Tag Archives: ibarra

The Food of Ecuador

To read more about my trip to Ecuador, check out these posts:  One, Two, and Three.

The amazing food we ate in Ecuador deserves its own post… so here it is.

We began our edible adventures on a day trip from Quito to Ibarra. Fittingly, breakfast was first. I didn’t get any pictures of the biscocho cookies that we dunked in dulce de leche. But here you can see queso de hoja, fresh stringy cheese that’s pulled apart and eaten with your fingers. It’s saltier, tangier, and much more flavorful than the Polly-O sticks I loved as a kid.

After a long morning of navigating winding mountain roads, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant further north. This was my introduction to fritadas. Fritadas are chunks of pork that are boiled, then deep-fried. They are incredibly delicious and decadent beyond belief. The outside of the pork, crispy from frying, yields to a tender interior that melts in your mouth. While fritadas are boiled with onions and spices, intense porkiness is the only flavor you’ll notice or need.

We also sampled choclo. I grew up in South Jersey and spent my summers eating farm-fresh corn on the cob. If you have a similar background, choclo will be familiar. The corn, a large-kerneled Andean variety, is boiled and eaten off the cob with fresh cheese. It’s milder than North American versions, and not quite as sweet, but unmistakably still corn.

Fritadas getting tender
The table: choclo, cerveza, fritada
Open kitchen
Other diners seemed surprised that I was photographing here, and my camera drew many curious glances. Fritadas, usually served casually like fast food, isn’t particularly noteworthy for most Ecuadorians.
Here’s a billboard that we passed after we left our first taste of fritadas behind. Can you identify the meat that La Josefina is serving? The one in the top right corner of the billboard? Here’s a hint: you might have shared your home with one.
That is cuy, or as it is known to most people in the US, guinea pig. It’s served roasted and whole, but if you’re looking for a description of how it tastes, you’re out of luck. You’ll note that instead of a photograph of cuy on my plate, I’m just showing you a photo of the billboard. Despite my adventurous palate, we didn’t eat any cuy on my trip. When I asked, my hosts were less than enthusiastic about taking me to find it… and since I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about trying it, I didn’t press the issue. Maybe next time!
Once we reached Ibarra, we stopped for empanadas. Empanadas in Ecuador are like falafel in Israel or pizza slices in New York; every offering tastes just a little bit different and is special for its own reasons. This version of empanada was stuffed with assorted vegetables and served with spicy onion-laced aji sauce.

Our next stop was for more fritadas, this time in Ibarra. We devoured more fritadas, tiny whole boiled potatoes, and a concoction called llapingacho that might have been my favorite bite of the whole day. Mashed potatoes are formed into patties around fresh cheese, then cooked on the griddle. If you like cheese fries, you’d love llapingacho.

Potato, fritada, fried choclo

We were stuffed close to bursting at this point, but we stopped for ice cream anyway, because there’s always room for ice cream. Especially when that ice cream is helado de paila, a specialty not just of Ecuador but the city of Ibarra.

You can see my cone below: a mix of moro and coco, or blackberry and coconut. Stealing bites from other people’s cones, I tried guanabana, leche, frutilla, tamarindo, and taxo flavors. Everything was unfamiliar, fruity, and wonderful.

The ice cream was more like a sorbet in texture than the ice cream that I’m used to. Thanks to Google, I figured out why. In the photo below, you can see wooden bowls. They are filled with ice and a copper bowl is placed on top. Inside the copper bowl goes sugar and fruit pulp. Your friendly Ibarran ice cream maker will use a spatula to stir as he or she spins the bowls atop the ice, adding beaten egg whites after everything starts to freeze. The result has a creamy texture and rich flavor, but is light and refreshing without dairy.
All of the exciting eating took its toll. That was Sunday. On Monday morning, at approximately six A.M., I woke up and was sicker than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It was pretty terrible, and I can only hope that the experience served to fortify my interior armor so that I don’t get sick on our next trip.
Let’s jump to Thursday, when we went on a zip-lining excursion to the jungles of Mindo. En route, we stopped for lunch. According to my hosts, the restaurant’s specialties were their meat and fish platters. Always happy to follow local advice, I ordered the trucha, or trout. Here, there was a misunderstanding with our group: someone thought that I wanted something else for lunch, and let’s just say that trucha can sound like another word in Spanish, a word that’s a very crude reference to a certain part of a lady’s anatomy. While I’m a proponent of consenting adults engaging in any behaviors they see fit, it was delightful to receive a plate containing a family-friendly entree. Not that I was expecting the restaurant to provide me with a hooker or something.

Anyway. Fried trout! French fries! An ensalada of the freshest, juiciest tomatoes! Rice! And to squeeze over everything, lime that wasn’t pale green inside, but golden orange. It was a delicious lunch. I ate so much that I could only try a few bites of Xavier’s food, the other specialty of the restaurant. Beef pounded thin, breaded, and fried, it tasted like an Ecuadorian response to wienerschnitzel. Times like these make me wish we really were what we eat. Like a cow, I’d love to have four stomachs to hold as many lunches.

On Saturday, we headed to Super Maxi, which seems to be the hot grocery store in Ecuador. The goal was to purchase lots of fruits so I could try flavors that we can’t get at home in the US. There were so many different kinds that I have no hope of remembering everything without having written it down. But I did take photos of the colorful fruit.

Our last big meal in Ecuador was ceviche. We had driven past this place nearly every day that we’d been staying in Cumbaya, so I was excited to finally try it. Plus, seafood is my absolute favorite food, so that was a bonus.

It was a beautiful day to sit outside and feast. Our appetizer arrived first: a plate of assorted fried things: fish chunks, shrimp, and calamari. For dipping was a sweet and spicy aioli-type sauce served in a hollowed-out tomato. Cute and delicious.

The ceviches were pretty good as well. We ordered cangrejo, or crab, and camaron, also known as shrimp. I’d always thought that ceviche was raw fish in lime juice. But Ecuadorian ceviches are usually made with pre-cooked seafood. Because they don’t rely on acidic ingredients to “cook” the shrimp, these varieties are tomato-based and sweet. The briny, tender crab was a hands-down favorite, although the shrimp was great too.

Now that we’re home, I have plenty of ideas for bringing Ecuadorian food into our Atlanta kitchen. Keep your eyes peeled for locro, or potato-cheese soup, coming your way soon.

Ecuador! Part One

It’s been a little while since my last post, because I was on vacation! The nine days we spent in Ecuador were amazing. Exploring a new country is always fun, but it was especially cool to see the place where my boyfriend grew up. Here’s what went down.

We arrived late on a Thursday night and spent the first couple of days hanging out with Xavier’s family. On Friday, we attended a family banquet held in honor of his cousin’s wedding. It was a really fun day, and very cool to meet everyone. We feasted on fanesca, a delicious soup that’s only made in the week prior to Easter. It’s made with twelve kinds of grains and beans. Served with plaintains and hard-boiled eggs, it’s incredibly rich. I could have consumed a gallon, but stuck to a single bowl as per everyone’s advice. Apparently it’s so rich it will make you sick. Once we were full, the family members picked up various musical instruments. Between toasts to the happy couple, everyone sang and danced for hours. This was incredibly different from any gathering my own family has ever had, and I loved it.

In between songs, a few of us managed to sneak onto the roof and check out the view of Quito.

Quito in the valley between mountains
Burglar protection

Many homes that I saw in Ecuador are protected from potential robbers by broken glass, fixed by concrete onto the exterior walls and gates. Others have barbed wire or electric fences, but those lack the visual intrigue that I found in the glass.

Come Saturday, it was time to primp: we had a wedding to attend! In preparation, four of us ladies spent the day getting our nails and hair done. It was fun to be pampered, even if the manicurist scoffed at my chewed-up fingernails and rock-toughened skin.

The wedding itself was another awesome experience. None of my close friends are married (although some are engaged – come on, guys, hurry up and plan so we can party!) and I haven’t been to many weddings, but this was definitely something special. The couple held their ceremony in a beautiful church located in colonial Quito: Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus.

Interior of the church- via Google images
Although the ceremony was conducted mostly in Spanish, and being a cultural Jew/current atheist I had no idea when to stand up or make various hand gestures, it was very nice. There aren’t any photographs of the evening – we left the camera in the car in our rush to church (wow, “rush to church” is a word combination that I never anticipated finding its way to my blog). Even without photographic evidence, I can categorically state that the party was amazing. From church, the wedding party in its finery walked through the Calles de las Sietes Cruces to the reception hall, eliciting stares and attention from passersby.
Via Google Images
After we arrived, we enjoyed delicious food and tons of champagne before literally dancing the entire night away. Although I’m not much of a dancer, it was hard to resist the Latin beats. A group of dancers in full costume and makeup arrived to pass out feather boas and glittery accessories. It was really a blast. If I ever get married, I want a party in Quito just like that one. Que vivan los casados!
On Sunday morning, we woke up early and set out on a road trip to Ibarra, a town in northern Ecuador. I had really wanted to see it because Xavier had many fond memories of going there as a child. On the way, we made a few stops to snack, take in the scenery, and shop local markets. We stopped as we crossed over the equator, pausing to take a couple of photos at the simple monument.
Modest equator monument
One of the stops we made was in Otavalo, which hosts a beautiful outdoor market featuring tons of hand-crafted goods. You could buy any number of hand-crafted goods.
Outdoor market at Otavalo
Fabrics at Otavalo
Stuffed animals at Otavalo
We also stopped at San Antonio de Ibarra, a little town known for its woodworking. Although we saw some beautiful artwork there, my favorite aspect of the town was its beauty. Whether you looked down the streets or behind the buildings, gorgeous cloud-draped mountains framed the entire town.

Streets of San Antonio de Ibarra
Town square of San Antonio de Ibarra
After lots of wonderful meandering, we found our way to Ibarra. Xavier’s dad said that he thinks Ibarra is the most beautiful city in the world. With its cobblestone streets, Spanish architecture, and mountain-studded backdrop, I just might be inclined to agree with him.

A look down a street in Ibarra
Roofs of Ibarra
We also ate a lot of interesting foods on this day trip – a post is soon to follow about our edible adventures, and their aftermath.
All photos are mine unless otherwise noted!