Tag Archives: mindo

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 Three

To catch up on the trip to Ecuador, you can read Part One and Part Two.

We left off completely soaking wet in the jungles of Mindo, after ziplining through pouring rain. Let’s fast-forward to the next morning, wherein everyone was dry and comfortable. The kids were at school, so the adults decided to go on another adventure. Our destination? Cotopaxi, a volcano about 17 miles south of Quito. Although at 5,897m tall it should have been visible from within the limits of Quito, it had been incredibly cloudy all week and I hadn’t gotten a glimpse yet.

Here is what I knew about Cotopaxi as we headed out to explore: it is Xavier’s favorite mountain of all time. We are going to climb it some day. It looks like this:

Photo taken by Xavier

Here is what I know about Cotopaxi now that I have explored Wikipedia: it is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It last had a major eruption in 1903, but there was some minor volcanic activity in 1975. It’s apparently pretty easy to climb, making it an ideal target for novice outdoorsmen such as ourselves.

After driving for an hour or so, we reached Cotopaxi National Park. The roads deteriorated rapidly at this point. The trip was much more exciting when we drove through random waterfalls.

We paused for a few minutes to tour a little museum, take a couple of photos, and ready ourselves for the great ascent. Just kidding – we weren’t going to hike, but drive up as far as we could. From here, when the clouds shifted, we could see the snow-dusted peak of the volcano.

Group shot
Driving up

After driving another ten minutes or so through the rocky roads of the park, we reached a large valley directly underneath the volcano. There, we stopped, because we spotted wild horses. Cameras were withdrawn and utilized frequently. I skipped around the valley, frolicking with the horses only to rapidly feel dizzy and out of breath (hey, we were 3,800m/12,500ft above sea level and oxygen was scarce). The sun peeked out and we took more photos. It was such an amazing hour: we were completely alone with our silence and the snow-covered tiptop of Cotopaxi flashing at us from behind the clouds.

Amidst all the beauty, we got a little silly. Some cute shots were taken of Xavier and I, and his brother and sister-in-law. And there may have been some dancing, but I’ll never tell. What happens in Cotopaxi, stays in Cotopaxi.

Unfortunately, the weather really blocked the views that we had been longing for. Although we could have driven for another hour or so, getting closer to the summit, it would have been pointless. The peak would remain hidden under all the clouds. So we decided to check out a lake that was just a little further up the path, and then head out for some food.

The lake was beautiful. But as we were enjoying the view, I noticed a man descending the mountain on horseback. It reminded me of a photo that Xavier took at Cotopaxi a while ago, one that I’d always loved. Here’s his photo:

My boyfriend takes amazing photos.

And here’s the one that I took, making the most of my conditions:

The man was very nice. He even offered to let me sit on his horse for a few minutes. Despite all of the warnings I’d had to not touch animals while abroad, I couldn’t refuse.

Our drive back down the mountain was uneventful, but the views were fantastic.

Volcano in the background

On the way back to Quito, we stopped for lunch and had te de coca. According to the package, te de coca is supposed to stimulate digestion, wake you up, and provide numerous other health benefits. We definitely woke up after drinking the tea. I would recommend it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to buy any te de coca to go, so that experience must remain in the mountains of Ecuador for now.

The next day was, unfortunately, the last in Quito. We still had many items on our to-do list, though. A few were gastronomical: we purchased many fruits that you can’t find in the States, and went out for ceviche. Then we went to watch Xavier’s brother Christian play soccer. I had a great time capturing sports action shots with my zoom lens.

And finally, we went to Mercado Artesenal, a marketplace in Quito where vendors sold handmade goods. We had a great time and by the time we were through, I had been completely spoiled by everyone around me and gifted with tons of awesome stuff. I was decked out completely in handmade Ecuadorian stuff. In spite of my local attire, I had a hard time bargaining with the merchants to get the best deal on the lone necklace that I purchased – my Spanish is passable, but my thick accent gives me away as a gringa.

“Wait, you’re taking my picture?”

From there, we were out of time. We went back to the house to collect our stuff, had a quick dinner, and then Xavier and I were dropped off at the airport. Going home was really sad, especially as we bid farewell to the large group seeing us off at the airport. We’d had an amazing trip. I feel incredibly lucky to have met and been welcomed so warmly by Xavier’s extended family; every time I think about that, it makes me smile. I can’t wait until we have another chance to visit Quito, reunite with everyone who I met and loved, and explore more of the beautiful country of Ecuador.

Ecuador! Part Two

Looking up at the city of Quito from the valley underneath

To catch up with the first part of the Ecuador trip, click here.
After a jam-packed few days that included a wedding, pampering, and a road trip, things slowed down. This was mostly because I found myself stricken with the worst stomach bug I’ve ever caught. Monday’s plans were abandoned as I spent the day in various states of distress. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll just dish out one important thing that I learned from the fiasco: if you’re traveling in a new country, and you get a weird feeling about the food – just don’t risk it. No matter how good it smells. No matter how tasty it looks. No matter how cheap it is. No matter how many other people are eating it.

(In the US, my limited samplings of Ecuadorian food had included ceviche prepared by Xavier’s aunt, and a visit to an Ecuadorian restaurant in Charlotte, NC where the food was overwhelmingly Colombian. It seems like Ecuadorian food doesn’t get a lot of love outside of its own country. Once in Ecuador, I was excited to finally try the real stuff. In my excitement, I barely thought twice about stuffing myself with street food and stuff from casual roadside restaurants. Big mistake).

Anyway, by Tuesday afternoon I had somewhat recovered and was ready for limited action. The group of us made a little excursion to Mitad del Mundo, a monument and attraction at the equator. It’s only about thirty minutes from Cumbaya, the suburb of Quito where we were staying.

Looking down the path towards the equator momument

There were many little shops and attractions surrounding the monument. Although we explored an insectarium and some of the shops, the coolest thing by far was the model of Colonial Quito, put together by my friend Catae‘s father-in-law. I met Catae because she is married to Xavier’s best friend – and it was nice to meet her father-in-law and see the model of Quito that I’d heard so much about!

The photo doesn’t do it justice – it’s huge and amazing.

After saying hello, we actually approached the equator. There is a huge painted yellow line that lets you  know whether you’re in the north or south hemisphere.

After you get bored of the novelty of jumping from hemisphere to hemisphere, or standing in both hemispheres at once, you can explore the monument. First, you take an elevator to the top and look around. It was a cloudy and drizzly day, so much of the view was obstructed.

Next, you can explore the museum inside the building. There are artifacts and demonstrations of Ecuadorian life, particularly those of the Indians. My favorite artifact was a shrunken head, which I illegally photographed using flash.
After the museum, we had fun at the little site where you can observe the tangible effects of the equator. Apparently you weigh less at the equator, but when I jumped on the scale to find out, it turned out to be nonsense. Something slightly more rewarding was a little table set up directly on top of the equator, where you could balance an egg on a nail. Don’t ask me how this works, but it was pretty cool. (I will note that the table is splattered with crusty old egg from people who failed to manage the egg-balancing, though).
Afterwards, we got dinner at a small restaurant; everyone else got empanadas, but my still-tender stomach reeled at the thought of anything somewhat unfamiliar, and I could only tolerate french fries. So much for eating healthy!
The next day, we had plans to spend the afternoon at Xavier’s dad’s house. But since I was finally feeling better, Xavier and I took the morning to go exploring. We decided that we wanted to see the colonial city and El Panecillo, the giant statue of the Virgin that overlooks Quito. Finding the route up the mountain to El Panecillo was an adventure in itself, but we saw some pretty sights on the way.
You can see El Panecillo on top of the hill, to the right 
Street kitty
Winding narrow roads overlooking valleys full of homes

A city built into a mountainside
Finally, after many sets of poor directions, we made it to the top. And eventually, the sun came out!

Colonial Quito 
The next day, we resumed our explorations with a little bit of an adventure. We had originally planned to go to the jungle, but due to time constraints, we decided it would be best to turn a two-day jungle excursion into a zip-lining day trip. As we drove out of Quito, signs of people quickly decreased and the vegetation turned dense and green. The road wound through mountains and jungle. It was immense and beautiful and photographs really don’t do it justice.

Once we reached Mindo, we stopped for a quick lunch and then it was time for ziplining. I’ve ziplined before and always felt that the experience was shorter than I would have liked. There’s so much anticipation! You go through the trouble to put on the gear, you clip into the line, you fly… it’s over in half a second. Well, this zip-lining took place over the course of 13 separate lines in the pouring rain. You could hardly open your eyes with the stinging rain, and the braking glove had no effect on the wet line. Between rides, we hiked through the woods to the next station, becoming more soaking wet. It was really a blast, but for the first time in my life I can say that I wasn’t disappointed when zip-lining was over.
Ziplining – photos stolen from Martha
By the end of the day, we were completely soaked to the bone and exhausted – but it was so much fun. After a couple of days being really sick, it was a relief to see more of Ecuador than its bathrooms.
We still had a couple of days left, so look out for that post shortly!
And I ask you, readers: what’s your best story of travel sickness?
All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted!