, adoring women took turns cuddling and taking photographs of Aiden.

babies

Aiden being treated like a local celebrity

 

Bellies full of mangoes we ventured back home to San Clemente and spent the remainder of our Sunday afternoon playing with on the beach…after which we came back in and somehow managed to eat MORE mango!

 

Fried Green Bananas

Trucks regularly rumble through town, laden with giant green bananas. Usually there are a couple of guys perched at the very top of the heap calling out, “Verde, Verde!

plantains are often sold from the back of trucks

Plantains are often sold from the back of trucks (photo credit)

 

For a dollar you get about 10 or more of these green plantains or plátanos verdes. While  I quickly got used to seeing plantains for sale everywhere,  it took me a while to appreciate the extent to which they are a part of the local diet and even longer to learn how to cook with them myself.

boys selling plantains

 

Plantains are eaten more like a potato than their sweet counterpart, the banana. They are hard, starchy and require cooking before being eaten. When ripe, they yellow, become slightly sweet and are called maduros (“matures”).

Typical coastal Ecuadorian foods using plantain include empanadas, corviche, bolones de verde, bolones de maduro con queso, patacones, chifles, maduros con queso, maduros asados con sal prieta, torta de plátano, gato encerrado, and the list goes on and on.

PATACONES: smashed and fried green plantains that are typically served in seafood dishes

PATACONES: smashed and fried green plantains that are typically served in seafood dishes (photo credit and recipe)

 

Today, I’ll showcase the simple process of making empanadas de verde using photos I snapped while learning how to make them from some friends the other day.

 

Step 1: Boil green plantains in salted water for 30 min until soft

boiling plantains to make empanadas

Each plantain yields roughly two empanadas

 

Step 2: Mash and roll out the plantain “dough”

mashing the cooked plantain to make dough

Once mashed,  the plantain dough was balled into a log from which they cut off pieces to roll out.

The 1/2 inch PVC pipe make a surprisingly effective rolling pin!

The 1/2 inch PVC pipe makes for a surprisingly effective rolling pin!

 

Step 3: Cut out a circle and add your filling 

Using a small bowl to cut the dough into a circle

Using a small bowl to cut the dough into a circle

(shredded cheese or make a mixture of shredded chicken with mashed plantain)

Two filling options: shredded cheese (right) or a delicious mixture of shredded chicken with mashed plantain (center)

 

Step 4: Fold your circle in half and crimp the edges with a fork

Using a fork to close up the empanada

Using a fork to close up the empanada

 

Step 5: Fry ’em up

Fry until golden brown

Fry on each side until golden brown

 

Step 6: Enjoy with some fresh a (pronounced “Ah-HEE”, a hot sauce usually made with pickled veggies) and a cup of coffee.

Many lovely cooks in the kitchen (plus a hungry Batman)

Many lovely cooks in the kitchen (plus a hungry Batman)

 

Fish Soup: It’s What’s for Breakfast

Highly acclaimed as a cure for hangovers, encebollados are one of coastal Ecuador’s popular seafood dishes. While it can be found served throughout the day, encebollados are generally considered a breakfast food.

Albacore soup with pickled onions is a surprisingly tasty way to start the day.

 

Encebollado literally translates to onioned soup and is typically made with pickled onions, albacore tuna, yuca (cassava root), tomatoes, and topped with cilantro. It is served with a bowlful of chifles (fried plaintain chips) which you crumble on top–yum, one of my favorite parts!

Make your own encebollado using the recipe from Laylita’s great cooking website. She is a native born Ecuadorian who currently resides in the US. Her site is full of authentic Ecuadorian recipes.

 

When ordering encebollado, you are also given a selection of other ingredients to modify your soup to satisfy your tastes: fresh squeezed lime juice, oil, mustard, ketchup, and hot sauce (aji, pronounced Ah-HEE). Restaurants often offer both a store bought variety of aji plus their homemade version that usually contains hot peppers,  lime, shredded and pickled carrots and onions.

Chifles and other ingredients are provided to personalize your soup. Also, note the instant coffee–it’s uncommon to find drip coffee in your average restaurant. The green labeled bottle contained the homemade aji which was FULL of tiny little pepper bombs. Tasty but potent!

 

Encebollados can be found on the menu in your average coastal restaurant but the AM die-hards go to the make-shift tent restaurants that are set up curbside around 7:30am and taken down by about 10am.  It is not surprising to have to wait around for a chair to squeeze in alongside others who are hungrily hunched over their steaming bowl of soup. 

Yesterday morning we stopped into a little nondescript place in Bahia that serves breakfast. Between the three of us  we ordered two encebollados and two balones (fried plantain balls filled with cheese and chicharron–fried pork fat–sounds gross, tastes good). Tom got an [unsatisfying] cup of instant coffee while Kai and I ordered fresh squeezed lime juice. Our bill came to $5.50.

Bolones or fried plaintain balls are another common breakfast food on Ecuador’s coast.

 

And in typical fashion, while we enjoyed our meal, the restaurant owner happily walked around with Aiden, our 5 month old baby, showing him off to other adoring clientele. For an explanation, check out an earlier blog about some of Ecuador’s cultural peculiarities around babies.  

Happy eating! or as they say here, ¡Buen provecho!

Enjoying local foods while supporting local folks

The small beachfront fishing towns dotting the central coast of Ecuador typically boast a strong sense of community among the local families. Often if a friend or family member is in financial need, folks will work together to host fundraising events.

Bingo is one popular way that locals raise money for cause. Tickets are sold and prizes like canned goods are donated. Another common approach is by selling food.

Today we purchased a yummy meal called a “tonga” from one of our neighbors who is raising money for her sister who has a worsening neurological disability and can’t afford the doctor’s visits.  We had placed our tonga order a few days ago and this morning a group of women worked together to prepare over a 50 of these and deliver them to different families in the neighborhood. We paid $3 per tonga.

One of our neatly wrapped tongas that we purchased as a fundraiser.

 

“Tongas” are a dish native to the province of Manabi and consist of a hearty meal of rice, chicken (or other meat) and fried sweet plantains, all smothered in a tasty peanut sauce and garnished with cilantro.

Learn to make tongas through this recipe video (audio in Spanish)

 

The contents of the tonga are wrapped into a package using large banana leaves, creating a neat, portable lunch, traditionally carried by peasants working in fields far from home. Today, tongas are almost always featured in local traditional fiestas.

Yummy, portable meal of chicken, rice, plantains covered in a peanut sauce.

 

We were told the ladies plan to continue selling different traditional foods each Sunday over the next several weeks so stay tuned to discover other local Manabita dishes.