The fish market in Puerto Ayora is an epicure´s worst nightmare. Zagat´s guide would never review any establishment like this, with plastic chairs and tables, waxy thin napkins and plastic plates. There’s no candles, tablecloths, or wine list. There is no menu. You eat whatever seafood they happen to be serving. Some days it is lobster, other days crab, when we went they were serving whole fish.
The exact opposite of typical fine dining where an artistically placed morsel of food occupies a large, mostly empty plate, here the whole fish rests on piles of patacones (plaintain chips) and rice, and the tail literally juts off the plate. It is almost an impossibility to eat without getting fish all over the place. The way to eat here is to devour the fish, leaving a pile of bones, and then lick the grease off your fingers. When the diners leave, they literally hose down the place. One advantage of plastic tables and chairs and a cement floor! But this is a dining experience not to be missed, uniquely Galapagos, authentic, and delicious to boot.
The meal cost $9 for a whole fried fish accompanied with plantain chips and spicy aji (pepper) sauce. The food on our all inclusive tour at Red Mangrove was fabulous, but after a week we all wanted to try something more local. Staying in a hotel and doing a land based Galapagos tour gave us the flexibility, and the awesome in-the-know front desk staff at Red Mangrove gave us the idea. Here´s why you should go.
Reasons to eat at the fish market
- It is impossible to find fresher fish. Fishing boats catch fish, crab, and lobster every day and bring it fresh to the fish market in Puerto Ayora. By dinner time, the residents have set up big pans for frying the day’s catch.
- Meet the locals. Because of the overwhelming popularity, you are almost guaranteed a shared table with the locals where you can meet them in a non-commercial setting and learn about their culture. You are not buying anything from them, they are not serving you, you meet as equals, both there to enjoy the food and the scenery. There were a few tourists taking pictures of the fish and the sea lions, but we were the only tourists dining. We sat with a doctor from Loja, Ecuador, who was working in the hospital. He had come alone, just for the food, and was eager to strike up conversation.
- It comes with a “dinner show.“ The pelicans flock to the market hoping to catch a scrap or two. The sea lions rear up like puppies wanting table scraps. And the fisherman try to keep the day’s catch intact (while tossing a couple scraps to the sea lions). They are after all, much cuter by common estimation than the gang of pelicans. Against the setting sun over the bay, it makes for the perfect end to the day. See more about the “show” here.
- Feel good supporting the local economy. You are helping the people who live there, rather than large cruise ship operators which are foreign-owned.