Eating Ecuador

Nearing the end of our two-month sojourn in Ecuador, I noticed that I was not ordering a menú del dia (set menu) with the same boredom and apathy that I had felt before leaving Peru. Having never heard anything about Ecuadorean cuisine, we were pleasantly surprised by its variety and tastiness. As evidenced by Craig’s encebollado rating guide, there were several dishes that we never got sick of.

So what was the difference and why was Ecuador so much more palatable?

It’s hard to say exactly, but I think one of the reasons was that Ecuador, like Peru, has many regional cuisines (coastal, Andean, jungle), and throughout our stay, we seemed to pass through a lot of them in such a variety as to make it interesting. Another difference was, in Peru, when we searched for restaurants and checked out their set menus, they almost always had the same five choices listed. In Ecuador, the set menus did not give as many choices, but from one restaurant to another they varied quite a lot–pescado de jugo in one place, seco de pollo next door. The soups that come with all set menus also seemed more diverse and flavorful than the constant potatoes and carrots in chicken broth that we seemed to be faced with over and over in Peru.

But who cares about that, right? All anybody really wants to see is pictures of food!

Our first encebollado, in the central mercado of Cuenca. This cost $1.50, and the most we paid for it throughout the country was about $2.50. You can see why we felt we could eat it often.

Tables laden with sweets lined the plaza de armas of Cuenca. They looked incredibly appetizing but, unfortunately, some of the choices were quite stale.

Chirimoya was described to me as tasting like Skittles. I also read that a good way to eat it was to freeze it and then eat it like ice cream, since its flesh is so soft and creamy. We tried it, but weren’t huge fans. It wasn’t enough like Skittles to enthrall me, apparently.

I cannot for the life of me remember what this dish was called, but it was very popular on the coast. I don’t even remember what kind of fish it was. Craig preferred his pescado frito to be in boneless filets, but I enjoy whole fish. It’s satisfying to pick the bones. Those refried plantains were also very popular on the Southern coast, but we didn’t encounter it at all further north.

Bolon de verde, a ball made of plantains and then deep-fried (lots of things are deep-fried in South America, I’ve noticed, although perhaps not quite as many as in the South of America–har har). This was one of Craig’s favorite things, and while I have become thoroughly sick of Andean cheese (a slab of which sits on top of the bolon) and its strange tang, Craig still doesn’t mind it.

Desserts and pastries were also fairly yummy in Ecuador. I was wondering why Craig wasn’t as impressed by this particular treat when he exclaimed in realization, “Oh, the cup is made of chocolate!” Then he showed the proper respect.

We unfortunately tried llapingachos only a few days before we left the country, but still managed to fit it in twice. The name refers to the fried potato cakes (which were amazing), but the sausage and fried egg weren’t to be sneezed at either. A delicious combination that I wish we’d discovered earlier!

As for the junk food, I have to say I was rather astonished to be mostly satisfied (this could have been partly because of the giant care package my best friends sent me from California, though). Soon after we arrived, I noticed that there were bags of Ruffles chips in every store. “No way,” I thought. “It couldn’t be the same.” Having been disappointed too many times to count during this trip, I didn’t get my hopes up very high, which was lucky (or not really, I suppose) because the Ruffles were fairly disappointing. Their crema y cebolla (cream and onion) flavor didn’t even come close to the American version. But patience is its own reward, and I finally found a chip that actually resembled my beloved Sour Cream ‘n Onion Ruffles. They were called Sarita Rizadas and the sabor crema y cebolla was great!

So Ecuador satisfied on all food fronts, and we left happy campers. Perhaps we’ll try and make encebollado ourselves sometime at home… I’d like to encounter it again someday, and I just don’t see a cevicheria opening up anytime soon in Seattle.

And that concludes our food tour. There were many set menus consumed without pictures taken, and many meals that we cooked ourselves. It could be that, as we’re expanding our culinary talents, we’re not finding it as necessary to eat out as much, and thus have unwittingly varied our consumption ourselves. But Colombia awaits, and I’m looking forward to eating it as well!

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