Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ecuadorian Foods and Drinks I've Tried...jealous?

So, the little guide book offered about 6 different foods that epitomized Ecuadorian cuisine.  Of course, as with any country, there are regional favorites and regional exclusives as well.  Here are a couple of things I've been glad to try, along with my best description thereof.  By the way, I know cheese isn't vegan.  While veganism isn't at all impossible here, restaurant veganism is pretty darn close.  

Llapingachos-small mashed potato cakes mixed with some cheese and spices, cooked for a time on a comal, or flat grill.  They were served with some fresh salted cabbage and chopped beats.  
Tomate del Arbol-not a tomato at all, but instead a pretty sour fruit that grows on, you guessed it, a tree.  By themselves, they're pretty offensive, but in juices....muy rico
Guanabana-also called soursop, made into a juice.  It had sort of a general fruit flavor, somewhat like limey pineapple
Naranjilla-juiced.  Taste similar to a limey orange.
Mote-basically hominy, fresh cooked and warm, served with roasted corn kernels (like the last pieces in a bag of popcorn), aji (like salsa or pico de gallo, always, always with red onion), and lime
Empanadas de verde-empanadas are generally small, turnover-like pastries, generally with a sweet but sometimes savory filling.  Empanadas de verde have pastry made with the pulverized flesh of green (not very sweet) plaintains with a small filling.  Mine had a small bit of cheese as the filling.
Humitas-tamale's Ecuadorian cousin.  Corn meal mixed with cheese (or sweet stuff) and steamed inside corn husks.  Generally served as a late afternoon snack along with coffee, hence Cafe con Humitas.
Pitajaya-the fruit of a cactus.  I think this might be the Ecuadorian version of Dragon Fruit, although I wouldn't bet my life on it.  The ones I've eaten have been yellow on the outside, and fairly threatening looking.  Like something from the mario brothers they haven't made yet.  By the way, there's a bar here that's fashioned after the story of those pesky brothers.  Pitajaya tastes pretty mild in comparison with it's appearance.  It almost tastes like a watery kiwi without any of the sour.  The inside is white flesh with black seeds.  After having eaten three in my first couple of days here, I was informed that said seeds can cause problems with bathroom business.  I've had no trouble as of yet.
Sancocho-this was a vegetarian Colombian stew that some friends made in the hostel.  Evidently, it's a really popular dish in Colombia, as all those thereafter have recognized it with nostalgia in their eyes.  I shared a bowl of the stuff over a conversation of the ethics of vegetarianism with a Colombian acquiaintance.
Babaco-this is a fruit which has a fairly sour taste.  I still have yet to find out the secret behind any artful use.  We'll keep pressing.  I saw tons of these guys growing in Patate, the small valley town I just left.  
Arepas-speaking of Patate, this is a local favorite.  My first afternoon there, I was concerned to even ask about them, as my assumption was that anything a town would take pride in collectively would have to have some sort of meat hunk in there somewhere.  The next morning, on a walk, I stopped and asked about them.  They're similar to tamales in the way they're built.  It's basically some sort of sweet squash breadlike thing, with sugar, dates, or raisins, which is wrapped and grilled or baked in a banana leaf.  Really simple, but really quite nice when you're hungry or traveling.  
Aguardiente-this liquor's ingredients say the following: Alcohol, agua.  Basically, rubbing alcohol and tap water.  This is the favorite (Trópico brand) of Rodrigo (of tiger massacre fame) and Don Jose Miguel Abad Carrión (of Spanish roots racism fame).  We would put a bottle away with a little help from lime slices and a little peer pressure.  
Caipirinha-estilo Ecuatoriano.  This included the aforementioned aguardiente with a little panela (block of unrefined brown sugar) and lime.  Served in a gourd of some type by a Colombian friend Andrés in Residencial Sucre.
Quimbolitos-similar to the Humita, which is similar to the tamale, these are wrapped in a banana leaf rather than corn husk.
Pilsener-the national beer of Ecuador.  Not by our choice, but by our lack thereof.  There's Brahma, Club, and in some markets a can of Heineken ($1) or Budweiser ($1.25).  Que desmadre!  Pilsener's not bad, and is generally served in 24 or 26 oz bottles for around $.75 (in a mercado) and $1 (in a restaurant).  In all honesty, it's actually quite nice (in a Spanish textbook kind of way) to simply order a beer, rather than having to get complicated with brand, size, etc...There's generally a single beer, a single size, for a single price.  In fact, I went into a bar during one of my first nights here (spent in the touristy La Mariscal area of Quito), and there was a single, just one, tap behind the bar.  "I'll have that," I said.  
Corn or Flour Tortilla-actually, I haven't, in over two weeks, had either one of these.  Evidently, the carb of choice is rice, which is served with any cut of meat you could imagine.  I've actually had indian naan twice, and not a single damn corn tortilla.  Plenty of corn elsewhere, though.  I know you're games, Monsanto.  Hey Monsanto, patent this!  (Followed by obscene gesture...a gesture which, now that I think about it, is probably patented...blast).
Locro-this is a simple but really nice and filling potato soup.  It tastes like onions, some cumin, coriander, potatoes, pepper, water, and a thickener.  They throw some cheese and an avocado on top most of the time.  Along with a nice ají, or salsa, this can be a super cheap and filling meal.  Of course, there's yaguarlocro, which is the same nice, simple soup, marred by the appearance of blood sausages swimming around, unwanted like 7th graders at the 5th grade graduation pool party.  Scram, pricks.  Nobody's impressed.  
Chochos-perhaps my favorite thing so far.  Basically, there's a bowl (generally made of something akin to tissue paper filled with the following, in order from bottom to top: some sort of white bean or pea, which has been soaked in a salty water, but maintained it's structural integrity, roasted corn kernels (like the bottom of the popcorn bag, only larger and less tooth shattering), fried plantain chips, french fries, a pico de gallo-like stuff, with red onions, tomatoes, herbs, and lime juice, and some spoonfuls of ají.  Add a lime and you're in business.  Served as a walking snack, chochos are actually quite substantial, especially at $.50 per handful and a half.  

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