Saturday, March 15, 2014

Eating Percebes, the goose barnacle

It was a brave man who first ate an oyster, said Jonathan Swift. Well it was a total, bloody hero who first ate percebes.

I have a plate of alien penises in front of me and I'm expected to eat them. Ok, so they're not actually alien penises but sometimes fiction is more palatable than fact.

Percebes, the goose barnacle

They are percebes, a rare seafood delicacy famous in the town of Salango, Manabi. In English they are known as goose barnacles because in the days before Europeans understood the migratory patterns of birds, they believed the barnacle geese laid their eggs on branches and dropped them into the sea.

The percebes look like the sort of space monsters I used to spend afternoons blasting away at in the early-90s horizontal shooter R-Type. An obscure reference, but no less true for it. Or, for the film fans... they are somewhere between Aliens, a Triffid and a Grabboid from Tremors.

A plate of percebes in the excellent El Pelicano restaurant in Salango costs just 11 dollars. But they are also particularly popular in Spain where prices can be more than twenty times higher. The juiciest goose barnacles sell for well over 100 euros a kilo.

Percebes, the goose barnacle

So what do they taste like? The sea... but that's not very helpful. Muy rico. They are much softer than calamari and firmer than crab. They are juicy and meaty with a more intense flavour than cockles or mussels. I ate them steamed with just a squeeze of lemon. I love seafood and they are absolutely delicious.

To eat them you extract a stalk from the calciferous mass they grow from, you then snap the head gently and peel back the thick, reptilian skin to reveal a fleshy pipe of flesh. It's best not to look at them too carefully before popping them in your mouth. Small percebes grow like branches from the larger ones and from behind the claw like skull a weird tentacles hand writhes.
Percebes, the goose barnacle

I've had some strange dishes put before me from pig's trotters, bowls of squid ink, and oysters in Cancale but percebes tops the list. Lucy and I cast one another a nervous glance when the bowl of steaming aliens arrived. Neither of us wanted to go first so I stalled for time and took some photos. By the end we were fighting over the scraps.

I'd never pay 100/kg Euros for percebes but at Ecuadorian prices it's a bargain. I'm returning to El Pelicano soon for a second bowl.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Setting Sun

Evening fishing on the Pacific ocean
I am spending a month or so on Ecuador's Pacific coast in the province of Manabi - famous for its incredible seafood, beautiful women and unspoiled beaches... and stunning sunsets.

Birds pass the dying sun in Ayampe
Brown pelicans pass a dying sun
I'm in Ayampe, a village south of Puerto Lopez popular with surfers and hippies. It's a good location, just far enough from Montanita to escape the madness but close enough to enjoy the madness occasionally. It's also 15 minutes from Puerto Lopez and its crazy beach fish market.

Child on the beach in Ayampe
Sunset over Ayampe

One of the best things about staying in Ayampe is the sunsets. Every day - at 6:15pm - most of the town converges on the beach or balconies to watch the spectacle. At first the sun burns golden yellow, still surprisingly high in the sky at 6pm. As it sinks it begins to turn a bloody red and its descent becomes more rapid. It dips a toe into the Pacific ocean and then plunges in, extinguishing itself behind the horizon.

Birds hunting flying fish over the Pacific, Ecuador
Pelicans hunting fish, you can see them leaping from the water on the right
But the show isn't over with the sun. For the next hour the sky glows golden orange, crimson, dark blue at the extremities. Any clouds in the sky take on a pastel pink tone and are stunningly back-lit by the hidden sun.

Sunset over the Pacific, Ayampe, Ecuador
24mm wide-angle sunset