Wednesday, June 20, 2012


This gets its own special post.
I've been dying to try Cuy (guinea pig) since before I even ever expected to come to Ecuador. My grandparents traveled here when I was a kid, and I remember being fascinated by the wierdness of the story of them eating guinea pig-that animal that my mom once had for a pet, named Beatrice...
Well, being one drawn to culinary oddities, and traditional culture, I let my host family know on the first night in Cuenca that Cuy was on my to-eat list. And let me say now, for all of you to hear; do not be afraid, for you will be missing out; CUY is absolutley delicious, I don't care who you are or if you have to close your eyes to eat it. Crispy, moist, salty and rich, Cuy is just all around deliciouse, and the experience uniquely amazing. AMAZING

Cuy takes about an hour or so to roast over charcoal to get the nice crispyness of the skin, so you have to order it ahead of time.

Therefore, Cuy dinner is kind of a big deal - or at least an excuse to get the family together, and the meal is started with a round of Canelazcos (aguardiente sugarcane alchohol mixed with sweetened hot tea).

Then comes the CUY. The skin is roasted crispy brown, and crunches like a potato chip. Salty, fatty, rich and slightly sweet, Cuy meat is absolutley delicious. A 1/4 Cuy is a decent portion, and a 1/2 deffinitly does the trick. It is served along sides of Mote (the reydrated mature corn kernels) and boiled potatoes.

You eat everything. The skin, the meat from the bones, the organs, the brain... Admit it, you like it.

The aftermath, paws and all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ecuador 5

Comida de La Calle
This post is dedicated to some of the food i've enjoyed so far beside mamita's home cooking.

As I've said, LUNCH is the biggest meal of the day and dinner is usually something lighter - well smaller at least. A traditional and absolutley deliciouse night-time favorite is Empanadas and Morocho. Morocho is a thick rice-based drink, sweetened and served warm with flavors of cinnamon and cloves. The sweetness goes well with the savoriness of the crispy empanadas that come filled with everything from carne (steak, onions, gravy; pictured here), to pollo (chicken), to queso (cheese - these are sprinkled with sugar), to verde (mashed green plantain with garlic.

Next, of course is yet another obligatory picture of the clusterf*** of sweets and fireworks that is Corpus Cristi.

I enjoyed some more galletas de coco and dulce de leche filled churros, but also stopped at the local ice cream shop that has maybe 50 flavors, ranging from the familiar to the regional and uniqe. (pictured here; chocolate made with real Cacao, and Banana Split with walnut chunks)

Lastly, but not leastly is one of the best things I've eaten here in Ecuador. Marjiscal is pretty much every seafood you can think of - fish, shrimp, octopus, calamari, and shellfish in a rich, slightly sweet garlic broth with chunks of fried green plantains. Squeeze of lime, dash of salt, dollop of hot sauce - dios mio! Not to mention that this was fresh seafood, made to order, with shellfish served in shell - from a Mall foodcourt!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ecuador 4

So nice out today. Weather in Cuenca is tricky, and the trick is to dress in layers. It is said that in the mountains there are 4 seasons in one day. It's usually cold in the morning - sometimes you can see your breath - but warms up durring the day. Sunny days might be disrupted by spats of rain or wind, but it keeps things interesting.
But today is a really nice day, warm in the sunny spots, with a cool breeze keeping things fresh.
Yesterday was nice too, and walking home from a ceramics class, I passed the Corpus Cristi stands and had a hard time resisting the temptation. And by a hard time I mean I didn't resist at all...
Picked up these two beauties- a phyllo dough cone filled with pastry cream and another one of those solid macaroons, this one with cinnamon - for the outrageous price of 50 cents!

Last night my mom made me Pollo con Menestra y Arroz - which is, as it sounds, chicken with rice and menestra. Menestra is some variant of bean stew and you mix everything up on your plate and dig in.
But I forgot to take a picture, so here's one instead of some graffiti (i've taken to documenting the coolest  grafitti i find around the city)

(Not Submissive, Not Devoted, WOMAN, Beautiful, Free and Crazy!)

However, I did not forget to take a picture of today's lunch which was Seco de Pollo con Arroz, Ensalada y Platanos: Stewed Chicken with Rice (of course), Salad, and Plantains.
Like many things here in Ecuador, including hot chocolate, you eat the plantains with chunks of Queso Fresco for maximum deliciousness.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ecuador 3

The other day we had a cooking class to teach us how to do some traditional Cuencano cooking. It is said here in Cuenca that more that half the process of cooking is the chopping, and if you are a good cook you are said to have "un mano bueno" - a good hand.

The meal was to be un entrada (appetizer) of Locro de Papa, which is a very typical creamy potato soup, followed by a plato fuerte (entree) of Fritada (fried, but here boiled seasoned pork), Motepillo which is Mote fried with scrambeled egg and scallions, and Encebolado. For postre (dessert) we made Babaco Dulce which is Babaco cooked down in syrup. We also made our own Jugo (juice) from Tomate de Arbol, which you have to cook, puree with water and sugar, strain, and then chill before drinking.
Here's a picture of the Babaco and the Tomates de Arbol. Guess which is which.

Here's a picture of Mote to give you an idea of what it is. Andean corn has larger, thicker-husked kernels than our United States version and is not sweet. You have to soak it in water before eating, but then it is enjoyed on its own, or mixed with egg in Motepillo, in salads, whatever...

In accordance with the saying, we spent about 1/2 an hour chopping and peeling...

And then the other 1/2 an hour just watching it cook...

But then it was done, and damn was it rico (really good)!

Here is the Locro de Papas garnished with Queso Fresco and Avocado.

Here is the Fritada with the Motepillo and the Encebolado.

And finally the Babaco Dulce, think boiled apples with an essence of pineapple and mango...

Ecuador 2

Here are some pictures from a lunch that my host mom cooked for me on special request. She is a great cook and has made my happiness and fattening-up her primary concern.
This is a traditional Ecuadorian preparation for anything from fish to chicken, called al Ajillo which is a creamy, herby garlic sauce. You top everything here in Ecuador with the house version of the national hot sauce condiment called Aji.
My mom began the meal with a bowl of lentil soup. As with most soups, it was imperative to add in chunks of Queso Fresco and Avacado to enjoy it to its fullest.

The soup was followed by a delicious plate of rice seasoned with achote oil, camarrones (shrimp) al ajillo, and a salad called Encebolado (litarally 'onioned') which in this version was tomatos, avacado, and peppers mixed with onion, lime juice and salt.

It was so good, I had it again for dinner, in true Cuencano fashion.

Ecuador 1

Yes, I am in Ecuador for the summer. At first it was only going to be 5 weeks, but then I fell in love. This country is amazing. Beautiful, vibrant, laid back, struggling, singing and rich with everything from culture to colors to the morning sun shining through the hazy mists of an Andean morning.
And the food ain't bad to boot.
Here in Cuenca (3rd largest city in Ecuador) lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and everyone comes home from school or work to enjoy it. It begins with some type of cream-based (usually) soup - potato, carrot, corn... - followed by a plate that almost always includes rice and some type of potatos, some sort of vegetable salad, and a protein (beef, chicken, fish, shrimp...)
Breakfast is usually fresh bread with fruit, yogurt, eggs and coffee, and Dinner is something light - a smaller version of lunch, a sandwhich or even a glass of yogurt.
Another great thing about Ecuador is the fresh fruit juice. Every family makes their own from fresh fruits, a different version every day. This is even cooler for foreigners like me who are new to a lot of the tropical fruits that we don't have back home, like Tomate de Arbol (tree tomato) which is tangy and sweet, Naranjilla which is somehow tarter but also sweeter than Orange Juice, Babaco which is like a melon that grows from a tree - not to mention the freshness of the regulars like mango, pineapple, passion fruit, blackberry etc...
Ecuadorians also love sugar. LOVE sugar, and they satisfy this love with copious amounts of ice creams, yogurts, sweet rolls, and baked goods/confections of every kind. This week is the celebration of Corpus Christi and it is celebrated by week-long selling of every sweet you've ever seen by vendors in the central plaza.
But enough of that, and on to pictures of the food. I will continue to update this blog with the most interesting and tasty plates that come along, but it will not be a travelogue like the one I did for Japan. Simply a way to show you all the goodstuff that Ecuador has to offer, and why you should be jealous that I am spending a summer here.

Here's a typical dish called Llapingachos (yapingachos), which are small pattys of potato mashed with achote and then fried. They are served with a fried egg, spicy pork, and garnished with avacado, fried sweet plantains, and Mote which is boiled andean corn kernels (think chewable hominy).

Another typical dish, though from the coast is called Encocado, which is some sort of seafood - here fish and shrimp - served in a sweet and spicy coconut sauce alongside rice and fried sweet plantain or tostones which are fried and salted green plantains.

Ecuador is also known for its Ceviches of all varieties. Fish, Shrimp, Squid, Shellfish, Conch, Shark... The seafood may vary, but so far the general composition seems to be the same. I broke the rules on the second day of the trip - not to eat streetfood - and I'm glad I did, because it was tasty, even though I later found out that the conspicuous rubbery, gray seafood was probably of the shark variety...
Chopped tomatoes and red onion mixed with boiled white beans, topped with seafood and then a squirt of tomato and lemon juice, and then topped with Tostada - toasted andean corn kernels that taste like inside out popcorn, plantain chips, and salt. AWESOME and refreshing on a hot day. Plus, it onlycost 75 cents...

Also, here is a picture of one of the street vendors at Corpus Christi. I bought a fist-sized gallta de Coco which felt like it had a whole coconut in it and was probably the best macaroon i've ever had. But there were all kinds of goodstuff, like doughnut-type things with the consistency of a cookie soaked in glaze and sprinkles, wafer cones filled with dulce de leche, caramel popcorn balls, pastries filled with cream... this is not even a beginning.