August 16, 2019
If you ever get hungry for exotic foods as well as adventure, then you’ve scrolled to the right story.
One thing we’ve learned, throughout our travels, is to keep an open mind, especially when it comes to food. Frankly, John is better at this than me. Before our house sitting, travel-the-world days, I always ordered chile relleno whenever we’d go to a restaurant specializing in Mexican food. Every time! Hey, I know what I like. But now, I’m learning to take a risk and be surprised. In fact, trying the traditional foods of the places we visit has become one of the best parts of our travel experiences.
Even though I’m no Betty Crocker in the kitchen, I’ve always enjoyed watching folks eat. Not so much how they shovel food into their mouths, but what they find delicious. Whether it’s in a fancy restaurant, a friend’s house, the state fair, or on the street, I definitely get a kick out of what people chow down on. It’s not an obsession or anything like that, but as a traveler, while eating out, if the menu is in a language I don’t understand and there are no pictures, I become a food voyeur. I learned, when we were in Korea, that it’s better to say, “I’ll have what she’s having,” than to take a chance!
Ecuador, like many countries, has a rich food culture and many traditional recipes have been passed down for generations. Here’s a few we’ve really enjoyed.
We’ve noticed, that here, every meal begins with soup (sopa). That’s right. Every meal, including breakfast. In fact, encebollado, a soup usually made with fish and onion and served with popcorn and plantain chips, is supposed to be the best morning cure for a hangover!
Locro de Papas
We really, really enjoyed locro de papas. It’s a potato and cheese mixture that is divine. It’s sometimes served with avocado, hot sauce and popcorn. Ours had boiled eggs floating with the hunks of potato.
And, by the way, we’ve noticed popcorn is a side served at many mom-and-pop local eateries. We found it a little strange, but as we watched the people around us dumping it into their soup, we figured, “when in Rome…” and we dumped too. It was delicious!
(French Fries with sausage, mayo, mustard, chili peppers, cheese, etc.)
Talk about comfort food! The day we searched for and ate salchipapas, we didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day, and we just nibbled the day after.
Salchipapas is a fast food and considered a street food. It gets its name from the Spanish words salchicha (sausage) and papa (potato). We normally don’t eat fast food, but for the sake of our blog, we forced ourselves. (Wink, wink!)
We found a place, called Happy Fries, that has salchipapas with many, many choices for toppings. John had chorizo on his, and since chile relleno was not on the menu, I had cheese and bacon on mine. Yummy!
Hornado de chancho refers to a whole roasted pig. We sampled some of the best pork we’ve ever had at the Mercado 10 de Agosto, a huge market in Cuenca centro. Most Ecuadorians eat hornado at restaurants, but many will make it for holidays or big family events. The pig is usually marinated in chichi, a fermented corn drink, for several days, then is roasted in a wood burning clay oven so that the skin is crispy and the meat is super tender. The ovens must be humongous because the pigs we saw at the market were not babies.
The hornado we had, was served as a plated dish where it sat atop potatoes and mote (similar to hominy) with a piece of cuero (the pork crackling skin) topping everything off. If you ever visit Ecuador, this is a must. We loved it!
This is one of those dishes where you need to have a very open mind. Cuy is a traditional delicacy in Ecuador. I was a little leery about trying this one because…well, because guinea pigs are so cute. But then I got to thinking, many chickens, pigs and cows are cute too, and we have no problem chowing down on burgers, bacon and fried chicken. Guinea pigs are just like any other farm animal here, raised for their meat in clean conditions. So I got over my angst.
We had our cuy at Salón Tres Estrellas. We called ahead, made reservations and let them know we were writing a story about food in Cuenca. Our table was waiting on us, and John was allowed into the kitchen to film the cuy preparation.
Cuy is cooked whole on a spit over hot coals with a metal pole through the middle. They are brushed with butter and herbs until the skin is crunchy, and, is served whole or quartered.
It tasted a little like chicken, a little like pork, and a lot like INCREDIBLE! Now I wouldn’t say that it’s something I want to eat every meal (they are not cheap), but we can now say that we ate a guinea pig!
We are not big dessert eaters, but we couldn’t resist the scrumptious aromas that consistently waft through the air from all of the city’s panaderias (bakeries) and were like zombies as we checked out all the pastries and breads that they offered.
To top is all off, right next door to the house we are sitting is a panaderia called Panaderia Panucha. We wake up every morning to the wonderful fragrance of fresh bread baking. My oh my, the Ecuadorians know how to make us Gringos melt!
Another wonderful dessert that I just had to try is higos con queso, figs and cheese. The figs are preserved, almost candied, in a thick sweet sauce and are served with a wedge of cheese for a contrast to the sweet. It’s a heavenly combo. If ever in Ecuador, you’ve got to try them. They are very sweet, but hey, what good things in life aren’t?
When we lived in the States, we were members of a home brew club called Et Tu Brew-Te. As you can probably guess by the club’s name, this was a very creative group of people. One year John won the top Brewmeister award for his American Amber Ale. My man knows his beer.
So it’s always been a treat to discover the beer of choice for each area we’ve explored. In Puerto Rico it was Medalla. Costa Ricans love Imperial and Koreans drink Cass. In Belize, Beliken was just about the only beer available. Here in Ecuador, according to the Barefoot Diary staff resident Brewmeister, you won’t be disappointed when you order a Club, (pronounced klewb). Cheers!
Needless to say, we’ve really enjoyed eating during our time here in Ecuador. When we first arrived and got to know people, we’d always ask about the good places to eat and what everybody’s favorite was. We had done our homework on Ecuadorian cuisine and were ready for responses that would tease our taste buds for something new. We were shocked when everyone, locals and gringos alike concurred, usually with a big grin on their faces, that the favorite food of Ecuador is…PIZZA! Mama Mia! With all the succulent Ecuadorian foods we have sampled, we were blown away!
Note: if you are a Betty Crocker and want to try whipping up some of these dishes, check out Laylita’s Recipes. Laylita was born in Ecuador and currently lives in Seattle. She has the most complete list of authentic Ecuadorian recipes we’ve found. We’ve linked most of these dishes to her recipes as we’ve presented them in this story. Buen Provecho! (that’s bon appetit in Spanish!)