Monday, November 19, 2012

Eating in Quito: Part 1

So my trip to Ecuador started off in the capital city of Quito.  Quito is in a valley between mountains and is at an elevation of almost 3000 metres.  This altitude makes it hard to breathe when you first arrive and forget about walking up hills or stairs - whew!  I was winded in seconds.  And I took altitude sickness medication!

The city itself is gorgeous.  It's a UNESCO world heritage site because the Historic District is full of beautiful colonial era buildings.  This is where I mostly hung out, haunting the vendors and restaurants for delicious bits of food.  The streets are narrow and everywhere you look is a little store with someone cooking up something.

Staples in this part of Ecuador are rice, potato, chicken, fruit and pastries.  There are lots of street food vendors selling fresh fruit, beautiful juices, barbecued meats, ceviche, and roasted pig skin.  It was not abnormal to see a big pig head sitting out, waiting for some lucky person to dig in.

I saw these little piggies (right) on my first day there but I hadn't quite worked up the nerve to fully dive into the street food scene yet so I passed up the opportunity for a napkin full of pig skin and nuts.  Day two, on the other hand, had me feeling more adventurous and led to my first run in with barbecued street meat.  

It all started in this little park near my hostel - Parque Alameda.  I met two street kids who were trying to convince me to let them shine my shoes.  Instead I decided to buy them something to eat and they took me to this stand.  The skewers had chicken, potato, plantain, and some sort of sausage.  I will admit to feeling a bit nervous as the chef piled the new raw chicken skewers onto the grill right next to the cooked chicken skewers.  As well, my chicken was quite pink in a few places, but I decided that if this was how he cooked them then this was how I would eat them.  Delicious!

My next stop took me to another park in Quito - Parque Eijido (if I remember correctly).  As I wandered through, checking out all the various happenings, I saw this lovely lady serving up some of the delicious pig skin I mentioned earlier.  How could I say no?

The meal was fully loaded with pig skin, pig meat, two types of corn, boiled potatoes, and salad - all covered in a yummy creamy, salsa-like dressing.  It was lovely to just sit in the park and enjoy the beautiful weather and some authentic Quitoean food.

The weather in Quito is absolutely perfect.  The morning generally starts out warm, glorious and sunny and stays that way until about mid-afternoon.  At that point, the skies cloud over and it rains for a little while, sometimes heavy, sometimes light.  It's like the perfect signal for a nap.  The night then cools down to about 10 degrees, great for bundling up under the covers and getting a snuggly sleep (or salsa dancing until the wee hours of the night).

After surviving my first two days of eating with nary an upset stomach, I decided it was time to sample the national dish of Ecuador.  Cuy or to us English-speakers, guinea pig.

One thing that I really appreciated about the food in Ecuador was that they have no need to sugar coat what they are serving you.  There is no disembodied chicken thigh or fish fillet.  This method of serving their meat carried through to the guinea pig.  If you order half a guinea-pig, that's what you get.  Skull, teeth, soft palate and all.  Mine was deep fried and I found the taste quite mild.  The meat on the head was the most flavourful, probably because the guinea pig chews alot and so the muscles in the head get a good work-out.  I really enjoyed it!

Besides the meat, which I know I am quite focused on, there was also amazing amounts of fresh fruits available to snack on.  These little gems (right) are called ojos.  They are a most interesting little fruit.  The peel is quite thick, kind've like a tomato and then there is about half an inch of sour flesh.  A giant pit takes up the majority of the inside.  They were a great refresher after heavy meats and starches and were sold all over the place.

Another really interesting type of fruit juice that I tried was Colada Morada.  It turns out that my trip fell at a point in the year when an Ecuadorian blueberry was in season.  Nothing excites a foodie like a limited-edition food experience and this special blueberry is the basis for the Colada Morada drink.  It is a hot, yes hot, blended fruit juice with chunks of fruit in it.  Besides the blueberry, there was pineapple, strawberry and mango.  Oh my goodness I never would have dreamed it was as delicious as it was.  I am totally sold on hot berry smoothies now!

To top it all off, the prices are incredibly cheap.  My chicken skewer was $1.50, the pig skin was close to the same, a huge hunk of watermelon sold for $1.00.  Talk about a food paradise.

Next up?  My adventures on an organic farm on the coast!  I make chocolate, make coffee, eat tons of delicious food and then return to Quito for part 2!


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

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