Ecuador – part 1

Menu board and the largest papayas and pinapples I've ever seen - at Fruteria Monserrat

31 May

We arrived in Ecuador late last night, so we allowed ourselves to sleep in and take our time venturing out this morning. It felt great…the only problem was when we finally emerged around 11am, we were starving and caught in that weird time in between breakfast and lunch. We asked the lovely desk lady at the great hostel where we are staying and she recommended Fruteria Monserrat. We set out and had a tasty, albeit a bit strange lunch.

I ordered frutillas con crema, which I expected to be the great looking bowls of mixed fruit with whipped cream that I noticed 99 percent of the diners were enjoying. When our food arrived, mine was actually a parfait glass of strawberries with cream. I was disappointed for a moment, but the strawberries were so fresh and sweet, I soon forgot all about that.

Suhail's ham sandwich and my strawberry delight

First real South American empanada - chicken and rice

Frothy hot chocolate

Since we ate brunch, or whatever you want to call it, at such a weird time, we were starving by 5pm and ventured out again in search of something tasty and different. We just wandered until we found a restaurant that looked good, which didn’t take long. Our Spanish has been helpful so far, but I really can’t wait to start taking some classes so we can communicate more effectively (especially when ordering food!). After a bit of confusion at the cashier, we ended up with a huge amount of food, but all for only $6.60.

Huge empanada #1 - cheese (some folks were pulling off bits of these and dipping them in sugar)

Empanada #2 - beef & peas. Suhail pointed out this one was just like a samosa!

Ok, this next one was ordered by mistake and I’m still not exactly sure what it was. We think it was pinto beans sort of mashed with bits of pork rind mixed in and then deep friend. Ecuadorian health food, basically.


Suhail asked me if he should also order beef steak and I thought he meant a beef empanada, so I said, “sure, we haven’t eaten much today, so let’s go for it.” When our food started to arrive and a beef empanada as well as this platter of stuff were served, I was pretty confused. I guess we can misunderstand each other even in English! It was really delicious, but we were disappointed we could not finish everything. Oops!

Bisteak de carne was all the menu read but look at this feast!

On the way back to the hostel, Suhail picked up a couple of Ecuadorian brews. He has labeled the Pilsner “delicious,” but apparently tonight turned out to be only a one beer night, so I will report on the Club later.

Check out the tourists in the back - we are in the "gringo" neighborhood!

June 1

After a good night’s sleep, we managed to set out earlier today than yesterday. We headed to the old section of town in search of colonial architecture (ie dozens of Spanish churches) and a hearty breakfast and found both. We walked around for about 20 minutes and stopped at the Tianguez Cafe, which was mentioned in our book (and thus pretty touristy), but actually very nice.

We had cafe con leche on the patio, which provided pretty good people watching, though I’m assuming this area gets more crowded later in the day. I had read that Ecuadorian coffee is generally Nescafe, so we were happy to have real coffee, which was served with hot milk and refined sugar, as well as a raw type of sugar (which I prefer). I was surprised to learn good coffee would not be readily available here, since I am pretty sure I’ve had Ecuadorian coffee at home. Apparently, however, most of the coffee produced here goes for export (it is one of the leading export crops after bananas).

In addition to the cafe/restaurant at Tianguez, this organization, which is partially funded by the City of Quito, has an extensive shop featuring indigenous crafts (things like masks, jewelery and pottery). While I wasn’t in the market for anything, we walked around and could not believe how large the shop is. It actually fills the restored cellars of the cathedral above, so it was cool just to be able to walk around in these old tunnels while looking at the art.

Did not catch the name of this place, but it was near the Plaza Grande

After a bit more wandering, we headed back to a busy cafe we’d passed earlier and ordered two “Americano” specials. For $3.50 we each got two eggs, a roll with cheese, juice and hot milk.

I was a little confused by the inclusion of the hot milk because I really couldn’t see too many adults being excited about this addition to their breakfast, but once we sat down at a table, I saw the jar of Nescafe and it all made sense. You get the milk and then add Nescafe and sugar to your liking. Although I’m not a huge instant coffee lover, it was actually pretty cool…and for two breakfasts at less than the price of a small Starbucks dishwater blend, I am not complaining!

Suhail mixes his cafe con leche to taste

Makeshift egg sandwich

Suhail displays his handiwork

3 June
Suhail and I really wanted to brush up on our Spanish while in Quito so that we can attempt to use it during the rest of our travels around South America and Spain. So, for the next 3 weeks or so, we’ll be staying with our Spanish teacher and her family on the outskirts of Quito. We are so excited to be doing this since it will definitely help our Spanish along and we are getting a really unique perspective on Ecuadorian culture and life in general for people here. It’s sort of like being a really old exchange student!

Family is really important in Ecuador and our family eats dinner together pretty much every night and we eat lunch with our teacher, Mariana, and her two children, Jean Pierre and Maria Jose, every afternoon. We have been helping out in the kitchen as much as possible (according to Mariana it is a very good way to continue with our Spanish, but I have a feeling that she may have some ulterior motive here!) and will hopefully be able to cook up a few Ecuadorian dishes when we get home.

A typical lunch in our new home - Salchicha (Ecuadorian sausages), potatoes (a staple of the diet here) with cheese sauce and salad

4 June


Since it was Friday night, our hosts took us out in Quito. We saw a traditional Ecuadorian dance show and then took a stroll on La Ronda. La Ronda is a popular spot for people of all ages to take a relaxed walk in the evening and there are galleries and street performers everywhere. I was disturbed to learn that Ecuadorians seem to really like mimes (mimos), but I did not let that spoil my evening! The other tradition on La Ronda is canelaza. Canelaza is a cinnamon liquer served hot. As you walk along, there are numerous cafes and restaurants offering canelaza in their doorways. You simply pause, purchase a cup (for 50 US cents!) and continue your stroll. We tried the canelaza from two different vendors and found the first one much tastier – the second was more alcoholic tasting and had a weird too-thick consistency. We enjoyed both nonetheless and found them a perfect complement to the slightly brisk evening on La Ronda.

Canelaza vendor en La Ronda

Suhail and Frank enjoy a canelaza en la calle

5 June

Mariana with lunch

Since the Catholic church is an important part of Mariana’s life, we joined the family for mass on Sunday. We were rewarded for our open-mindedness with two unique cultural experiences – the first at the church and the second at this tiny restaurant, Hornado de Conocoto. This was one of the most incredible meals of the trip, and I would venture to say in my life. So fresh and delicious!

The tray featuring the head of the roast pig sticks out onto the sidewalk, so it’s pretty easy to tell why everyone is here. The other promising sign that this was going to be an amazing meal was this woman’s eagerness to dole out samples of this succulent pork to us. Pride like that can only mean one thing!

El chancho (pig)

Suhail goes for the aji

The pork is served on a bed of morocho, which is a special type of white corn, and fresh yellow peas, along with humitas (corn fritters). It is topped with raw red onion and tomatoes and cilantro (or “culantro,” as it’s called here). The table shares a bowl of aji, which is the homemade spicy sauce that is served at every restaurant. The cherry on top (literally) is a fried bit of the pork rind. I would never eat these out of a bag at home (though I will eat them morning, noon and night at the Publican!), but this was sizzling hot, crunchy and salty. Perfection!

It's worth coming to Ecuador for this dish alone!

After our roast pig feast, we ran home so Suhail and Jean Pierre (our hosts 11 year old son who we have nicknamed “Salchipapa”) could get their skateboards before we headed to Parque la Carolina. This Quito park is full of activities, including a dirtbike track, tons of soccer fields, basketball courts AND a world renowned skate park. We arrived at La Carolina and it was packed with families and groups of friends out for the day, lounging, strolling and eating. Unfortunately, within 20 minutes of our arrival, it began to rain…and hail…and eventually really, really pour.

We found shelter under the awning of a fast food kiosk and there, we actually got to have our first taste of the now infamous salchipapas. It’s just a sausage (which in this case was a hot dog) served with french fries, but you see it all over Quito and we were accordingly intrigued. It wasn’t a life changing meal, but the fries were pretty good and came with an incredible garlic mayo for dipping. Sold everywhere, salchipapas is an Ecuadorian classic!

When the rain cleared enough to make a run for the bus, we made our way home. Mariana (our teacher and host) likes Indian food, so she had asked Suhail to prepare something. He chose one of his mom’s specialties, Keema, which is ground beef, peas and potatoes in a spicy tomato-based sauce. I was responsible for the raita (it is a bit tricky to find plain yogurt in Ecuador, but once I had that, the fresh ingredients were a since) and I also roasted some eggplant with onions and garlic. We served it with the ever present rice and Frank’s delicious aji, which, like salchipapas, is also ever present here in Ecuador. I will post a recipe shortly; It is pretty easy to prepare and delicious with just about anything!

Our Indian meal in the heart of Ecuador

6 June
We have a great breakfast every morning, including eggs, fresh fruit and bread. On occasion there is also muesli and/or yogurt (usually in a flavor that is exotic for us, like papaya or guava).

On this particular morning, Mariana made us her special chilaquiles. The kids were disappointed to miss this meal, and we were surprised (but sort of got their disappointment) when we saw she had served our breakfast with Doritos!

We sometimes also have a bit of fruit after dinner. I had never seen or heard of the granadilla, and the method of eating it is as strange as its innards appear. You tap it on the table and the outer shell (which is sort of leathery) cracks, you then peel the skin back a bit, and, using a spoon, dip into the inside, which is full of sort of mucous covered seeds. You then take a spoonful of the seeds and swallow it without chewing. It is a bit like a pomegranate, but more tropical in flavor, almost like a passionfruit. I will definitely be looking out for these in the future!

Exterior of the granadilla

Surprising interior of the granadilla

The locals also wear granadilla earrings (you can see why we are enjoying our Spanish classes so much!)

Suhail checks out the futbol game

9 June
We are heading to the Galapagos in a few days and got a great last minute deal. The only slight difficulty is that these trips must be paid for in cash and we have a daily limit on our ATM withdrawals. So, we had to make several daily trips to the local mall to withdraw enough cash to cover everything.

It is really no different from an American mall, with a food court and all. One difference is that the Juan Valdez Cafe is the main coffee chain here (no Starbucks yet!) and the food court TVs are always playing soccer matches. I didn’t enjoy Juan’s coffee, but the service was great and Suhail liked it just fine.

Juan Valdez Cafe, San Luis Mall

12 June

The market, with the mountain looming ominously in the background

Frank (the father of our host family) really enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, so he’d invited us to join him and a neighbor in their trek up a nearby mountain. We left the house around 7am and had a short bus ride to the base of the mountain, where there was already a small food market in full swing. We didn’t buy anything, preferring to wait to eat until we’d covered part of the mountain.

Small market near the base of the mountain

This woman was selling the largest pork rinds I have ever seen!

All the hornados display their food so passersby are tempted. This place also had a woman on the street forcing samples on people.

While I enjoy the outdoors it is times like these I realize what a Midwesterner I really am. At least after all that ascent (about 3 1/2 hours or so – including breaks), we were rewarded with great views of the Valle de los Chillos and the city of Quito…and after the descent (which was almost equally difficult), we were rewarded with yet another roast pig meal.

It was good, but not as incredible as our first Sunday roast. Neither the pork nor the piece of rind were quite as tasty (although we were also dining later in the day) and they had different humitas. They were actually more of a pudding than a fritter, but they were delicious nonetheless!

The "completo"

I love that you can purchase these variety packs of salchichas!

After eating, we headed home and Mariana was already hard at work preparing the food for our much anticipated barbacoa (BBQ). Suhail loves barbecuing and we’d been discussing our options all week. I am not sure why we thought it would be a good idea to eat a giant roast pig meal prior to this, but it was too late now. Perhaps it was the adrenaline from all that hiking. At any rate, there seems to be a recurring theme of eating way too much on Sundays.

Mariana and a packed grill (though this was probably about 1/3 of the food she prepared)

Mariana prepared a feast, including the chicken hearts we’d enjoyed so much in Thailand, chuletas (pork chops), plantains, potatoes and, of course, salchichas (this time minus the “papas”/french fries). The chicken hearts were every bit as delicious as we remembered and we managed to eat enough of the feast so Mariana was not upset by our “pigging out” (ha! sorry, couldn’t resist…) earlier.

Digging in to the feast

June 14 – 16

Frank cooks dinner for us every night (after working all day, he enters the house and heads for the kitchen immediately, usually without even removing his hat) and, lucky for us, he is a great cook! I am hoping to leave with a few of his recipes, including this one, which was sort of like chili rellenos with a cheese and ground beef filling, but used a different type of pepper (I am actually not even sure this thing was a pepper, but it was delicious). We don’t eat much meat, so there were only one or two peppers per person, but as much as you like of the ever-present rice.

June 16 – 23

We took an eight-day trip to the Galapagos Islands. I don’t have any photos of the food and the full posts on what the experience on the islands was like is coming soon, but if you are planning a trip on the Yate Floreana, know that you will be well fed! The food isn’t terribly exciting or authentically Ecuadorian or anything – after all, you are on a boat, and so is the chef! – but we ate really well. Like everywhere we’ve eaten in Ecuador, there were loads of vegetables and smaller portions of meat. I am not a huge meat lover and for some reason expected to be served a lot of deep fried food here, so I have been pleasantly surprised to see all the veggies on my plate.

June 24

We had been talking about ceviche and Mariana told us she knew of a few good spots to get it (obviously important since you really want to be sure they are using fresh seafood). After all our talk, we decided instead to just make it ourselves, so Suhail and I headed to MegaMaxi, the local hypermart here in Ecuador, and picked up some shrimp. It was easier to make great ceviche than I expected! In Ecuador, it is eaten with plantain chips (chifles) and popcorn (canguil). It was so good, but I did havesome  major stomach problems later on that night, which may or may not be attributed to this dish. No one else had any issues, so perhaps it was just my special and wonderful stomach reminding me it was there. One of the dangers of all this adventurous eating, to be sure!

A bit crass, but oh so very true!

June 30

Quito is home to the Kallari Cafe, a cafe that features the organic chocolate, coffee and crafts of the Kallari Collective. I had seen Kallari chocolate bars at Whole Foods and thought that (like half of the products in WF) their slick packaging and warm fuzzy story were mainly just an advertising gimmick. I am happy to report that Kallari is really and truly a local farmers’ collective here in Ecuador, working to produce high quality (delicious!) organic chocolate, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, etc. I highly recommend you support your chocolate habit and this terrific organization next time you are in the WF. And, if you happen to be in Quito, I can also get behind their coffee and homemade organic brownie with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. Not very Ecuadorian, but 100% delicious!

This was actually called a "mochacchino" - ha!

Organic browine with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit

July 2

For a special lunchtime treat, Mariana bought fritado from the local master. Fritado is basically fried pork with a bunch of different sides (very similar to hornado, but the pork is fried instead of roasted, and as such, even less healthy!). We ate at home and she served each of us a selection of fried pork meat and chicharrones (fried pork rind), mote (corn burst with alkaline), fried corn and fried plantains. We rounded out the meal with homemade aji and some fresh tomatoes, although I think it was kind of late for trying to balance this feast in any sort of way!

Fritado - an Ecuadorian classic!

Salchipapa and our attempt at empanadas

As you can imagine, we weren’t hungry for hours after eating all that fried goodness. Later in the day, Mariana suggested we make empanadas, and I jumped at the chance to learn how to make these Ecuadorian specialty. By now I have learned that unlike her Spanish teaching, her lessons in the kitchen are very abstract (read: you are nearly completely on your own unless you keep asking what you are supposed to be doing with what ingredients!). It was a lot of fun to throw together these tasty cheese empanadas and even Salchipapa got in on the action. I will post the recipe later, but here are some images of our first <rather delicious> attempt.

Freshly fried cheese empanadas

Sprinkle with sugar while still hot (which will carmelize and taste oh-so delicious) and eat!

July 4

Suhail stokes the fuego

In honor of the grand BBQ tradition of the 4th of July, Suhail and I decided to show our hosts how we do a barbacoa American-style! …ok, not really…but the impending holiday did have us thinking of BBQ and, for Suhail, this means burgers, so we decided the 4th was a good excuse to grill some up.

Suhail is containing his excitement very well here

Pretty much every house here has a BBQ pit of sorts, but it is quite different from the Webers at home. For one, real wood is used, so it is more like cooking over an elevated campfire than on a charcoal or gas grill. The results, however, were delicious! And, rather impressively, Suhail has now made burgers on three continents (click here for details of our grilling adventures in Australia).

Suhail constructs the burgers

I am about as patriotic as I am competitive, but the results are in!!! Americans make the best burgers in the world! ...well, that claim may be a little premature, but all agreed, these were damn fine burgers...

Everyone enjoyed the meat fest and the following morning, I still feel like I have an American football in my stomach, so it was a successful night by all accounts. In other encouraging news, I have also found something that is actually bigger outside of the US – you can buy 3 liter bottles of Coke here! Yeesh…

You can actually buy a bottle of Coke that is bigger in Ecuador!