Sunday morning, after a night on the town, every sloppy drunken wastrel that a mother ever loved staggers down the main street of my village to Alicia’s house. There, they join with others, less inebriated, more coherent, where family feuds and decades-old grudges are forgotten as they unite in the weekly act of worship: silently slurping large bowls of steaming Encebollado: albacore soup with yucca, red onions and cilantro seasoned with lime and chili. Alicia makes the best (and only) encebollado here. Beside each plate, she serves a small bowl of home-made Chifles: banana chips.
I love this amazing breakfast soup and its crispy chifles so much that I asked Alicia to teach me how to make it. Two days later, bleary-eyed and sleep-smeared, I made my way to her house at 5am to observe and carefully document the entire intriguing process. Encebollado is complicated, with a billion ingredients and almost as many steps. And the end result, ready at 7am for the first customers, is absolutely divine. Hailed as the ultimate cure for the Sunday hangover, it attracts such an eclectic variety of clientele that you could be forgiven for thinking you were on some weird B-grade movie set with dozens of staggering, starving actors.
A hot debate on how to eat chifles rages at a street-side table. Some prefer to crunch them all up and sprinkled them over the soup. Others (like me) opt to munch on them one at a time as a tasty side dish. And then, there are those who like to dip them into the rich broth. However you like your chifles, and whatever you accompany them with, it’s hard to go wrong on taste, texture, crunch and color. Chifles are also a top quality nutritious snack on their own; they’re right up there with crisps, corn chips and popcorn – only better.
4 large green plantain bananas
Oil for deep frying
Tip: Rub your hands in a little oil before handling plantain bananas; the sticky sap doesn’t wash off in water, and it stains your clothes permanently. (Just ask my ex-best t-shirt.)
Heat the oil in a large pan until it’s ready for deep frying. Make sure the oil is very hot, or your chifles will be soggy.
While the oil is heating, peel and wash the bananas (you want one or two bananas per person, so if you need more servings, peel more bananas!)
Then, with a vegetable peeler or fine slicer, slice thin layers off the bananas and place them on a plate.
When the oil is ready, carefully drop the chifles into the oil. Using a metal slotted spoon, turn them once, cooking them until golden and crispy. Remove them and place in a bowl with absorbent paper. Sprinkle salt over. Eat.
If learning how to make Encebollado and Chifles the local way is on your bucket list (trust me, if it isn’t, it should be!), ask Footprints how.