“From farm to table”; “from sea to pot”… expressions we hear “here, there and everywhere” when it comes to promoting freshness. But that very process that makes food arrive as fresh as possible to a restaurant’s table is much more complex than one could imagine. It falls, first, into the hands of local farmers, fishermen and the family-owned plantations that, day after day and without rest, strive to produce the best, healthiest ingredients. With Latitud Iche and by valuing these wholehearted efforts, Manabí has inspired one of Ecuador’s most far-reaching culinary projects.
Latitude Iche is huge. It involves dozens of restaurants and farmers from all over the province who use, in modern culinary lingo, the principles of “slow food”. In other words, they centralize the production and distribution of their food, not as dictated by modern industrial terms, but rather traditionally, allowing each to generate healthy ties to their land, to the seasonal breadth of their products, with other members of their communities and the establishments that have come together to create this culinary route based on agroecology, food sovereignty and circular economy.
Few are the people who seek to know the food from the very hands of those who prepare it. In a culinary hotspot like Manabí, this possibility becomes that much more exciting: not only because Manabí food is so good, but (above all), because the culinary culture is so fascinating. In search of broadening this vision, four Manabí cantons have set up a revolution of sorts, where the visitor will be able to taste different dishes from the very process of planting or fishing each ingredient, valuing every step needed to get that food fresh to your table.
Savoring the territory
Latitud Iche brings together over sixty establishments including restaurants, farms, grocers, hostels, workshops and community projects with a slew of experiences to live out. It operates in four cantons running from Sucre to Pedernales, San Vicente and Jama, covering a large stretch of the province.
Expect not only to delight your palate, but also your mind, with guided and experiential tours that connect visitors with the producers behind every dish. From visiting mangrove forests, cooking with traditional clay-pot stoves and getting to know small producers in every town, the project aims to generate a communal network in which all members actively participate in the culinary development of the entire province, generating empowerment to those who for centuries have not enjoyed the recognition they deserve for their work and the quality of the food products.
It doesn’t matter which experience you decide on. Even if you visit only one of the restaurants featured in this route, you will realize that it has the very history that connects it to the rest of the network. To give you a broader idea of what you can find along the way, we have divided our experience into five categories and their highlights.
Restaurants and bars
This is perhaps the most obvious aspect of Latitud Iche, since tasting a dish is the last, final, most sought-after level of any culinary experience. Rambuche, Jama, has a special reputation: here is where you’ll find Manabí’s most delicious tonga. Just off the road on your way to San Vicente, there are three highlight restaurants that honor the fact: El Point, Valentina Colibrí and Maribel. All three belong to the Chávez sisters, but each one is managed independently, with a setting nourished by Manabí’s rustic rural montuvio life. El Point offers breakfasts in the purest campesino style: hearty and delicious. Valentina Colibrí and her authentic tonga is a favorite among the locals; while Maribel focuses on delicious smoked food.
If beachside kiosks overlooking the shore are your thing, El Complejo, in San Vicente, is a cocktail haven and traditional food with a gourmet touch, such as a to-die-for corviche with a peanut-and-passion-fruit sauce. Further north, in El Matal, find La Esquina de Cheo, with specialties: passion fruit fish filet or a delicious coconut-imbued seafood platter.
This exclusive journey through ancestral Manabí’s excellent cuisine, ingredients and stories of emblematic recipes cooked on the traditional stoves, you must visit Iche itself, in San Vicente, or Cocosolo in Pedernales. In both, you will enjoy the most authentic local seasoning, combined with the knowledge of the chefs’ grandparents who have preserved the secret touch from time immemorial.
Finally, order a cold one near Canoa, in a “hidden” craft brewery you can’t unknow once you’ve discovered it. Beerkingo offers an extensive menu of delicious cold brews to enjoy by their pool. Don’t leave without tasting the ‘bone breaker’!
Here’s where the added value of the route lies. An opportunity for intimate contact with those responsible for bringing products to restaurant kitchens.
Let’s start in Tabuga, a small town between Jama and Pedernales where the unmistakable flavor of Manabí coffee is concocted. They say that a true coffee grower drinks it black at dawn, before going out to the field to work his land. At the Café Tabuga community processing center, the raw materials are collected by small producers far and wide in a fair, sustainable manner.
Across the road find Monoverde, another agroecological visitor site along the route. In addition to tasting the coffee, those who visit can volunteer at the plantation and learn first-hand, staying in a beautiful setting surrounded by nature (and permaculture… a great place to come into contact with holistic farming techniques).
Another highlight is Corazón del Chocó, in Pedernales. A cacao farm run by the Marzillo-Sabando family has recognized the value of their land, and has thus offered it the care and love it deserves. The “lab” lies within the three hectares where the family protects their natural environment, working with it to produce delicious chocolate, bonbons, nibs and butter.
Places like El Matal and Jama are also points of interest for those who want to meet the fishermen and their daily routines at dawn in high seas to bring the best, most fresh seafood to dishes around Manabí.
Communities and businesses
The third axis of Iche’s culinary route entails a network of producers and communities that come together to consolidate their sustainable agricultural projects. A clear example is the community store La Criollita, in Bahía de Caráquez. Located behind the San Vicente Shopping Mall, find a wide variety of organic vegetables, fruits and other food products brought straight from the fields of small farmers nearby. In addition to fresh food, it also offers a range of value-added products: chili pepper dressings, creams, decorations, healthy snacks… If you want to give back to a community that works to improve their own conditions, do not hesitate to shop here…
Another exemplary product is La Bonilla, in Cojimíes, a community which has whol-heartedly embraced experiential tourism. It all starts with harvesting food from the gardens, where visitors learn sustainable techniques from local farmers to conserve their environment. You can take a canoe ride through the nearby mangroves, where snails, mussels and fish are caught for lunch. Everything is taken to the communal kitchen where, together with the locals, the ingredients —hunted and gathered artisanally— are cooked and savored.
Art and culture
If you’re attentive, you may notice how art appears in the smallest details: in the ceramic decorations on tables in certain restaurants, for example… but there is a project that can’t go by unnoticed. Ricardo Alcívar’s Jama-Coaque workshop, in Jama, literally takes us back in time. Inside his ‘capsule, a space where ceremonies are practiced to connect with the traditions of the ancient cultures that inhabited the area, find beautiful art pieces, rich in symbolism and details, in wood or rock, created by Ricardo as part of a one-of-a-kind exhibit. A great place for anyone seeking to learn more about the ancestral legacy of these ancient lands.
A great place to stay in the north of Manabí, near Cojimíes, is El Cañaveral, a paradise in itself with palm trees and direct access to the sea. Find absolute calm and tranquility and spend more than just one day to unwind to the lull of the waves.
Further south, between Jama and Sucre, we recommend Rutamar, in Canoa. Though it is not only a place to rest, but to find adventure. Ask about the many activities you have available to accompany your stay: kitesurfing, paragliding, surfing; a touch of adrenaline to end a route full of deep experiences with a bang!
Photos and text: Juan Fernando Ricaurte