Whether just to humor me or because you love food as much as this girl, imagine a lunch that somehow never ends, beginning with a fresh juice, then soup, followed by a plato fuerte, and all tied together with a sweet but small pastry. And to top it all off? Ecuadorian almuerzos (lunches) range from $2-4 and the city of Quito as well as Cumbayá, a small suburb where my host university is located. These cities are full of family-owned restaurants waiting to offer you traditional and delicious lunches. There really isn’t anything like it in the world.
I find myself scrambling to find room for dinner after getting lunch with some friends, even after a few hours have passed. But alas, I find the space, not only to be polite and show my appreciation to my lovely host mother, but because the dinners she makes always have a rich and flavorful aroma unlike anything I have had the pleasure of smelling during a semester in college. (On a side note, University of Massachusetts was just ranked #1 for best campus food by the Princeton Review – go UMass! However, there is still nothing better than a home cooked meal, and I will always stick by that.)
My host family here is a little different than a ‘traditional’ family. Since it is just me and my host mom, I have yet to truly experience the customs and expectations around a meal with Ecuadorian families. However, one aspect of the food culture here that I have learned is that Ecuadorians strongly believe that no one should eat alone. Even if my host mom has already eaten, she always accompanies me as well as anyone else who is over at the time while we eat.
A few weekends ago I also had the pleasure of visiting Cayambe, a city that is not too far from Quito and is known for their bizcochos and homemade, fresh queso. Bizchocos are similar to biscotti and are usually served with fresh cheese and a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. If you ever find yourself in Ecuador, specifically near Cayambe, I highly recommend you try this snack! You can even watch as they make the dough and tour the bizcocho ovens inside certain cafes in Cayambe.
Food is an essential aspect of the culture here in Ecuador. It is the perfect example of the country’s diversity and colorful personality. There are traditional foods that are specific to certain cities, celebrations, and communities that all create the welcoming and beautiful environment that is Ecuador. Even after a month of being here, I still have many different foods to try, such as the Andean delicacy cuy, or roasted guinea pig, ceviche, a traditional meal from the coast that consists of seafood that has been ‘cooked’ with lime juice, and cevichochos, a traditional Ecuadorian street food that is a mix of chochos, a white legume, small or large corn kernels, ceviche, plantain chips, salsa, aji pepper, and lime.
Although Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, there is a large population of Quechua speakers, an indigenous language and community who live in the Andes and the Amazon regions of Ecuador. The indigenous communities here have a large influence on Ecuador’s gastronomy as well as its younger generations who bring their cravings back from their travels abroad. Although everyday is full of new surprises and unexpected but exciting challenges here in Ecuador, one thing is for certain: food will always be an essential, and delicious, aspect of Ecuadorian culture that imperative to displaying the many diverse environments- agricultural, marine, and beyond- that create Ecuador’s renowned and unique identity that I have been able to enjoy and participate in, even as a gringa!