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WanderSups: Warming seafood soup for chilly nights

Feeling the autumnal chill? Guaranteed to warm the cockles, Hannah Gregory shares her recipe for traditional Garifuna seafood soup, “the Bouillabaisse of the Tropics”

A few years back a friend and I went on a trip. After a crazy season of working festivals, living in damp, muddy fields our bones were crying out for some Vit D and we were crying out for some adventure. We didn’t have long, but we wanted to see as much as possible.

Our first stop was Mexico - obviously, no discussion needed. But we thought if we were flying all that way we may as well see some more of Central America. Belize had always been on my bucket list and Guatemala on hers, so there we were, trip decided, bags packed.

WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835560)
WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835560)

Of course, there was the customary travel buddy fight, fuelled by too much tequila and too little sleep - that went something along the lines of: “FINE! You go to Guatemala, I’ll go to Belize” - whilst standing on a street corner in downtown Mexico City where we definitely shouldn't have been drawing attention to the fact that we were two wayward travellers in the middle of a rift.

We soon made up. That’s a wonderful thing about Central America: when travelling by bus, and chicken bus at that, you can either carry on hissing at each other whilst both crammed into one seat with a goat and a chicken for additional warmth or you can laugh about the situation and forget what you were even arguing about.

WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835559)
WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835559)

And so, we chicken bussed our way from Mexico to Belize and then docked a boat that took us into Livingston - a town on the Caribbean coast and at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, steeped in history of the Garifuna people.

I will hold my hands up and say I had not done the research when it came to Guatemala. I went in blind and ignorant and assumed that it was a very Latin American country, which it is as you move inland, through the Mayan ruins and back towards the Mexican border. Sometimes, I find this the best way to travel - you have no expectations and you can let the destination shape you, rather than you trying to shape it into some preconceived idea of what the trip should look and feel like.

Livingston was like nothing I imagined; a Caribbean aesthetic, the main town sitting atop a hill looking out to sea over the Gulf of Honduras. The easiest way to move further inland was to hop on a boat and head down the Rio Dulce, a trip that can only be compared to the opening of Jurassic Park, the river winding itself through dense jungle which I later found out were interspersed with hot springs. It was honestly one of the most awe inspiring places I have been fortunate enough to travel to.

WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835556)
WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835556)

And, of course, with every good wander there has to be a good sups. And the sups in question was the local dish of Topada. I have heard it referred to as the Bouillabaisse of the Tropics, a Caribbean fish soup, a steaming bowl of deliciousness. In short, it is a coconut based fish soup, loaded with all the usual caribbean staples - green banana, plantain, bell peppers and topped (topada) with fresh fish. Depending on budget, season and location the fish can be altered accordingly, but as a must, loads of prawns, a meaty white number and if you’re feeling fancy a lobster tail.

We ate every variety of this dish we could find - on the move in polystyrene cups (does not make the best travel food for a bumpy bus ride); in beachside restaurants; on plastic tables and chairs set up next to holes in the wall on the bustling high street.

WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835557)
WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835557)

We loved this dish so much that it only seemed right to honour it and learn how to do it properly with a traditional cooking lesson. I bought the recipe back with me and have been tweaking it and adjusting it slightly. There were herbs we used in Guatemala that I couldn’t name and, due to the language barrier, couldn’t get a clear translation on, but the recipe below gives you a pretty good rendition of what I think was one of my favorite culinary experiences during my time there.

For all my exotic ingredients I head to Far Away Foods in Bury or Newmarket.

Guatemalan Tapado

WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835555)
WanderSups - Velvet Column, October 2021 (50835555)

Serves 4

Tipple of choice - CocoLoco (whenever I ordered Tapado during my time in Guat it always came with a coconut shell of CocoLoco - literally fresh coconut water and rum)

Spotify Playlist - WanderSups Tropical Vibes

What you need:

2 cloves garlic crushed

1 jalapeno deseeded and finely diced

Small handful coriander

1/2 red pepper

½ green pepper

2 plum tomatoes (seeds removed)

1/2 onion

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

500ml seafood stock

1 small yuca or yam peeled and chopped into large chunks

2 plantains sliced on diagonal

1 green banana sliced on diagonal (this is a very unripe banana)

1 can coconut milk

20 raw shrimp peeled and deveined

4 fillets white fish (or you can fry a whole fish which is the traditional way of eating it)

Black pepper

½ tsp achiote paste (available online)

Hot pepper sauce

How you do it:

Add the garlic, jalapeno, coriander (including stalks), bell pepper, tomatoes and onion to a food processor and pulse to a chunky paste. This is your sofrito base.

Add the veg oil to a large casserole style dish and heat.

Add your sofrito and cook until softened, do not let it brown.

Heat your fish stock in a pan until steaming but not boiling and add in the achiote paste, stirring until it dissolves.

Add the stock to the cooked sofrito.

Add the coconut milk to the broth and heat until simmering.

In a frying pan, sear the plantain and banana in a little oil till golden.

Once the broth is simmering, add the plantain, banana and yuca or yam and cook for ten minutes.

Check your yuca/yam - it should be starting to get tender, if still hard, continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Heat a dry frying pan, pepper your fish fillets and sear in the hot pan until golden.

Add all your fish to the soup and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until all the seafood is cooked through. You want the seafood to maintain its bite so if you are worried the fish may over cook whilst the vegetables are doing their thing, just remove the fish and add back in when ready to serve. If you are going down the traditional route, this is when you would deep fry a whole fish and place it on top of the soup.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and hot sauce.

Hannah reached the quarter finals of BBC MasterChef last year. She hosts WanderSups supper clubs serving meals created with love, inspired by journeys around the world, dished up on home turf. Her ethos is simple - have fun, enjoy it, make it an occasion. To find out more follow @WanderSups or visit wandersups.com

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