Friday, February 5, 2010

Food of Ecuador

Traveling with a foodie brings a whole new dimension to a trip. For starters, it means we take a lot of photos of what we're eating! It also means that local markets, stores and supermarkets are suddenly places we make a point of visiting. On this trip, we quickly realized we loved the food of Ecuador.

Their cuisine varies greatly by region. The food of the coast is very different from that of the jungle and both are very different from the highlands, where we were. In the highlands, one of the main staples of every meal were potatoes. Most people associate potatoes with Ireland, but their ancestral home is the Andes. They have countless varieties and come with every meal.
Delicious fresh fruits and juices are also everywhere. Breakfast was such a treat, to see what the fresh juice would be. One of our favorites was naranjilla, we wish we could get that here!
Some of our favorites: Llapingachos, potato pancakes with cheese and onions. Locro de papa, an amazing soup of potato and cheese. Empanadas were everywhere, in many shapes, sizes and fillings. Humitas, a kind of tamale is a common appetizer or snack. Mote a large corn kernel is often served with your fritada, or fried pork. My favorite of the trip was seco de chivo, a stew with braised lamb and D's favorite was a tripe soup with peanut broth and avocado. Avocado is a common side, and a slice is often added to soups. (I later was told it was thought to be orgasmic. No wonder they put it on everything!) I also had a delicious fresh heart of palm salad. Fresh heart of palm is pretty much impossible to get here. The canned is tasty, but having it fresh is such a treat!
The drinks of Ecuador were lots of freshly squeezed fruit juices. The wine was pretty expensive, about the same as it would be in the US, since they also were importing it from around the world. Wine lists were particularly heavy in Argentinian and Chilean wines. Since the wine was pricey, we drank a lot of their standard cerveza, Pilsener and Club. (If you have a little bit of a beer belly, they call it your Pilsener muscle.)
The most unique beverage was canelazo. This is a hot drink, perfect for a cool night, that tastes sort of like a mulled cider. I think it's actually cinnamon tea, with narajilla juice and some spices. The kick is the aguardiente, the local sugar cane hooch.
Another Ecuadorian staple was aji. This is on every table we ate at, their standard condiment. It reminded me of a salsa, and everyone has their own recipe for it. No two were alike anywhere we ate, and some had varying degrees of heat. Ecuadorian food is not hot, but people who like the extra kick, can add some of this. Also, most places also served bowls of corn to snack on while your food was being cooked. Again, this varied. Sometimes it was popcorn, and sometimes just corn kernels (big kernels) that I'm assuming were roasted. Tasty little snack.
D's only disappointment this trip was that he never got to try cuy, guinea pig. Until the Europeans arrived in Ecuador, this was the main source of protein in the Andes. These days it's reserved for special occasions. It was also hard to come by in the city and unfortunately, we were never able to arrange it. Bummer. Next time!

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