Mexican cooking for Gringos & some other delights
p r e s e n t s :
THE DOOR TO ECUADOR.
F o o d .
For those on a budget, the best way to stretch your money is to take advantage of set plate meals, an Ecuadorian institution in many restaurants. Lunches (almuerzos) and dinners (meriendas) usually give you a soup, main course (including meat), and dessert for around USD 1.00. Vegetarian versions are often available upon request.
At only pennies per bite, bakeries offer a delicious range of breads, sweet pastries, and savory snacks, such as empanadas (hot, crispy meat or cheese-filled pastries) and llapingachos (potato and cheese pancakes). Dishes sold in the street are also quite cheap, but hygiene is often questionable, and you may quickly surpass your intestinal limits. A good rule to follow is the “locals rule” — if the place is frequented by many locals, the food probably merits joining the crowd.
The regular diet of rice, potatoes, and meat (beef and chicken everywhere, ) is complimented by another national culinary institution, aji (hot sauce). Most Ecuadorian restaurants and homes have their own version of aji, each with its own intensity of “picante” (a word derived from the verb to bite or to sting), so sample a bit before smothering your food! If you don’t see a little bowl of aji on your table, just ask they´ve surely got it. In addition to aji, basic dishes are usually accompanied by the proverbial rice, small salad, and potatoes or patacones (squashed, fried green bananas). On the coast and in the Amazon, potatoes are often supplemented or replaced by menestra (beans or lentils) or yuca.
Soups are without doubt Ecuador’s specialty. Most lunches and dinners are accompanied by a savory soup as the first course. Chupe de pescado, a fish and vegetable soup with coastal origins, is becoming popular throughout the country. Those ready to throw their inhibitions completely to the wind should dip their spoon into caldo de pata, a broth containing chunks of boiled cow hooves, considered a delicacy by locals and believed by hopeful men to increase ” Courage “.
If you find yourself hankering for a familiar brand burger, burrito, or pizza, don’t panic — the major cities feature (for better or worse) the omnipresent American fast food chains, such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Burger King. And yes, that most multi of multinationals has finally arrived in Ecuador — the Golden Arches first appeared on Quito’s horizon lately, and the line for a Big Mac still extends out the door.
Seafood is popular and plentiful throughout Ecuador. Lobster dinners can be enjoyed along the coast and in major cities for very low prices.
The signature dish of the country, however, is ceviche, a seafood dish marinated in lemon and onions — Ecuador’s answer to sushi. Unlike sushi however, Ecuadorian ceviche is always dished up with popcorn! Ceviche can be made of fish (de pescado), shrimp (de camarones), shellfish (de concha), squid (de calamari), or all of the above (mixta). Exercise caution, however, choose your dining establishment wisely.
For the sake of your intestinal happiness, drink only bottled or boiled water, not water from the tap. Distilled and sparkling waters from Ecuadorian springs are available throughout the country and are of good quality. If you head for the tap, you´ll probably be heading for the bathroom, or worse, the doctor a few days later. Remember that tap water is frequently used in ice, so request your beverages “sin hielo” (without ice) in restaurants.
Most bars serve pilsner-style beers of decent quality and very good value. If you are a fan of Cuba Libres, Daiquiris or Pina Coladas, the local rum is great, as well as ridiculously cheap. And finally, if you want to develop that WC Field’s red face or Jimmy Durante nose, why not try the local firewater: “Aguardiente”. It’s strong, frightfully cheap, and guaranteed to keep your toes warm.
Common Sense at the Table : a few tips
Allow yourself a bit of time to adjust intestinally; eat very cautiously the first few days and then slowly begin to venture out on a culinary limb. Keeping healthy is not only about avoiding germs, but also about acclimating to new ones. Many Ecuadorians complain about traveling to the States and getting sick from U.S. food or water, so it goes both ways!
Going against popular belief, food, rather than water, is usually the culprit of intestinal problems. Eating well cooked, piping hot food, is possibly the best way to avoid problems. Avoid uncooked and under cooked foods. Especially salads should be avoided until you´ve developed some local intestinal flora to be able to handle it. Fruits that must be peeled before being eaten, such as bananas, pineapples, and oranges, are usually a safe bet.