Visiting Ecuador, I developed a lot of respect for their working fishermen, who don't just catch but clean the fish we cooked each day in our small kitchen. In fact, the visit – especially the fishermen – reminded me just how important to know where your food comes from when you cook. Ecuador is a country that eats a large amount of seafood, for breakfast lunch and dinner! Staying in Puerto Lopez, I loved strolling the beaches each day to watch the pescadores (fishermen).
You can tell where the fishermen are working by looking up in the sky for the frigate birds who circle them above, or the large crowds of people that gather to buy their fish and tourists try to take all of it in.
Fishing doesn't stop in Puerto Lopez. It's a 24 hour activity. And the varieties of fish I saw had my chef's imagination buzzing. From albacore tuna, picudo (sort of a cousin of swordfish) comatillo, wahoo, mahi-mahi, so many species I was unfamiliar with, but certain that with some more time spent I would learn the names. It's a far cry from buying fish at home in the United States, going to a sanitized grocery store where you actually aren't even sure whether the fish is fresh and can't be sure where the fish was caught.
Much of the local fish end up on the tables of hotels and restaurants around the world. But you could always find something fresh to buy. I found albacore tuna for $1.30 per pound, shrimp $2-$3 dollars a pound, depending on size and availability – head on or off.
Every day you'd see people filleting their catch, or on a cyclo-cart passing by with a fish on their way home for lunch or dinner with the days catch.
We saw where the fish were caught. And who caught them. One guy in particular, a friend of my wife who filleted for our restaurant. His name was Polito he quickly grabbed my attention.. He's 90 years old, but still agile and with a smile on his face. Cutting fish on his wooden table, he moved with a finesse of a younger man.
And then there are those waiting for something to eat. Along with frigate birds, pelicans, vultures, cats and dogs who are looking for a fish fallen out of a bucket or boat, then there were tourists like me.
Knowing these fishermen has been a highlight for me and I thank all the hardworking people of this fishing village.