Before we get into the blog, I just want to make a short comment about the political situation in Ecuador. It is shocking how an entire country is in chaos and yet very few people from Western countries know about it. The media coverage of Western media outlets is more than insufficient. Yet, if you would like to know more about what is going on, feel free to use these links to educate yourself: (Obviously, these are mostly from Western media because they are in English. However, this does not mean that Ecuador made the front page which would do the chaos here justice.)
I would just like to stress that the situation is different from city to city and even though it is affecting everyone, families are affected slightly differently. I will cover how my city, family and I are affected in a different blog post as things are rapidly changing at the moment.
In this blog post I would like to give my perspective on the food on Ecuador which is largely shaped by what I grew accustomed to in Germany and the UK (where I used to be vegan).
Starting with the places one can buy food, I am going to describe my first and only experience in supermarkets here. Funnily enough, my family has only once been to the supermarket in the now four weeks that I have been here. I am used to going to the supermarket once a week or when I buy food only for myself every couple of days. I discovered that the reason for only going once a month lis connected to the way my family buys food. They buy fresh vegetables and fruits from the market at the top of the city once a week. Meat is bought right before consuming it from the central market of the city. These two markets are different types of markets, but more about that later. In the supermarket my family buys cleaning products, cereals, tea, flour, pasta and rice. Everything, absolutely everything is wrapped in plastic and apart from the cereals everything is sold in huge packs of 5, 10 or for rice 20kg. These amounts also explain why they only go to the supermarket once a month. Compared to Tesco, Sainsbury, Edeka or Rewe the supermarkets are also very small. The way the products are sold does not really compare to the supermarkets I know from back home. Everything is stacked up on shelves like usually only a certain section of the supermarket is. There is very little space to move around or let another costumer pass. Products like shampoo were sold in a section behind the counter, so one had to point at what one wants. (By the way, shower gel is veryyyyy uncommon in Ecuador, they use hard body soap like some people use for hands.) The variety of products is also nothing compared to Germany or the UK. If you hope to find anything slightly unusual or a variety of pasta sauces or rice sauces or whatever, good luck. To illustrate which products I haven’t seen so far: curry sauces for rice, pesto sauces for pasta, variety of milk alternatives, tofu or any meat substitutes, a variety of cheese, a large variety of cereals or bread spreads or snacks or nuts or anything really. They did have a variety of cleaning products though and a large section for plastic cutlery or plastic anything.
Moving on to “the market above” which lays at the edge of the city and as Gualaeo is located in a valley, one has a beautiful view over the city and the mountains from the market. It is open Tuesdays, Fridays and on the weekends. Old ladies dressed in traditional clothing sell local fruits, vegetables, beans and products from the coast, such as Yuca which is similar to potatoes, or different fruits. Everything is as fresh as it can be, you can say how much you would like of a certain kind and they will put it in a plastic bag for you. Now every different “stall” or person has a variety of products to offer, so one has to know who offers the best quality of, for example peas, at the cheapest price. They also like to advertise their products in a load manner (especially when a white person walks past). I, personally, do like this market a lot because to me somehow is symbolizes Ecuadorian culture and all the fruits, veggies and beans are fresh and sold at a very cheap price compared to Europe. Definitely vegan heaven.
The central market in the city is rather the opposite of even a vegetarian heaven. It is called Mercardo de 25 Junio and focuses on serving food. Although one small corner is reserved for selling fruit and other corners are designated to sell “mote” (non-GMO corn which does not resemble European corn in any way), most of the stalls are for meals. In one section outside, meals composed of fries and eggs are served. Around the corner “cuy” (guniea pigs) are roasted above a fire. If you go upstairs, lovely ladies will offer you a piece of “hornado” (a whole roasted pig, yes WHOLE). There are tables next to the stalls to consume a meal composed of hornado, rice and a little salad. Opposite of the hornado, other women are preparing soups and other meals composed of mainly rice for customers. If you walk down the stairs you can find two main areas with tables and women preparing traditional tortillas for you. If you go down one more level, you can find raw meat being sold, chicken corps with their legs up in the air, meat hung up and cut and other dead animals. I have never been to this place with my family, but I had to take plenty of pictures of it for the Facebook page of the tourism office.
Moving on to what I actually eat and am served by my family. For breakfast, my family usually drinks instant coffee or hot chocolate (both with so much sugar that you feel like you are biting into a candy cone) and eats a bread roll made up white sweet bread with no nutritional value (even worse than our German “normale Brötchen”). I eat oats with an apple and yoghurt without sugar which they got especially for me. For lunch I usually eat a soup with either pasta or potato inside and sometimes some vegetables. We drink fresh juice made out of fresh fruit by my host family with at least 100g of added sugar. For a snack in the afternoon I drink tea without sugar, they drink tea with at least two tablespoons of sugar and we eat another one of the white bread rolls. For dinner, we usually eat rice, sometimes with eggs as omelette, with some vegetables, such as peas, carrots or broccoli. Occasionally my family also eats some chicken with the rice. They usually serve me a larger portion of vegetables and smaller portion of carbs. Often they also eat rice with pasta or rice with potatoes. One of my favourite part of the meal is either fried or cooked bananas or bananas fried in egg. However, overall standard Ecuadorian cuisine lacks the variety I was used to back home including burritos, stir-fry, summer rolls, pizza, pasta and of course, good bread. My family also does not eat a lot of sweets, for example, biscuits and does not know what pancakes or waffles or banana bread are. However, I plan on baking for them as soon as the strike ends and I can get ingredients.
In general, foreign cuisine is not very well known and you can only find restaurants offering foreign cuisine in the biggest cities. In general, the US cuisine with hamburgers and other fast food is the most available. However, compared to the UK and Germany, fast food is not common at all. The general interpretation of foreign cuisine can also be very Ecuadorian, for example, I saw Chinese cuisine advertised as rice with veggies and in some sauce and you could either get just that or have it with egg or with a “salchipapa” sausage (salchipapa is a common dish made up of fries and an oddly formed sausage).
As you probably noticed in my account of my daily food above, Ecuadorians love sugar and cannot understand why I prefer food without sugar. To them it doesn’t taste nicely without sugar which is funny because generally they do not put any spices in their food, so the food is quite bland. Ecuadorians generally also eat a lot less vegetables than I expected. The main diet is sugar, rice and meat. Without wanting to be judgemental, their diet does affect their health and weight. According to the WHO, 52.8% of the population are overweight and 18% obese.1 Surprisingly to me only 7.4% of the population have diabetes.1 Just walking around I have seen very little slim females which probably also has to do with the cultural expectations toward the female gender as exercising doesn’t seem to be as common for females compared to males, at least in public.
Last one on trying to grasp Ecuadorian food: bakeries. There are so many bakeries everywhere and they smell delicious and the cakes look stunning, but everything looks and smells soooo much better than it tastes. Most of the bakes are only disgustingly sweet and don’t taste of anything else and I would not recommend the cakes. They also use the same dough or pastry for most of the products, a croissant is made with the same dough as the bred rolls. Overall the bakeries are super cheap and one can find bakes for 30 cents (Ecuador uses USD). However, if you do not know the good bakeries, even 30 cents are hardly worth your money. By the way bread as in a bread loaf does not seem to exist here.
Overall, I am lucky to have landed in a family who eat very little meat, just want to see me happy so are more than open to feeding me slightly different meals compared to the rest of the family and are not offended that I eat less than even their five-year-old daughter because the portion of carbs is just too much for me.
Connecting the food back to the current political situation in Ecuador to close of the blog, a lot of cities are experiencing food shortages, especially of fresh goods. In addition, a lot of farmer families are suffering because they cannot transport their goods to markets due to road blocks and the strike of public transportation. The sister of my host mum has not been able to sell anything for over a week now and in Ecuador families do not have a lot of money reserved for harsher times. Not being able to work for a week, can make a big difference.
Appreciate what you have!
1 World Health Organization. Ecuador Diabetes Country Profiles. 2016, www.who.int/diabetes/country-profiles/ecu_en.pdf?ua=1. (accessed 12.10.19)