A personal goal of mine before coming to Quito was to avoid getting a big ole’ tapeworm. You know those ones that people get from eating street food and by the time it gets pulled out of them it’s like, 20+ feet long? Yeah, those guys. Preconcieved judgments aside, the food here has been wayyy more than edible. I haven’t had any problems (read: have not had to touch the prescription diarrhea medicine my travel doctor gave me before coming), and the constitution of my stomach is nothing to brag about. I eat the majority of my meals at home, as that is the family culture I am part of, but I try to venture out on the weekends and take the occasional afternoon off. Breakfast during the week is always an egg, two slices of wheat toast with PB/ banana/a drizzle of honey, and a cup of coffee. I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking this pretty much every morning, as there is a notable drop in performance when I try to engage with little children uncaffeinated. The coffee here is more or less all instantaneous, which (a) is super weak, and therefore (b) sucks, which is (c) a huge crying shame, given how close we are to those delicious Colombian beans. Lunch is pretty much always proceeded by a bowl of soup, but from there…
If I can summarize the food culture down here in a two words, those words would be: white rice. Your typical lunch/ dinner will consist of some vegetable assortment and some portion of pig, heaped upon a giant mound of white rice. There is a big pot in our house that is never empty. I’m getting a little sick of all the white rice (come on, guys, can’t we at least try another color?), but we do mix it up with potatoes or a bean variety. Tons of those, too. Generally, the food culture here is very heavy on the starches and lighter on the meat, with smatterings of vegetables. But, yeah, pig is the big meat down here. You go to street markets and every other cart has a roast intact pig ready for serving. A common dish involves portions of lightly fried pig served over several different kinds of corn, with salsa (i.e., sauce, not Mexican salsa), etc. Cow and chicken/ turkey are things here, too. Fish is much, much more popular around the coast, where I am not. Empanadas are popular and tasty, but not nearly filled to the same extent as they are back at home. Cuy, or roasted guinea pig, is a local delicacy, not light on the wallet, but not on the taste buds, either. It’s not dissimilar to chicken in flavor (really, though), but the texture is much tougher, specifically the skin. I sampled this tasty dish for the first time this past weekend, and let me say that those little furry things we kept as classroom pets in grades K-6 are delicious, and they would never last until the end of the school year if this was common knowledge.
The fruits and vegetables down here are incredible. You know how when you go to a deli or something the term “fruit salad” signifies a handful of grapes, maybe a pineapple or strawberry, and a single blueberry mixed amongst a horde of tasteless melon? Yeah, I pretty much hate melons, the filler of the fruit world. But down here I tried, for real, my first, and what is this? Flavor?!? Even better is that the same is more or less true for the things that already had taste. For example: ohhhhh, the mangoes!!!!!! Everything is fresh and locally grown and it makes a world of difference. If you are an American, and you are reading this, I hope you will consider writing your local congressman/ soccer-moms-that-like-to-meet-their-girlfriends-for-lunch-after-dropping-the-kids-off-and-need-to-have-their-favorite-fruit-all-year-round-in-their-salad-goddammit, because here’s a crazy idea: fruit isn’t the same when it’s out of season. This is a topic I have gotten fairly fluent on. It is also a great way to make friends. The people down here never get tired of being told how much better the produce is down here than back in the states: “in my country, everything is artificial, but here…!” Other thing that’s cool: high fructose corn syrup isn’t a thing down here. Even sodas like Coke contain actual sugar. Yes, you can definitely taste the difference. Why, I had an apple soda just the other day, and it was delightful.
And finally: alcohol. Liquor is king here. Tequilla, rum, and vodka are the most popular, and many bars will serve, like, fishbowls of these mixed with some sweeteners and a dozen straws (for sharing). As I mentioned , anything imported is $$$, and tends to denote or suggest wealth. Wine doesn’t seem to be very popular. I haven’t seen bottles much more expensive than $10, and only seen it served at our dinner table for guests. But my greatest disappointment here is the beer. Craft brewing hasn’t caught on, so there are like two or three different kinds of beers you can drink. The king of beers down here is called Pilsner. It is drinkable, but then again so is anything after four years of college. Sure, other beers make it down here too, like when I went to a bar recently and saw a bottle of Guinness going for $14. A liter of Pilsner was ~$4. The upside of this is that I pretty much only touch alcohol one night a week. If any of you have found great satisfaction in knocking back a casual Keystone Light at the end of a hard day of work, please do share how, because I’m curious.
Speak Spanish: “In general, las frutas aqui son mucho major que en mi pais” (in general, the fruits here are much better than in my country) is a phrase that finds its way into most of my conversations.