Ecuadorian Soups: Tradition with a few twists

22/Mayo/2012 | 15:46

They are sworn to be cures for hangovers and catalysts for sexual performance.  They are warm, cold, light, heavy, simple, and sophisticated. And they are the beginning of any respectable meal and the final word for those who wish to understand the art of mankind´s oldest culinary tradition: the soup.


“The oldest way of cooking was to put things to boil…the cave man used to do it,” says Chef Henry Richardson. To understand how far we have come since the time of the caveman, go no farther than Ecuador.


Due to an abundance of products from its four geographic regions (Andes, Amazon, the coast, and the Galapagos Islands), and a history of European influences upon ancestral traditions, Ecuador has one of the broadest menus of soups on the planet.


Chefs Henry Richardson, Pablo Zambrano, and Edgar Leon, together, have more than 1,000 soup recipes. They can talk for hours about soups, stews, locros, caldos, cazuelas, chupes, aguados, ceviches, viches, sangos, repes, and coladas.  


To begin our discussion, lets start with what goes in a soup. 


“The basic products for the soups: the plantain, potatoes, and beans or grains make up 80 percent of Ecuadorian soups,” says Zambrano.  “You discover with soups from the coast that they are combinations of plantain and seafood.” 

Coastal Soups

Richardson says, “Caldos are made at the coast. Caldos are a broth, a clear soup, usually based on a meat, like caldo de patas, and caldo de bolas de verde. They use the plantain or meat not to thicken the soup, but give it flavor.”

Literally translated as cow feet broth, caldo de patas is a strong tradition throughout the country, not just the coast. It may seem unappetizing to many tourists, but Zambrano reasons that is should not be so. “To talk about caldo de patas does not cause repulsion because throughout the world the consumption of feet is broad.”   He says, “In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the consumption of the foot of the cow is a basic element.”  And Zambrano says the quantity of gelatin makes it very healthy for the stomach.

For Chef Edgar Leon the cooking of cow feet is just the beginning of European tradition brought to the new world.  At his restaurant, Estragon, he offers recipes you will not find in a traditional cookbook, like “consume de colas de buey” (ox or bull tail consume), though he says they are indeed Ecuadorian.

“When the Europeans arrived to America they allowed the aborigines to consume the parts that they did not use, and many recipes developed from this… They took the tail from the bulls, removed the skin, and cooked it with various herbs and spices, and after several hours it was served with tortillas or hominy.”

Other soups made of “non-traditional” parts of the animal include “caldo de manguera” (manguera means “hose” in Spanish), a dark-colored soup whose names comes from the shape of the principal ingredient - pork intestines. And the “caldo de tronquito” is well-known as a sex-enhancing soup with properties that derive from, what else, the male copulation organ. As Zambrano says in his book, “If you can get past the part of the cow you are eating, you will experience a very appetizing plate.”

Thicker coastal soups

The coast is not just a tradition of broths. “Other coastal soups are thick, like viche from Manabi,” says Richardson. Zambrano calls viche the “Queen of Manabi soups.” It uses peanuts and other grains, mixed with seasonings and of course, plantain and fish. Some tend to confuse this with a chupe, another thick coastal fish soup, but there is a difference between the two.

“The difference between viche and chupe,” explains Richardson, “is that viche has a base of vegetables and plantain. Chupe has a base of potatoes…like a fish locro.” Lorena Terán, a friend of Richardson and lover of soups, affirms the curative powers of chupe. “That is good when you have a hangover.  You drink that and you can just start again.”

The list of coastal soups goes on to include ceviches, cazuelas, and more caldos but we would be remiss to ignore the “sopa de bolas verde,” or soups made from green plantains. Bolas de verde, though delicious by themselves, are often in a soup or a caldo and filled with vegetables, egg, and meat. Or Leon’s version, which he calls “La sopa de los siete mares” (soup of the seven seas), contains seven plantain balls, each filled with distinctive seafood: crab, prawn, lobster, shell fish, squid, clams, and mussels. 

Mountain Soups

Soups from the sierra are just as varied as coastal traditions. Richardson explains their evolution: “In the highlands they needed a lot of calories. Meat was scarce and hard to come by. They used the bones, the skins, they used everything to make a broth and then they would thicken it – with potato to make locro, or with other roots and things.”

The iconic soup from the Ecuadorian Andes is locro, a thick soup with a base of potato or other tubers. And there are other dishes similar to locro such as “timbushca,” flavored with cabbage and hominy, and “aji de carne,” which is thickened with rice and maqueño.

Richardson is fond of aji de carne because his family comes from northern Pichincha Province. “We would go on the weekends, the shopping was done in Ibarra, because it was closer than Quito.  Aji de Carne is from Imbabura. The maqueño is from Imbabura,” he says. “It is not a coastal banana. The maqueño is sub-tropical…it was brought from the north,” and it adds a sweetness to what would otherwise be a salty soup and makes for one of the more interesting and sophisticated stews from the sierra.

Just as all is not brothy on the coast, neither is everything thick in the sierra. Sancocho is a good example. It is also demonstrates how the coast and the sierra share soup traditions, as you find it in both regions with variations in each.  “A caldo and sancocho are basically the same thing,” says Richardson.  For that reason you find sancochos de gallina (chicken), de pescado (fish), de pecho (beef), de costilla (rib), and others.   Though it is a broth, it contains hearty comfort foods like meat, yucca, plantain, and corn.

A soup which is neither brothy, nor heavy – a creamy in-between - is the “sopa de tapioca con hojas verdes,” or tapioca soup with green leaves. Leon explains that the soup is from the Andean regions. It has a base of yucca or tuber starches and is cooked with Andean herbs like paico, ortiga, amaranthus, dandelion, and watercress. “It is considered a soup to cure malnutrition, a light soup, a soup with made with mother’s love.” The best soups always are.

Henry Richardson is chef and owner of Intercul, a catering organization. Pablo Zambrano is executive chef for the Hotel Hilton Colon in Quito and Edgar Leon is owner of Estragon Restaurant, also in Quito.



Caldo de Patas

Chef Pablo Zambrano

Serves 4 people


1 lbs Cows feet (patas de res)

½ Kl hominy (mote cocinado)

3 stems onion, cut

1 whole garlic

½ Liter Milk

½ oz annatto in oil (achiote)

10 liters water






Cook feet until soft (approximately 5 hours). Later strain and save broth and then cut feet in cubes. Fry in annatoannatton, garlic, cumin, and oregano for 10 minutes. Add the broth. Add the hominy and adjust consistency and flavor.




Ciudad Quito

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