Today we are heading to the beautiful Spanish speaking country of Honduras to explore a popular soup called sopa de caracol that everyone has been raving about.
Coconut and coconut milk are featured in both sweet and savory dishes. Regional specialties include fried fish, tamales and baleada, a traditional breakfast dish that is also a popular street food. Other popular dishes include meat roasted with chismol and carne asada, chicken with rice, corn and fried fish with pickled onions and jalapeños.
In the coastal areas and in the Bay Islands, seafood and some meats are prepared in many ways, some of which include coconut milk.
Among the soups, the Hondurans enjoy are bean soup, mondongo soup (tripe soup), and seafood soups like sopa de caracol, as well as beef soups. Generally, all of these soups are mixed with plantains, yuca, and cabbage, and served with corn tortillas.
In the Bahamas, it is called Bahamian chowder and Jamaicans have their own recipes as well, like conch in soups, stews and curries, but all of them are fairly similar. In Haiti, it is locally referred to as lambi. In Panama, conch is known as cambombia and is often served as a ceviche known as ceviche de cambombia consisting of raw conch marinated in lime juice, chopped onions, finely chopped habaneros, and often vinegar
What is a conch?
If you were a kid in the 90s and played video games, then you probably remember chasing Conch shells in “Jaws”. The meat of conchs is eaten raw in salads, or cooked, as in burgers, chowders, fritters, and gumbos. All parts of the conch meat are edible. However, the meat of the conch can be tough if overcooked. You can tenderize it with the aid of a meat mallet by pounding it out. It is also a fantastic way to get some aggression out. Another option is pressure cooking it for 10 minutes. The shell of the conch also plays an important part in Caribbean culture. Usually, it is used as a wind musical instrument, popular at sporting events.
Sopa de caracol is a typical soup that originated in the north coast of Honduras, but it is served throughout the country. Conch which is pronounced konk is a common name which is applied to a number of different species of medium to large-sized sea snails or their shells. There are several dishes involving conch meat like the most popular conch ceviche.
Sopa de caracol (conch soup), sometimes called the national dish of Honduras, is reminiscent of Thai coconut soups, but without all the spice. Instead, it’s made with tender conch meat, yuca, slices of unripe bananas, bell peppers, and topped with chopped cilantro. The creamy coconut milk and tomato broth is incredibly comforting. The generous bowl is served with white rice and thick handmade tortillas formed from the same masa as their pupusas.
Sopa de caracol is one of the most distinctive dishes in the Honduran cuisine. It is reminiscent of a light bodied gumbo with more veggies and a sweeter note at the end. This soup was made popular across Latin America because of a catchy song called Sopa de Caracol from Banda Blanca.
Large meaty chunks of conch are cooked in coconut milk and the conch’s broth, with spices (garlic, chili peppers, cilantro and a pinch of fresh ginger and cumin), yuca (cassava), and green bananas. Diced tomatoes, onions and carrots add extra flavors and textures.
Other popular seafood soups
Another popular Honduran soup is sopa marinera, a delicious seafood soup that is considered to be one of the most illustrative Honduran dishes. Prepared according to the traditional Honduran recipe, it includes: fish or shrimps, crabs, coconut milk, yuca, chopped cilantro, and plantain. Seafood are cooked for 15 minutes to preserve all the nutrients, consequently making this soup not only appetizing but also very healthy. The light color and sweetish flavor of the soup are the result of adding the coconut milk. A little white wine is usually added in order to achieve a sour flavor.
This Honduran seafood soup is one of the most popular national dishes in Honduras and everyone seems to like it. What makes it different from other seafood soups is the coconut milk, an ingredient that is not that common in similar soups. The recipe is passed from one generation to the other and the locals are very proud of this authentic Honduran dish. Of course, everyone will tell you how their version of the Honduran seafood soup is the best, and every other home has that secret ingredient that makes the dish special and unique.
From tamales wrapped in banana leaves to stuffed tortillas, traditional Honduras foods blend the cooking techniques and recipes of Spanish, African and indigenous cultures. Surrounding Central American countries serve as culinary influences, stressing the importance of corn, beans, peppers and tomatoes. Honduran cooks also incorporate tropical fruits such as papaya and green bananas, and heavily rely on coconut to create savory dishes with sweet undertones.
Soups play a significant role in traditional Honduran cuisine, served before or after a meal. Originating in the north coast of Honduras, conch soup is a popular dish, especially in the Caribbean region.
The origins of this seafood soup — seared fish, shrimp and conch quickly poached in a simple coconut broth — can be discerned by its elements. It’s a specialty of the Garifuna people, descendants of intermarried Africans and Carib natives who settled on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, as well as Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and the tropical coconut and abundant seafood speak to where they live.
The Garifuna people are descendants of people from St. Vincent who battled fiercely for their freedom against the British colonizers. When the British finally defeated them, they were deemed too unruly to be slaves and sent to die on the isolated island of Roatán. Escaping, they landed in Central America. And for the past 75 years, more and more Garifunas live in New York.
The fact that sopa de caracol is almost always served with machuca, a mash of sweet and green plantains, reflects the Garifunas’ West African origins, where cassava and plantain mashes called fufu are a staple.
Do not wait and try out this comforting and filling conch soup.
- 2 lb conch
- 2 (14 oz.) cans coconut milk
- 3 green bananas , sliced
- 3 carrots , sliced
- 2 lb cassava (manioc), sliced
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 2 large white onions , chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper , roughly chopped
- 2 green hot peppers , chopped
- 2 cubes chicken consommé
- ½ bunch cilantro
- ½ bunch Chinese cilantro (culantro)
- 5 tablespoons margarine
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons achiote oil (annatto oil)
- Gently extract the flesh from the conch and soften it vigorously with a mallet.
Cut the conch flesh into 2-inch (5 cm) squares. Set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven, melt the margarine over medium heat. While stirring, sauté the onions for 1 minute.
- Add the garlic, bell peppers and hot peppers, stir well and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the cubes of chicken consommé, cassava and carrots, stir well and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add the water and the milk. Mix well.
- Add the coconut milk and water. Mix well.
Cook covered over medium heat for 20 minutes, then add the green bananas, salt and pepper.
- Add the annato oil, mix well and continue cooking for 8 minutes.
- Finally add the conchs and stir for 10 seconds.
- Add the cilantro and culantro and stir.
- Immediately remove the pot from the heat and cover.
- Let stand 2 minutes before serving immediately.