I only manage to Couch Surf when I have flights somewhere as that’s the only time I know I’ll arrive somewhere beforehand to request people. So this may be my last Couch Surfing for a while after a pleasant bout of it in Europe, but what a wonderful experience if I must end on one! While my host understood English, we decided to converse in only Spanish. It’s the first time I’ve ever spoken only in Spanish for days on end and was quite the experience. That I could talk about more complicated topics in Spanish than I can muster in Mandarin, of which I am more conversationally fluent, was both exhilarating and sad.
“I need a young lady,” What a macho society! Actually my host told me that the culture is like that and luckily he is not like that at all. I kid though, this sign is for a new store clerk.
My host Carlos is a trained chef and enthusiastic eater, eager to show me the hard to find traditional foods that are fast disappearing under a dropping curtain of cheap fried meat and potato joints. The old stuff is all the offal, the cheap bits of animal left for the poor and made into loving street food. Unlike America where offal is often the expensive folly of gourmet restaurants, it’s still found best next to a grandma here.
As soon as I landed I put down my stuff and I was whisked away to a bunch of street carts hanging out in a park. Sadly, my camera deleted the picture of all the steaming stalls. There were things as simple as chicken soup or fried fish to the cart I ate at with multiple giant steaming pots of mixed pig parts and sausages. I started my Quito offal adventure with a morcilla stew on top of a giant potato crouched on a plastic stool on wet grass. An auspicious start for a street food adventure. Unfortunately after realizing Ecuador peasant food meant bricks, I only managed to eat a turron for dessert. This is a confection of Spanish Arabic origin and consists of honey, sugar and egg whites, sometimes with nuts. It tasted like a mix between a crispy meringue and marshmallow.
The next day we started with a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast. While it’s not people shaped as I’ve arrived after Dia de Difuntos this year it is a delightfully flaky number somewhere in-between a squishy white roll and more towards a croissant. This is cut in half and stuffed full of queso fresco. This is accompanied by extra sweet mandarins and finger bananas, a thin peeled and particularly sweet variety.
Quito is 9000 feet up so I had to pass on the coffee with milk as I was dehydrated from altitude sickness. Instead I enjoyed some fresh squeezed orange juice.
After this delightful meal we headed into town to do some sightseeing. There are various parks scattered across town to complement the lush green hills and volcanoes surrounding the city.
Churches, churches everywhere! How will I differentiate my Europe and South America pictures?!
Well I guess Europe doesn’t have broken stained glass windows.
Oh and the two clock towers with oddly modern clocks.
After this church Carlos asked if I’d like to see a few more churches. As I live with constant church fatigue, I passed on the golden opportunity to keep paying a few bucks to enter a church for half an hour. Instead we wandered around the UNESCO protected old town admiring the colonial style buildings.
The first thing I did when unleashed on the streets was spy a stall with an indigenous woman frying what looked like pupusas. Turns out they are tortillas de maize (corn) stuffed with queso fresco and served dry in a paper bag.
Finally getting me back on track, I was led to the local market where produce, meats, fish and food stalls collided.
They’re going fried piggyback. Har har har.
After buying a small bag of melt in your mouth chicharrones we left skipping the food stalls with wares that looked like they had been sitting too long. I had inquired about avocados since I had seen them at the market so Carlos decided we should have those and mote if he could find it, but more on that later when we do find it. We ended up having trouble finding anything to eat as apparently lunch places are only open from 1 – 2:30 and it was 3 by this time.
Guatita in the Plaza de la Independencia. Guatitas means tripe and this is a stew where the tripe is cleaned in a lemon lime brine, cooked until tender, cooled, cut, and turned into a delicious hangover cure. It works for altitude sickness too! The egg is there just in case it isn’t ridiculously hearty already.
It started pouring at this point so we ducked into a cafe that had been there for a hundred years to enjoy some sorbet. I enjoyed a taxo (banana passionfruit) one that was slightly sandy and tan which is strange considering the fruit is yellow green and looks like a passionfruit inside. After all this food we were quite full and just had more fruit for dinner.
The next day we were going hiking to some waterfalls. A possibly dangerous affair as I had a mix of waking up at 6 am due to jetlag and being on Madrid time and lingering effects of altitude sickness. Luckily it turned out we were joining a scout group and it wasn’t a hard hike at all.
The view of the surrounding hills and volcanoes was stunning.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch near the grand waterfall of a mishmash of local classics. There was arroz con pollo, choclo nuts (think corn nuts but lighter and way better tasting), potatoes, some sort of potato salad looking thing, tuna on crackers, meat, cheese, and broad beans.
While there were many waterfalls the grand one advertised was a tad short on water at the moment. This one was more lovely.
On the way back the bus broke out into leading the kids singing. I guess scouts are the same everywhere. Everyone else headed home as Carlos and I stopped where we needed to change buses to enjoy some local food.
Yaguarlocro is a creamy meat and potato stew full of offal bits that come with a menudo like bunch of ingredients on the side to mix in. Those little bowls contain a perfectly ripe avocado, slide of red tomato, shreds of red onion, and ground up fried pork blood.
Yaguarlocro can be hard to find as it is often only served a day or two a week at a restaurant. The perfectly ripe avocado did a lot to satisfy my Californian Haas avocado longings. It was a heavy bowl happily washed down with a mora (Andean blackberry/raspberry) juice. I wanted guayabana (soursop) but sadly they were out. Carlos jumped on the chance that they had mote here as well so we ordered some sides that may have killed us. Mote is dried choclo (giant corn) rehydrated five times until it bursts. It is reminiscent of hominy to me.
A tortilla made of potatoes and a plate of chicharrones, mote, and lightly fried corn nuts. If only American corn nuts tasted like this, lightly crunchy with onion and garlic and not overly seasoned tooth breaking.
After a huge meal like that we walked out and I jumped at the opportunity to walk the market we noted in the morning. The full bus had emptied out at this stop almost 12 hours earlier and I was curious what that meant it contained. The market felt endless as it stretched on for three blocks, the side streets, and two large market areas on the sides of the street.
We brought home dollar bags of uvillas (ground cherries, the paper husked things) and ojitos (small sour red plums).
After a heavy meal all we could manage was fruit before everyone on the trip was tuckered out from starting so early on a Sunday. The next day was a quiet one for me as I took an opportunity to not do anything for the first time in weeks and figure out what to do next. I had wandered out to look for breakfast when Carlos’ Mom showed up at the street to pull me away from the menudo vendor and make me breakfast. My Spanish skills aren’t great to begin with but I hadn’t understood her real well when I groggily ran into her moments before I left. She’s an adorable woman almost two heads shorter than me but with twice the energy.
As if breakfast wasn’t enough, Carlos’ Mom showed up with a steaming plate of lengua and potato stew and a bowl of rice. Carlos’ Dad showed up a little later with a cup of fresh juice.
Most adorable was Carlos’s Mom fretting that I didn’t like her lengua. While I like all lengua, mostly experienced in tacos in the past, I assured her I greatly enjoyed her version. The day continued to be quiet as I read and ran mundane errands of gear replacement. Dinner consisted of a pintxo of a grilled skewer of meat, sausage, hot dog, potato and banana over a plate of beans and rice. Ah, hints of the cheap carb on carb on carb action from my Ecuadorian adventures last year. I had actually spied this stall when I entered the area thinking “Well, if I can’t find my host I’m camping out where that bbq smoke is wafting from!”
My last full day, once i tore myself from being taken care of by the nicest family ever, was spent at the Capilla del Hombre. This is a museum dedicated to the cruelties of humanity in South America and hope for a grander future. It featured a lot of work by Guayasamin, of who I was trying to visit at his foundation which was busy moving buildings. The evening furthered that thought as we visited an art gallery cafe exhibiting the continuing struggle of South Americans with the protest art of today.
The sprawl reminds me of Los Angeles, however Quito is a long narrow city.
I thought Spain was offal central, but Quito has the real heart of the matter, no pun intended as I did not ingest any heart. My last day involved a failed adventure to find whole goat head’s soup but ended in delicious chicken soup and chicharrones on beans and mote instead. We were at the Santa Maria market instead of the Santa Claramarket , only in Latin American countries.
I wish all hot sauce was like this aji and came in huge buckets to be served by wooden oars, I mean spoons. A benefit of visiting Quito markets.
Just a reason to return or keep searching in Ecuador. Quito is not the most stunning city, particularly after the majestic churches of Andalucia I had just left, but it is exactly what I needed, a low stress town full of pleasant charm and hidden treasures. I hope to finally leave the rain that has followed me for weeks though.