Posted by: Jena Davison | April 24, 2010

10 ¨Weird¨Food and Drink Things I’ve Noticed Here

1. Soup is super popular here in Quito. Pretty much any fixed-price lunch (almuerzo) or fixed-price dinner (merienda) starts out with some kind of soup. These soups range from the typical chicken-based soup with  quinoa, yucca and veggies to more obscure kinds like locro de papa, a potato-based soup with cheese and avocado, or cow’s stomach soup. Soup as a diet staple is not weird, per say. But I have noticed that often times, restaurants will put baskets of popcorn or small bowls of chifles (plantain chips) on the table, which Quiteños then proceed to populate their soup with. Putting popcorn in soup? Weird.

2. Eggs and milk are not refrigerated here. You can find them on the shelves in the grocery store, not the refrigerated sections. I don’t trust this, and have pretty much avoided consuming either since I have gotten here. Yogurt is refrigerated, though, and you can actually buy a glass of thinned-out yogurt at some restaurants. These yogurt shakes are commonly consumed with pan de yuca–chewy, savory balls of bread made from yucca.

3. It is illegal to sell baking soda here. This is because baking soda is an ingredient in cocaine, so the government has aimed to keep it off the shelves and out of the hands of drug producers.

4. Cuy, or guinea pig,  is a national delicacy in Ecuador. Here is a small piece I wrote on cuy during my travel-writing course prior to the start of my job here:

A furry friend in one country may be a national delicacy in another (but what was it first?). Cuy, or guinea pigs, are native to the Andean region of South America and thus have been an important local source of food for thousands of years. Andean tribes domesticated guinea pigs for food as early as 5000 B.C., making cuy a diet staple prior to when the Spaniards introduced them as pets back in Europe.

Traditionally, cuy played a central role in ceremonial meals by indigenous communities. Interestingly enough, only a small percentage of Ecuadorians today regularly eat, or have even tried, cuy and it is usually reserved for important occasions. However, it is still widely eaten in Peru and Bolivia and in the Ecuadorian highlands. Many families continue to domesticate guinea pigs for the sole purpose of them eventually providing food. It is also not uncommon to give a newlywed couple a mating pair of guinea pigs as a gift.

Cuy has significance in Andean culture beyond their existence for consumption. Guinea pigs played a vital part in traditional medicine of the Andes. They were used to help pinpoint affected areas in the sick by squeaking when rubbed over the sickly bodies. Examination of the rodents’ internal organs helped to further diagnose patients and to test treatments.

Eating cuy is not for those with squirmish stomachs because the guinea pigs are typically roasted or fried whole and served on a skewer. It may also be broiled or put in soups and casseroles. The taste and consistency is said to resemble that of rabbit meat or dark chicken meat, and it is relatively high in protein and low in fat. Cuy is quite expensive in restaurants and usually costs around $10-30. Nonetheless, leaving Ecuador without trying some cuy is like ignoring an important part of its history and culture.

*I have yet to try cuy and am kind of afraid to try it to be honest. I am not too adventurous when it comes to food. If the meat was sliced off the body and served on a plate, I think I would have no problem with eating it, but the fact that the entire thing–paws, head and all–are served as is, makes it more of a stomach-turning experience. However, I do think I need to try it before I leave!

5. Although I am not a fan of fast food in general–in the States or abroad–I recently had an Ecuadorian fast food experience. For one, they call fast food junk food–no beating around the bush here. Secondly, fast food here is more expensive than getting a fixed-price three-course meal, so I am confused why there is so much appeal for eating it at all. However, I did go to the Ecuadorian KFC equivalent here (though they do have KFCs here as well) one afternoon for lunch with some Ecuadorian colleagues. It was fried chicken felicity–greasy mounds or buckets of fried chicken. Fried chicken, weird? Absolutely not. The fact that they give out plastic gloves to all customers to wear as they dig into their fried chicken fairylands….that’s a bit odd, if not a completely clever idea! It was so weird looking around and seeing an entire restaurant filled with plastic glove-wearing patrons munching on fried chicken with their grease-protected hands. Isn’t the greasiness and messiness all part of the experience?

6. Chalaufran, or fried rice is a staple on many Ecuadorian menus. I guess it is not that weird, considering how rice-obsessed this culture is; I have never consumed so much rice in my entire life. However, the Asian influence here seems a bit out of place, at best. Oh, and people like to put ketchup and/or ají on their fried rice, which just sounds gross!

7. Both ketchup and Pepsi/Coca Cola taste very different here. The ketchup is not as thick and has a more vinegary aftertaste. As a result, many people mix mayonnaise and ketchup together to eat with French fries and other things. I do this now too; I can’t really eat ketchup solo anymore. Ketchup is also commonly put in ceviche, which is raw fish marinated and cooked in citrus. Coca Cola is mostly served in retro glass bottles with straws at restaurants, transporting me back to the 1950s. I actually think the Coca Cola tastes better here than in the States, though I can’t put my finger on why.

8. When Ecuadorians walk into a restaurant, they typically say buen provecho to the patrons eating there. This basically means ¨enjoy your meal¨ in Spanish. I think it is a nice gesture, but it is fairly strange that this is said to complete strangers and not to just friends or those you are dining with. I cannot imagine something like this being commonplace in the United States.

9. I have developed a serious addiction to hot sauce since I’ve lived in Quito. Mostly because the food is surprisingly bland and simple, I have learned to douse it in sometimes unbearable amounts of spice. Every restaurant here has some type of ají available that can be put on the served food. Ají is a hot pepper sauce that is prepared differently depending on where you consume it. Ají ranged in spiciness, which is usually dependent on the quality of the peppers used; I have had my share of good and bad ají for sure. Ají is often put in soups and ceviches and on chicken, rice, fish….anything, really. If there is not homemade ají available at a restaurant, then they will normally have some type of bottled hot sauce to offer customers. Olé and Indio Bravo are two popular brands, both of which have a permanent place on my kitchen shelf.

10. Two popular Andean drinks available here are candelazo and chicha. Candelazos are served hot and are made from sugar cane alcohol, lemon, sugar, cinnamon and boiled water. I have consumed numerous candelazos since I have been here and they are both soul-warming and delicious. Chicha is made from fermented corn, rice or yucca. The weird part about chicha is that it is that the drink is traditionally fermented with the help of human saliva; women chew the corn and spit it back into the pot. Though some chicha is still prepared this way, much of the modernly produced chicha is fermented usually alternative techniques, which are safer. I have yet to try chicha, but it doesn’t sound all that appealing to me.

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Responses

  1. Hey!

    Ive enjoyed reading parts of your blog, it is really interesting, and reminds me of many of the experiences some of my study abroad friends who came to Ecuador had and told me about.

    Seems like you are enjoying it!, so Enjoy!

  2. Hi! I lived in Quito last summer and I am moving back next August, so I have been looking up blogs to get some info on living there more permanently and I am stumbled across yours! I wanted to comment on number 7…
    My host family in Quito last summer told me that Coke tasted so different because in the US it is made with high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, while in other countries it is made with real sugar.
    I think they were right, because in Salamanca, Spain everyone drinks calimocho (Coke and red wine). I went home to Florida and tried to recreate it but it wouldn’t fizz correctly; when I looked it up, a website confirmed that American coke does not use real sugar like South American and European Coca Cola factories!

  3. Coca Cola

    Before 1985, Coca-Cola was sweetend with sugar. In the USA, the sweetener was changed to corn syrup. I imagine this was done to save money, and increase profit. This happend in 1985. Since then, it has not tasted as good.

    The Coca-Cola you enjoy is quite likely sweetend with sugar


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