With our three months in Ecuador drawing to a close, we decided to soak up a little more of its culture before we headed to Peru, and ordered a traditional Ecuadorean meal at the airport. We haven’t written much about the food in South America because let’s be honest, it’s not that exciting to read (kind of like those insta-foodie accounts) but it’s actually one of the things we will miss the most when we leave here. So what the heck, here are some of our food highlights so far:
Fruit – Las frutas
The sweetness, the variety, the size. It’s something every traveler comments on.
A mercado central can be found in most town or city and you’re greeted with mountains of fresh produce. They might not look as perfect as what you see on the shelves of New World or Sainsbury’s and sometimes you have to turn a blind eye to the blatant disregard of any food hygiene rules but they taste incredible.
Bolon de Verde
A traditional Ecuadorean dish, normally eaten for breakfast or as a snack. Platano verde (green banana), onion, egg, sometimes pork or chicken, herbs, and cheese are all rolled up into a ball and baked. After one of these, you’re full for a good few hours.
Peanut butter – Mantequilla de mani
I think most people are aware of my obsession with this nutty deliciousness. I’ve experienced serious cravings for PIC’s PB from New Zealand but in Ecuador, I was delighted to find that in almost every tienda they have a big tub of the stuff, and the best part…it’s eau natural. It’s no PIC’s of course but it will do.
There are no photos because I was too busy eating it.
Chicharron de pollo con arroz…and a thin slice of tomato…just one slice.
The KFC of Peru. Strips of chicken, covered in batter and deep-fried. Not for me but Tim is all over it.
Ecuador, Peru, and Chile will all argue that they have the best ceviche. I have to say, Tommy at Casa del Sol made it one night and it was exquisite. But this ceviche in Paracas, Peru was pretty good.
Menu of the day – menu del dia
We will really miss this and have genuinely thought about recreating the concept in Wellington. At most of the local restaurants, there’s one three-course meal on offer and all you have to do is pick your protein (usually chicken, pork, or fish). The first course is a soup of cheese, meat, potato, or avocado. This is followed by your meat or fish served with rice, beans, and salad, and topped off with a simple dessert, maybe a quinoa pudding or fruit. It’s such good value for money ($3-4) and we’ve never had a bad meal, apart from the odd questionable bit of meat in the soup.
Imagine the time saved, especially for someone like me who takes forever to pick something from a menu, when all you have is one option. It’s speedy service too so it’s common that workers grab their lunches from these local spots, eating a much lighter meal for dinner at home.
Oh and there’s Inca Kola. It’s everywhere in Peru!
A Bolivian street snack. I know we’re not blogging about Bolivia yet but it saves me boring you with the food-talk in another post. A deep fried empanada, filled with meat, veggies, spices, and egg. Yum.
Ok, enough of the food talk. It’s making me hungry as we wait for our flight to Santiago de Chile. Yep, that’s right, we’re in Chile already so there’s a lot to write about!
We stayed in this sprawling metropolis for three nights, in the Barranco neighborhood, the place you want to stay in, along with Miraflores, if you’re a tourist. It’s considered to be the most romantic and bohemian part of Lima, home to many of Peru’s leading artists, musicians, writers, and photographers. It’s safe to walk at night, full of trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes and really, the prettiest part of Lima.
Continuing the food theme, we pretty much ate our way around Barranco and Miraflores on our first day. It was a warm and sunny day so we meandered through the streets, grabbed a coffee and cake and a lovely vegetarian lunch. These neighbourhoods are a mixture of quaint and cool. Low, dusky-yellow painted buildings, housing old barber shops, neighborhood tiendas or cafes, next to brightly graffitied buildings home to upscale fashion stores and trendy boutiques.
Towards Miraflores, the buildings become grander and more modern; fancy hotels and apartment blocks built on the cliffs overlooking the sea.
We visited the MATE museum, showcasing the work of the photographer Mario Testino. It’s a collection of some of his most famous photographs; of renowned faces in music, film, politics…the list goes on. He’s known as the photographer on behalf of the British Royal Family and there was a small room dedicated to photos of Princess Diana. There’s also photos of life in Lima before he was famous and works of art by other distinguished Peruvian artists.
We caught the bus up to the centre of the city, to the Plaza de Armas to look at the “important buildings” like the government house, the city cathedral, the parliament buildings…but we were a bit travel weary and didn’t really take it all in. We ended up sitting on the steps of the cathedral, people watching.
We didn’t stay long and just grabbed a quick menu del dia and headed back to Barranco to sit on the cliffs and watch the surfers in the sea.
As we were sitting there, staring out the Pacific ocean, I said to Tim how the view reminded me a bit of Scarborough, when you’re on the South Cliff looking out to the ocean. I know what you’re thinking… “here we go again with the Scarborough references” but the funniest thing happened. Just then I heard, in a thick Yorkshire accent, a man say the exact words “it reminds me a bit of Scarborough, this”. I shot up, called out to him (probably much to Tim’s embarrassment) and said: “did you just say, Scarborough?!”. It turns out he’s a lad from Malton and, although he was comparing the sea view from Lima to good old Scarbs, he was saying that it’s like Scarborough sea in that it’s nice to look at but you would never swim in it. Well, that part I didn’t agree with. I said a frosty farewell and went back to my book.
In Barranco, there are many traditional Peruvian bars where locals come to meet, to chat and share gossip over pisco sours (the national drink), beer, and simple sanduches. We went to Juanito’s for a few drinks before dinner one night. It was a great spot for people watching and reminded me of those old school sandwich shops you get in the East Village in New York, like Katz Diner from When Harry Met Sally. The food and drink are simple and it’s all about the atmosphere.
The bar started in 1937 and in the background, you can see a big caricature of the bar owners. Juanito is the shortest like his name reflects. In the Spanish language, they add the diminutive -ito/ita on the end of words to indicate smallness or affection.
Our hostel was in a great area, close the main plaza which buzzes with activity in the evenings, with nice staff and breakfast but the room was disappointing. We had two guys in there with us; one reeked of B.O. so bad that it was almost unbearable and the other stank like an ashtray. We’re pretty sure he was smoking in the tiny ensuite. So, we didn’t sleep very well, half suffocating as we breathed through the scarves we’d tied around our faces. The joys of dormitory life.
We left Lima early in the morning and caught a bus to Paracas, a beach town a few hours south, in the Peruvian Desert Reserve. The weather was perfect; hot and dry during the day and cool at night. We spent a bit of time at the beach, drank pisco sours while we watched the sunset and devoured some tasty meals.
With only one full day in the area, we opted for the desert reserve tour which was pretty fun. We were driven into the desert on a tour bus and taken to various spots for photos, museums and wildlife viewings, ending at the small beach where you can watch the seals playing on the rocks around you. Sometimes the organised tours are a little tacky and not worth the money you pay but we were happy with this one. It’s also nice to not have to plan your day for once as the logistics are all taken care of for you.
I also taught my first yoga class after leaving Montañita! A lovely couple from Canada mentioned they were early risers and liked yoga so I thought I’d offer my services. I think (I hope) it was a success. I’m still trying to practice every day but it’s been hard the last few weeks as we’ve been moving around so much.