|Sign in Quito|
There was, however, one aspect of Ecuadorian food that took me a year to learn: almuerzos. What is an almuerzo? Quite literally it means “lunch,” and that’s what I understood it to mean on my first visit. On my second trip, however, I realized that it has another meaning.
|Shrimp Soup, Puerto Lopez|
My first clue that almuerzo had more to it came during a meal in a remote section of the northern highlands, where my friend Rich and I traveled on the back of an agricultural truck to enjoy Oyacachi’s local hot springs. We were quite literally the only tourists in this small, alpine-like village, which attracts visitors only on the weekends, and there were no formal hotels or restaurants. After asking around, we scored two beds, each with six wool blankets to withstand the cold that comes even at the equator in the summer, from a shopkeeper. Later in the evening, his young son collected us from the wooden, A-frame house to lead us through the muddy streets to a family’s house for dinner. Joining us around a communal table were two Ecuadorian workers, far from their homes in the central sierra, to work on a much-needed drainage project. The four of us had no choice for our meals: first came soup with chunks of meat and starchy vegetables and then local trout with rice and French fries. This is when I realized that, as in Italy where there’s a first course of pasta followed by a second course of protein, complete meals in Ecuador start with soup and then are followed by the main meal.
|Segundo of fish, Puerto Lopez|
Some places have a choice of what to have for the first and second courses; at other places there is only one option. At Pablito we got soup, as we did in Oyacachi’s, and then opted for a small fish, fried and served whole, accompanied by fat, red beans and lots of rice. Almost as rewarding as breaking the code of almuerzos was discovering how cheap they are, rarely over $2. And man is it filling!
Once we caught on, we didn’t want to give up our almuerzos. They were not only cheap but also “authentic.” It’s the food that the locals eat, cheap and filling and familiar. It was our entrée, so to speak, to simple, local places.
|Enjoying almuerzos, Puerto Lopez|
Once we hit the coast, the offerings for almuerzos changed slightly. The soup had seafood, as did the second course. At the bustling Saturday market in Puerto Lopez, a port city that attracts visitors going whale watching or taking a boat to Isla de la Plata, known as the poor man’s Galapagos we enjoyed shrimp soup followed by fried fish, lentils, plaintain chips, and a mountain of rice—a deliciously cheap and filling meal tasting of place and the real food of Ecuador.There’s a similar system for dinner, merienda or cena, but after such a huge lunch we often just ordered a la carte, along with plenty of cocktails. After all, we were vacation.
Diana the Cheesemonger
Diana the Cheesemonger