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A shining sun lights up a new day in Babahoyo City. It’s 08:00 am and a strong hustle takes the local Seafood Market, a traditional meeting place that showcases one of the main economical activities in the city: artisanal fishing. Starting early, at 05:00 am, merchants have all set and ready to receive and sell the freshest catch.
The history of this city, located 90 minutes from Guayaquil, is closely linked to the river that bears the same name, giving it the status of “Ecuador’s Fluvial Capital.” In the great Babahoyo River, the main tributary to the Guayas River, fishermen have always found the best catch to sell at the local seafood market.
“Las Mercedes” Seafood Market is located at the river pier. It was built around 10 years ago and currently has about 28 points-of-sale that offers river and sea fish species and vegetables and other goods as well.
“Bocachico” (tiny mouth), “bearded” fish, “campeche” and “vieja azul” are the most valued species that summons hundreds of people. Plus, in this market you’ll find some not so common seafood such as the water cow (large dotted fish), the “chalaco”, the “guabina”, river shrimp and river lobsters.
According to experts, the females of some of these species lays an 80,000 eggs in average. Yes, believe it or not! Unfortunately, not many of them actually survives. The reasons? Predators, weather conditions and other factors.
Mercedes Hurtado, a local merchant, says that the high fish production at the river have allowed for ages the development of a vast gastronomy with many traditional flavourful dishes. The “Doña Mechita” dining room is her venture and is located in a small food court at the river’s pier. The taste of her food is unique, therefore, dozens of tourists arrive daily to get a bite of the delicacies such as “sancocho de bocachico”, a soup prepared with cassava, green plantain, onion, tomatoes, lemon, garlic and a touch of chili pepper.
Another delight is the “bocachico” casserole. All dishes are a delicacy and eating them in this small kiosk by the river that has been in this pier for more than 12 years is a total pleasure. The store sells up to 100 dishes daily.
Visiting the local market is a great experience for fresh seafood lovers. This place is very popular among the inhabitants of Babahoyo for its gastronomic culture based on seafood and river-food.
We toured the market in the company of the local chef Julio Cruz, who gathered some ingredients for a river lobster roll. This, between many other dishes he daily serves at “Café del Chef” restaurant, is an alternative to the traditional gastronomy. On his restaurant dishes are prepared following the typical Babahoyo recipes but Julio has incorporated a unique gourmet touch to the menu.
The culinary expert says that the gastronomic offer in Babahoyo has changed positively in the last years. There are “more and better restaurants” available to savor the excellent gastronomic quality. And it also highlights the taste of the famous “huecas”, which preserves cooking techniques with more than 100 years of tradition.
But how is this river lobster prepared? The chef starts by cooking it on salty water, then proceed to remove its meat, chop it finely and mix it with tomatoes, onion, mayonnaise and a touch of chili pepper, among other ingredients.
To roll the lobster he takes an avocado and finely chop it to then spread it on plastic wrap. The mixture containing the river lobster is added to the avocado, and then carefully rolled. In the end, he cuts it into small portions and decorates. Do you dare to try your culinary skills and roll it yourself?
Travelling through Babahoyo takes us to a world of flavors that test our culinary knowledge, whether it is a traditional recipe or a new combination with a gourmet twist but always with fresh recently caught products.
Don’t forget to visit the Seafood Market and try out the delicious delicacies that they serve. Until next time!