Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Flavorful memories

I brought a bag of the roasted corn, in the bowl above, home with me from Ecuador. It is called tostado and is something I haven't eaten anywhere else. We had some with a drink tonight before dinner. I am hoarding them, eating a few at a time to make them last. They are very tasty. You may think they look like "corn nuts"—those rock-hard nuggets that we used to have with beer in college, but oh no. Tostado is roasted corn, but it is crispy, not hard, and has a lovely delicate roasted corn flavor. Most meals in Ecuador include a bowl of salted tostado on the table, which are eaten as snacks or sprinkled in one's soup.

This is the Ecuadorean corn from which the tostado is made. They call this corn choclo and it is one of the main staples of Ecuadorean cooking. The kernels are quite large, chewy and flavorful and boiled choclo is served at many meals. The etiquette for eating it, unlike here where we gnaw the corn off the cob, is to pick the kernels off the cob with your fingers and pop them into your mouth, or drop them into your soup. The big mid-day meal nearly always includes soup. Choclo is also made into mote (mo-tay) which is like hominy. The kernels are boiled in water with lime (the mineral, not the fruit) which boils the skin off and changes the texture and flavor. Mote pillo is mote scrambled with eggs and is delicious—a major Ecuadorean comfort food.

I bought my bag of tostado from this lady in the Cuenca market. It's in the white bowl in the back. The big basket on the left in the front is mote, the lime-treated corn.

Did you know that potatoes originated in the Andes? You find many, many varieties in the markets and the most favorite soup is locro de papas—potato soup. We love it. It is a simple, creamy potato soup that is a beautiful golden color from the addition of the annatto spice. Ecuadoreans tell me that annatto has a flavor, but it escapes me. I think it is used mostly for the color! The soup is served with slices of avocado and a generous chunk of queso fresco (fresh cheese).

You can toss in tostado or choclo as well. The bowl below, from a different restaurant, has grated cheese and chocho beans added. Every restaurant claims their version of locro de papas is the best in Ecuador.

The chochos are very unusual. They are crunchy little beans with a nice mild, nutty flavor. I found this article about them, which says they are "super food"!

Most of my friends are surprised to learn that Ecuadorean food is nothing like Mexican or Caribbean food, and not at all spicy in itself. But on every table is a bowl of aji, a hot sauce with a fruity basis. It adds the spice and is both hot and sweet.

They eat a lot of meat, especially pork and sausages are popular. At the market you can buy "hornado" which is roasted whole pig. The woman will cut off whatever parts you want and wrap it up in paper to take home. It is tender and succulent, once you get past the scary dead pig experience!

A very traditional Ecuadorean meat delicacy is cuy, which is what we know as guinea pig. We have eaten it on a previous trip, but not this trip. Not as horrifying as one might expect, but not a big favorite for me!

The variety of fruit grown in Ecuador is astonishing, and, for me, just one delicious experience after another. There are many fruits I have never seen or heard of before. This is a pitahaya, eaten with a spoon. It is very sweet and and has a divine flavor. This was Andy's favorite thing to eat when his dental work was in progress. No chewing required, though I really liked biting the little seeds, which are edible and have a nice pop when you bite into them. A bit like kiwi fruit, but softer and sweeter.

As usual we ate our way through Ecuador and enjoyed most everything! Food is such a great adventure when you travel. One meal stands out, however, and it was not even traditional Ecuadorean food. The day we flew to Cuenca to visit the family of our son-in-law happened to be Thanksgiving day in the United States. Of course Thanksgiving is unknown in Ecuador so we knew we were missing it this year. We spent the day vicariously enjoying our friends' turkeys and pies as posted on Facebook. When we arrived, that night, in Cuenca at the Molina home we were greeted with a table laden with a full Thanksgiving dinner—turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy and more. All researched online and prepared by the family for us.

Never before has a Thanksgiving dinner made me feel more grateful, humble and blessed. Food for the body and food for the soul.


  1. I love that they made a Thanksgiving meal for you. Thank you for sharing your insights to Ecuador, and their fabulous food. Kind of reminds me of the show Travelers, I could sort of live vicariously through others experiences in different countries and I learned some wonderful things as well.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your trip through wonderful words and photos.

  3. Vicariously sharing your trip has been such a pleasure. I have gone from knowing nothing of the country to wanting to go there!

  4. MMMMMMmmmmmm my mouth is watering just at the pictures and descriptions. thanks so much for posting.

  5. I have loved the updates from your trip. I have always had an interest in Ecuador, and after reading about your experience, will be making plans to travel there -- possibly next year. Thank you. This post was especially cool.

  6. Anonymous12:36 PM

    What a wonderful post! I loved that you were given such a beautiful and heartfelt Thanksgiving feast.