Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Ecuadorian Feast in Pasadena

I went to Ecuador! It was an adventure that put me completely out of my element in many, many ways. It took a week to get used to not disposing of toilet paper into the toilet, three days to fully figure out the long commute to my volunteer work site, two days to become accustomed with showering in weak, lukewarm water (until we ran out of gas), though I never quite got used to the inadvertently racist catcalls and hiking at high altitudes. Despite being somewhat lost and confused in the beginning, it took me no time to dive into the food scene—I was eating things that could have potentially made me sick to my stomach, from day one. There was so much to try and so much cultural exposure that I gained from simply stepping into a restaurant or stall for lunch and talking to the people there. Eating out and buying food to cook in my kitchen was fulfilling, both viscerally and spiritually.

Many times, food came to my rescue. Admittedly, I very rarely know where I am, even in my own hometown. My sense of direction absolutely sucks. So, you can only imagine what things must have been like in Quito for me on my own, with no 3G and no English to be heard or seen. I used my gluttony as a compass. The Spanish school was just past this little stall with the cups of slivered green mango sticks and bagged nuts. Plaza Foch was in the direction of the brightly-lit Union Bakery (a favorite place to grab freshly squeezed orange juice and maracuya gelato). I needed to be facing Texas Chicken (a fried chicken chain store which serves your average pollo with menestra and rice) when exiting the bus stop on the way home. When I was totally disoriented looking for my apartment on my first day off on my own, the faded, familiar-yet-foreign pictures of Chinese dishes plastered to the windows of the downstairs chifa (Chinese restaurant) were what guided me home. The smells of bubble gum told me that I was in the right side street when walking to work after getting off the bus—the daycare center was across the way from Quito’s largest chicle factory. 

I also spent some time living in the home of an Ecuadorian family, and the women there showed me how to make several traditional dishes.  I was so excited to share what I had discovered and learned to love in Ecuador when I got home.  Luckily, I found an awesome Ecuadorian food blog with tons of recipes for food that I had eaten.  Thanks to Laylita, the blogger, I was able to make a few things here in Pasadena! 

So, after a few nights of eating American food after my long hiatus, I dragged Wes into helping me prep for a big Ecuadorian feast. He not only made a rotisserie chicken (pictured above) just like the ones I had seen spinning in the windows throughout Ecuador, but also accompanied me on my crazed search for achiote spice and tomate de arbol, chopped up a rock-hard yucca root, and assisted with the deep-frying and smashing process of making patacones.  

We had my parents over for almuerzo, followed by scratch-made chocolate fondue. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone enjoyed the food, and we had just enough left over for another dinner!