Viche in one word, or, let us say in one dish, represents all the wealth and diversity of the province of Manabi, its land and the sea that surrounds it, as well as the talent of Manabí’s homestyle cooks and the long-held secrets of an ancient past.
Manabí: its quiet, magical fishing villages, its endless beaches, the unique vibe of its people. Fishermen appear at roadsides offering fresh fare, while the spectacle of color and exoticism of tropical-fruit-and-vegetable stalls contrast with the silence of giant ceiba trees. Sitting by their windows or resting in their hammocks, families look out for their personal farms, which may be small, but never lacking: especially not in plantains (including the dominico, the secret ingredient of Manabí’s wonderful culinary spunk), the endemic habichuela white bean, tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, onion…
Viche (also written “biche”) is Manabí’s culinary metaphor. The soup has it all. While other parts of Ecuador put heart and soul in preparing the traditional Fanesca during Easter, Manabitas make Viche. And while the rest of Ecuador only prepares fanesca during Easter, Manabitas don’t go a single week without enjoying their quintessential Viche, whether it be fish or crab; it’s an unforgettable specialty that goes back centuries.
It was a staple of pre-Columbian society, later transformed by the Spaniards. In recent years it has migrated from the family table to public eateries. The earliest Spanish records date back to 1767, describing a fish-based stew with peanuts and vegetables, served on weekends in southern Jipijapa homes… but the story goes back well beyond that.
You must eat it before 2 pm on Sundays when it is prepared in most eateries: any later and the pot begins to run dry. Some precede it with a refreshing ceviche and follow it up with the main course. It is a staple of lunch menus in restaurants, where it is prepared at least once during the week and every weekend. The truth is if you go to Manabí and don’t try a good viche, you risk missing out on the essence of this special land.
A Viche a day (keeps the doctor away)
Viche is perhaps Manabi’s oldest recipe. Ancient societies from this Ecuadorian province were experts in cooking the dish’s main ingredients: river shrimp, ground peanuts, and green plantains. While Spanish culinary culture has undoubtedly influenced the recipe, archaeological research from the last 30 years has given us a pretty good idea of what was prepared thousands of years ago, during the Valdivia, Chorrera and Jama Coaque civilizations, proving that viche’s core ingredients could date back longer than we thought.
The clearest evidence has been found in Jama, Coaque, and San Isidro, where ancient domestic landfills located next to family tola settlements contain the remains: bivalves, mollusks, sea and river crustaceans, even shrimp up to 60 cm long! So we can safely say that the pre-Columbian natives consumed high amounts of protein and a balanced diet.
These ancient cultures demonstrated an admirable physical, intellectual and social development, which could well have been down to this varied alimentation (with viche — which alone provides potassium, iron, fluoride, arginine, amino acids, diamino acids, carotene, vitamin A, phosphorus, magnesium, omega 3, iodine, sodium, B complex, and natural steroids — serving as its backbone), helping them create an organized, healthy and prosperous society in which evidence of poverty, malnutrition or diseases such as cancer have yet to be unearthed.
Where to find good viche
You can venture anywhere in Manabi to find it. In Piñas, a small fishing village south of Manta, we suggest the spider-crab viche served when its main ingredient is available. At fine-dining restaurant Martinica, in Manta, you can try a gourmet version; on weekends at Santa Marianita, find Willy 2’s version, prepared by Fátima Pinargote, or Ocean Freaks, a must-stop for this and other recipes.