As is often the way when travelling, my daily lifestyle in Cuenca tends to revolve around food. More specifically, the time of day and my location in the city dictates what exactly I’ll be eating.
So there’s a strong likelihood that a bowl of fruit salad will be sat in front of me at 10:20 each morning at school; at least one spoonful of chilli sauce will be eaten at 13:30 at my host family’s kitchen table; and a chocolate brownie ball is always in my eager hands by 5 in the afternoon. It’s a necessary treat for finishing work.
One of the nicest things about living with a host family and spending my days working is developing this type of routine; it reminds me that you’re able to find familiarity wherever you are.
But aside from my growing routine of eatables, there’s still a veritable plethora of Ecuadorian food I’ve made it my mission to try. Most are delicious; some are less so – but all are extremely interesting.
A plate of pig
Pork has never been my favourite meat. While I love bacon, and go crazy over a sausage sandwich, a hunk of roast pork isn’t an immediate temptation. But then I arrived in Ecuador, and was presented with a plate of pig.
And suddenly everything changed.
Maybe it’s because the meat is so wonderfully tender. Maybe it’s because dining on a plate of pig isn’t just a meal: it involves a certain amount of browsing, bartering, people watching and very sticky fingers (no cutlery here, folks!).
The only place to eat a plate of pig is at the market – usually on the top floor, giving you the chance to scrutinise the customers and proprietors of the stalls below. Once you’ve chosen the pig you’d like to dine from (looking at the posters hanging above each stall to help you decide), the woman accompanying said pig enquires how many dollars worth of pig you’d like to eat?
By this point you’re getting overwhelmed by how many times ‘pig’ is mentioned – but it’s worth it. When a plate piled high with fresh meat slides its way onto your table, you know you’re onto a good thing.
What do Ecuadorians eat?
Plates of pig usually come with a generous helping of mote, corn kernels which have been boiled and peeled, as well as two or three llapingachos, a kind of mashed potato balled up and then lightly fried. Then you grab a spoonful of aji, a tomato based chilli sauce which has a permanent place on every Ecuadorian table, and drizzle it lovingly over the entire plate.
Well, if you’re anything like me you do; but lots of people aren’t so keen on the heat.
Aji is so popular because a lot of of Ecuadorian food has quite a mild flavour. My host family – or, rather, the three male members of the family – are head over heels in love with this hot sauce. It’s ladled over every component of their meals, and, because I enjoy the smug satisfaction on their faces when I take some too, I’ve now started to become equally obsessed.
It’s also standing in as a replacement for my need to grind pepper on every foodstuff I eat – which I sadly can’t do in Ecuador, because there’s a distinct lack of pepper at every table I’ve eaten at in the last two months.
Salt is another issue; most Ecuadorians pour salt liberally over their meals at the table, as well as during the cooking process. Some of my friends have even complained about overly salty salad being served to them at their host houses.