I am not going to review here classics of the Italian cinema (it happened once – have you seen such depths of my blog? Only in Polish, though). Following my friend Tadeusz’s request, I’m going to write few words about one of the things I don’t like in Ecuador – the food. It’s not that Ecuador has bad food. In fact, there are good products and delicious dishes here. Although, the cuisine here does not offer such variety as European ones. First of all, food in Ecuador serves the primary purpose of the food – it feeds. Being a pleasure is a secondary role.
For some time, I have been eating with an Ecuadorian family. It was quite difficult to get used to their diet. Also the amounts of food were not sufficient. It’s not that I need a lot of it, but without some concrete protein to digest, I get hungry pretty quickly.
First of all, in the everyday life there is no big difference between meals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – all of them are based on carbohydrates. In the mountains those are rice and corn, sometimes yuca, potatoes, plantains, rarely pasta. In other parts of Ecuador proportions can differ – the coast eats more rice and plantains, less potatoes and corn. On the other hand, Oriente, the Eastern part of Ecuador, bases its diet on yuca, also limiting the amount of potatoes eaten. Regional differences apply also to meat. Pork on the coast, beef in the mountains. Although the only one ruling meat in whole country is chicken.
I know only two countries where soups hold such important place in the diet – Poland and Ecuador. I haven’t met it anywhere else. Ecuadorians eat soups as a first course of the lunch or as the entire lunch itself. All of them are rather cloudy and have the whole pallet of carbohydrates inside. One of the most interesting one is a soup from burned pasta. In almost every soup there are some potatoes or beans or other plantains and yuca. Soups are often cooked with meat or rather bones. The favourite part of the chicken to put into a soup is neck or chicken feet. I don’t know how to eat either of them.
I’ve written that Ecuadorian cuisine is not my favourite. It is mostly because it is not very diverse and doesn’t contain much spices. Most of dishes are just a piece of fried meat, a humongous serving of rice, a bit of other carbohydrates and sometimes a slice of tomato or few stripes of grated carrot. They didn’t hear about real salads.
Despite its name, one of the few not dry dishes is… seco (Spanish for ‘dry’). Seco is made of any meat, which is simmered and served with the juice. And that would be it. The most interesting form of this dish is seco de chivo, made out of goat. It’s more tender than beef. One of my favourites.
Ecuadorians admire seafood and fish. No wonder. The coast is over two thousand kilometres (about 1500 miles) and it is slightly longer than the land borders! Also, both in Amazon region as well as in the West, tilapia is bred and mountain streams are full of trout. Therefore, whole country is full of restaurants such as “the Pirate’s treasure” that sell mariscos, seafood. They have also ceviche, which differs from its Peruvian (better one in my opinion) equivalent by the fact that it’s cooked with a lot of cilantro and lemon juice. It’s made not only from fish, but also from calmars, shrimps or some mussels, which I still fail to identify. A dish especially recommended for the hangover is ecebollado, a type of a cold fish soup with – as the name suggests – a whole lot of red onion.
Oh, yes. Onion. Ecuador is the real capital of onion. They eat it with every meal. Mostly read, but sometimes white too. Onion is one of the main ingredients of aji, the hot peppers sauce. It contains also a lot of – what else – cilantro. I have to admit, the first weeks in Ecuador were a hassle for me in the terms of food. I don’t like spicy food, neither cilantro. I got used to spicy food quickly. Cilantro… I was told there is an almost magical way to get to like it. Joy, an American who’s been living in Ecuador for the last forty years shared the secret with me. She didn’t tolerate the taste, which she described as “petrol”. One should eat the cilantro flower. I was looking for it. However, before I got my hands on one, I got used to it’s everywhere presence and I can’t imagine my lunch without some spicy souce with red onion and cilantro.
I almost forgot to mention how bad is the cheese here. Besides white soft queso, they make mozzarella and parmesan which don’t taste like mozzarella and parmesan. Milk is ultrapasteurised that changes completely its taste. A dozen years ago grocery stores rarely were equipped with fridges. Such ultrapasteurised milk (heated over a hundred degrees centigrade, not only about eighty as normally pasteurised) can spend a year on a shelf in thirty degrees centigrade and still be drinkable, if it ever was.
To finish, two more things to rant about – salt and sugar. What is salty, is usually too salty, what is sweet, is too sweet. And I barely use salt nor sugar.
I will describe some dishes that I especially like. Would you like some recipes? Or maybe a “how to” video? Let me know in the comments.