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Tapado, a delicious seafood soup with coconut milk, is a traditional dish from the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
The fragrant coconut broth, packed with fresh fish, lobster, shrimp, plantain and yucca, makes it ideal for lunch or dinner. It’s also gluten-free!
One of the most famous dishes that highlights the African influence on Latin cooking, this coconut seafood soup originates from the Garifuna communities on the coasts of Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
With its sunny tropical flavour, Guatemalan tapado soup is one of the most popular traditional Guatemalan foods from the country’s Caribbean coast. It’s a flavourful concoction of seafood, plantain, yucca, coconut milk and fresh spices. It’s also very easy to make.
This Afro Guatemalan recipe for tapado soup is sure to become one of your favourite dishes for everyday or entertaining.
What is Tapado Soup?
It’s an especially popular dish during Garifuna Settlement Day, one of the largest, most exuberant festivals in Guatemala. It’s also popular in Tela, Roatan and other beach destinations in Honduras.
This stretch of the Caribbean coastline from Belize to Honduras is home to the Garifuna people, a distinct cultural group originally from Africa.
The music, religion and culinary traditions of the Garifuna people are quite distinct from those of the Maya from the highlands. You’re more likely to see fish, shrimp, coconut, plantain, banana and hot pepper sauces in the typical dishes in this region.
Tapado is a dish that combines all of those ingredients in perfect harmony. What does “tapado” mean in English? When it comes to this dish, it means “topped” with a fried whole fish as the bowl of soup is often served with a fried whole fish laid across the top of the bowl.
Insider Tip: If you’re visiting Guatemala, you don’t have to go all the way to Livingston for authentic tapado. If you’re headed to Coban, Esquipulas or Tikal, you can sample it at Marea Roja Restaurante located on the Atlantic Highway just before El Rancho.
Other popular Guatemalan dishes in Livingston, Rio Dulce and Puerto Barrios include pan de coco, a coconut bread sold from baskets by women in the markets and pescado guisado con coco, whole fish steamed in coconut milk with vegetables, and Guatemalan ceviche, a seafood cocktail featuring a mix of shrimp, conch or fish.
Ingredients for Tapado Garifuna – Coconut Seafood Soup
The most important ingredient for tapado is the seafood you use. For the fish, use a firm white fish, such as halibut, haddock or cod for this recipe. Stay away from sole ( too delicate) or tuna (too oily).
Try to find wild shrimp that isn’t farmed. Spiny lobster is optional but elevates the soup and makes it ideal for a special occasion such as Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day.
Another of the key ingredients for tapado soup is achiote, a spice and food colorant made from crushed annato seeds. It adds a slightly earthy taste and the all-important red colour to the soup.
It can be purchased at virtually every Latin food shop and is quite inexpensive so is well worth adding to your pantry.
If you don’t have any Latin food shops in your neighbourhood, you can also purchase it on Amazon in a paste or powder form such as the popular El Yucateco Achiote Red Paste, 3.5 oz.
For coconut milk and hot sauce, I usually look for products from Grace Foods. Founded in 1922, and now the Caribbean’s leading food manufacturer and distributor, Grace Foods produces popular products such as 100% pure coconut water, jerk sauces, coconut oil and hot pepper sauces.
They’ve also regularly introduce exciting new products such as coconut vinegar, a wellness product that’s packed with so many health benefits its vying with apple cider vinegar in popularity.
Importantly for our family, none of the Grace Food Product line contains the Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) additive. So you don’t have to worry about having an adverse reaction if you have a sensitivity to MSG.
How to Make Tapado – Seafood Soup with Coconut Milk
Begin by making a sofrito, a typical base for many Guatemalan and Latin American soups, stews and dishes. While in countries such as Spain, Portugal or the Caribbean a sofrito, refogado or sofregito might include peppers, garlic and spices, in Guatemala a basic sofrito always includes tomato, onion and cilantro.
To make a sofrito for this tapado recipe, chop the peeled tomatoes, red peppers, jalapeno, cilantro and onions into small pieces and sauté the mixture in vegetable oil until soft, but not browned.
It should be saucy and not dried out.
Add the achiote to warm fish broth or water and stir until completely dissolved.
Next, pour the seafood stock (or water if you’re using) with the dissolved achiote into the sofrito in your soup pot.
Bring the broth to a low boil, add the sliced plantain, green banana and yucca to the broth. Then, add the coconut milk and simmer the vegetables for 10 minutes until almost done.
When adding the coconut milk be sure to stir the contents within the can of coconut milk first. Mix the rich coconut cream from the bottom of the can with the thinner coconut milk at the top.
Next, add the mix of seafood (lobster, fish, tiny crab or shrimp) into the broth with the partially-cooked plantain and yucca being sure to submerge the seafood into the broth.
Add more water, if necessary, to cover the seafood. Simmer for 10 minutes until the seafood is fully cooked.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with white rice and hot sauce on the side.
Serve tapado soup with white rice and hot sauce on the side
In Guatemala, tapado is often served with a crispy, whole fried fish on top. This is also an option if you’d like to go with the traditional Garifuna version.
Tips for Making Guatemalan Tapado
- When choosing a plantain to use for tapado, look for one with black skin indicating it’s ripe but try to select one that isn’t mushy.
- Green bananas add a taste of bitterness that is a nice complement to the sweetness of the coconut milk. Green bananas are simply unripe versions of the yellow banana. They’re often used in savoury dishes in the Caribbean.
- Don’t overcook your tapado soup. You want the fish and seafood to stay intact.
- Use a firm white fish, such as halibut, haddock or cod for this recipe. Stay away from sole ( too delicate) or tuna (too oily).
You Might Also Like These Recipes
- To make one of these popular traditional Guatemalan dishes from the Caribbean coast, check out this recipe for authentic Guatemalan shrimp ceviche.
- For another recipe featuring coconut milk and seafood, try our easy recipe for Tahitian Poisson Cru from French Polynesia.
If you try this recipe, be sure to rate it and let us know how the dish turned out in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you! Or tag us at #atastefortravel
Tapado - Guatemalan Seafood Soup with Coconut Milk
- 1 Tbsp garlic clove
- 1 tsp jalapeno
- small handful cilantro
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 2 Roma tomatoes seeded and peeled
- 1/2 onion
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cups water vegetable or seafood stock
- 1 cup yuca chopped in bite-sized pieces
- 2 plantains sliced on diagonal
- 1 green banana sliced on diagonal
- 1/2 can Grace Foods coconut milk
- 20 raw shrimp peeled and deveined but tails on
- 2 Caribbean lobster tails if available or mixed seafood of your choice
- 4 filets white fish or you can fry a whole fish
- 1/4 tsp achiote
- Grace Foods Hot Pepper sauce
- Chop the first six ingredients in a food processor
- Place the vegetable oil in the bottom of a large soup pot
- Saute the chopped vegetables in oil until soft and saucy but not browned.
- Dissolve the achiote in warm water (or seafood stock)
- Add water and achiote to sauteed vegetables
- Pour the coconut milk into the broth and vegetables
- Heat until simmering and add the sliced plantain, green banana and yucca
- Cook for around 10 minutes
- Add seafood and simmer for another 5-10 minutes until vegetables and seafood is tender but not mushy.
- Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- If you want to prepare it the traditional way, you can deep-fry a whole fish and lay it on the top of the soup
- Serve with white rice, tortillas and Grace Foods hot pepper sauce
- When choosing a plantain to use for tapado, look for one with black skin indicating it's ripe but try to select one that is not mushy
- Green bananas add a taste of bitterness that is a nice complement to the sweetness of the coconut milk. Green bananas are simply unripe versions of the yellow banana. They're often used in savoury dishes in the Caribbean.
- Don't overcook your tapado soup. You want the fish and seafood to stay intact.
- Use a firm white fish, such as halibut, haddock or cod for this recipe. Stay away from sole ( too delicate) or tuna ( too oily).
- In Livingston, tapado is often served with a fried whole fish on top. To serve it the traditional Garifuna way, be sure to gut and scale the fish, dry it thoroughly, sprinkle it with sea salt and fry it in corn oil until very crispy.
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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