May 8, 2011

garifuna tapado

As you may have noticed, I get much of my inspiration in the kitchen from my past travels. A couple years ago, I went on a whirlwind 10-day tour of Guatemala. In that time I managed to climb a (very) active volcano, visit the amazing Spanish influenced town of Antigua, tour the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal (also known as Yavin 4 for you Star Wars nerds), kayak across beautiful Lake Atitlan, and finally spend some time in the remote Garifuna influenced Caribbean port-town (turned back-packer destination) of Livingston.

Of all the places I visited, the best food memory I have is of a delicious coconut and seafood soup I thoroughly enjoyed in Livingston called Tapado. As is often the case when different cultures mix, people adopt the best parts of each cuisine and develop something unique and exciting. Tapado is just that, a beautiful soup influenced by the Maya, Garifuna and Ladino people of the region.

One recipe kept appearing in all my Google searches, but frankly, it just didn't seem complete, so I adapted it slightly. The soup base is fresh coconut milk. It's seasoned with ground annatto (achiote), salt, pepper, oregano, and cilantro. I also added a bit of garlic and ginger to the mix. Veggies include onion, red bell pepper, tomato, and a mix of starches (yuca, green bananas, ripe plantains, ripe bananas are most typical). Finally, the recipe recommends adding snapper, but what I had in Livingston had a mix of fish and shellfish. Crabs, welks, shrimp, snapper, pretty much whatever is fresh out of the ocean will work very well.

I did learn to make fresh coconut milk for this recipe. To do so, you simply take a brown coconut, remove the meat from the inside and then blend it with a 3-4 cups of hot water. After the coconut meat is finely ground, you strain out the liquid and that's your coconut milk. Much lighter than the stuff you get in a can! I didn't use any yuca, but I did throw in a ripe plantain, a green banana, and a couple small boiling potatoes. For the seafood, I used two lively blue crabs, a handful of whole shrimp, and some small whole white perch, which I initially seared with the garlic & ginger.

So, the end result? Well as you can see above, the soup turned out to be a bit more of a stew. I added a few too many starchy ingredients I guess, but that didn't diminish the flavor. It was relatively easy to prepare, but a bit more challenging to eat - crab, whole shrimp, and whole fish made for a messy dinner. To simplify, you could certainly use pealed shrimp, fish filets and larger crabs. The flavors were great though, and the whole thing is very filling. Below is a picture of the bowl of Tapado I ate in Livingston - obviously the main difference is that the broth was much thinner. Otherwise, not bad for a first try.

Garifuna Tapado (serves 3-4)

1 brown coconut
4 cups hot water

1 tbls canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, minced

1 medium onion, large dice
1 red bell pepper, large dice
1/2 tsp ground annatto
1/2 tsp dried oregeno
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbls salt (to taste)
1 bay leaf

6-8 small boiling potatoes, halved
1 green banana, sliced

1 very ripe plantain, sliced
1 large tomato, large dice2 blue crabs
8 large shrimp, deveined
4 small perch

2 tbls cilantro, chopped for garnish

  • peal the coconut, cut the meat into small chunks and blend in hot water until very finely chopped
  • strain coconut water and reserve
  • cook garlic and ginger in oil over medium heat (1 minute)
  • add onion, pepper and spices, and cook over medium-high until onions begin to soften (3-4 minutes)
  • add coconut milk and bring to a boil
  • add potatoes and green banana and cook on medium high heat until almost tender (8-10 minutes)
  • add a little water if you need to thin it out and bring back to a boil
  • add plantain, tomato, and seafood and cook until everything is cooked through (4-5 minutes)
Serve hot with cilantro garnish and enjoy!


  1. That crab was so feisty...grr...he wanted to pinch my face off. But he tasted delicious.

  2. I too fell in love with Tapado on my recent trip to Livingston. can't wait to try your recipe, thanks!