You cannot come to Esmeraldas without knowing something about verde, bolones and balas… Follow the link and get your fix!
The green plantain is a highlight of Esmeraldas cuisine, and Green 9 tells you all about it
Green is the colour: Esmeraldas love for green plantains
The green plantain holds a great mystery. Was it here before the Spaniards arrived or not? Many would say no… it came after the West contacted these distant lands, as we know well was the case of the banana, which was brought from Africa. There are several theories, however, and some are quite convincing.
Why are chefs in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabí so skillful and inventive when manipulating the “verde”, or green plantain? Esmeraldeños, like natives of the neighborhing province of Manabí, turn the verde into anything they want. It is true that there has been enough time to perfect the art of cooking with green plantain since the times of Spanish Conquest –a lot can be done in 500 years—but even so, when one realizes how indispensable this ingredient is for the province’s culinary culture, one can only imagine that perhaps it had already been there, always… How did it arrive? Well, that is another question…!
The green plantain, as we said above, is essential in any Esmeraldas kitchen. Few and far between are the dishes that do not include green plantain. It is a common accompaniment, but, in many cases, it is also part of the main dish.
There are, of course, the patacones, which are not exclusive of Esmeraldas, but are found throughout the Americas (in some places known as tostones). But there are also green plantain empanadas, which are, on the other hand, very Ecuadorian. From what we know, nobody else prepares them but us. The plantain is ground until it reaches the most unique consistency of raw dough (like that which you’d use to make a pie). The cook will then be easily able to mold it into an empanada (a most sublime and special tasting one at that). Then there are the tapaos, an ancient preparation in which green plantain comes togher with fish in a deep saucepan, which is covered with a large jungle leaf in order to retain the heat and unique flavors. There is also the chifle, the famous plantain “chip”, which so deliciously accompanies ceviches.
In short, verde is everywhere…
Bala or bolón
The bolón is well known to any Ecuadorian, green plantain mashed up into a sphere with cheese and other ingredients… But few Ecuadorians have ever heard of, let alone seen, a bala (or bullet, in Spanish). In Esmeraldas, it’s all an existential question between the bala and the bolón… Are you more bolón or are you more bala?
The bala is soft, not lumpy, it can be fried, although often it is not… Cooking requires more patience than a bolón, of course: more time mashing, crushing, making sure the consistency is homogeneous. Of course, we assume that the bolón was invented first … and that the most sophisticated palate processed it into the bala. But don’t take our word for it!
There is even a “bearded bala,” which is made with pulled meat, common at breakfast to add some protein to the day.
It is common in houses in Esmeraldas, although eateries throughout the province also serve it. A place known for its bala de verde is El Enganche, located in San Vicente de Rioverde, a town a short distance from the town of Palestina (1 hour from Green 9) that serves the bala alongside a delicious coconut chicken and shrimp dish. But without having to go that far, in Green 9 you can try it yourself, buying the ingredients. A local cook can come teach you how to prepare it… It’s not difficult… it’s just a matter of seeing how it is made.
Is the bullet like a bolon… but more refined?
Perhaps. The bolon has more of that street flavor… that quickly concocted delicacy you need to dig your teeth into, oh so common throughout Ecuador’s coast, especially to start off the day with a warm cup of coffee.
Whatever the case may be, you cannot miss out on Tonchigüe delicious shrimp bolón! Walk west from our beach at Same and ask around at the beachside kiosks!