Where would we be without that delicious, rich thing called food? In the two months that I’ve lived in Ecuador, one of the most vibrant parts of life abroad has been eating new things for every meal. I find myself excited to make the 18 minute walk home for lunch. I can’t wait to wake up for a tasty breakfast at 7 a.m.
In Ecuador, lunch is the most important meal of the day—an interesting switch from the U.S., a country that focuses on large quantities of carbs at dinner time. Soup is usually served at lunch before a portion of rice, beans, some vegetables and a little bit of meat. The afternoon isn’t just about that delicious soups or the abundance of rice on your plate, however. It’s a time for family, a time to close your store or business and a time to just enjoying talking, laughing, eating and maybe even a little siesta.
With my host family, most days we have a smaller breakfast and dinner—sometimes leftovers, a side of rice or bread and coffee. And since my host siblings are younger than me, there is usually a lot of hot chocolate around. The change in portions took a few weeks to adapt to, but it seems just right; it makes more sense to eat more in the middle of the day when there are still hours to burn off a majority of the calories. In addition, with a small dinner to follow your afternoon activities, your stomach isn’t trying to process too much right before you go to sleep for the night.
Then there are the juices. Since Ecuador is the top exporter of bananas, and many other tropical fruits grown in this climate, the juices are the most mouth-watering drinks I’ve ever had. Every kitchen is equipped with a blender and a strainer to sift out the fruit seeds. No matter where you go for lunch, you’ll find fresh juice as part of the meal (I usually wake up to the sound of the blender, actually.)
Papaya, pineapple, blackberry, banana, orange and even a warm oatmeal drink are now a part of my pallet. I wonder how I will return to the imported, not-perfectly-fresh fruit that is present in U.S. grocery stores. It’s going to be difficult.
A week ago, I had the chance to take a cooking class at my school. We made llapingachos, or potato pancakes with cheese in the middle, sliced up fresh avocados, fried mote— a type of corn— with eggs, tossed a salad and boiled some pork. The flavors danced together on my plate and the fact that we got to make it ourselves gave it that “accomplishment” kick. I really want to bring new recipes (and the local food) back to the U.S. to share and enjoy.
Bread is an immense part of daily life. Panaderías, or bread stores, are spread out all over Cuenca and the smells of fresh baked good follow you as you walk through the crowds of city dwellers. For meals, bread is usually always a part of the feast and is common for a between-class snack. Buying it every day with my host family is common. And the prices: I’ve bought a roll for twelve cents. The rolls usually range between 12 to 20 cents each, but it makes sense when the typical minimum wage is taken into account—around $1.10 per hour.
Snacks are everywhere. I see so many street vendors selling fresh produce from the countryside and other treats like yogurt, ice cream or chips. Helado, or ice cream, is another big staple. Many vendors set up their booths outside of schools in the city during lunchtime when everyone is walking home to eat. I’ve bought ice cream cones between 40 and 95 cents, a huge difference compared with the prices in the U.S.
When it comes to going to the grocery store, prices vary. Things can cost a matter of cents, like fresh bread, or imported goods, like Macaroni ‘n Cheese, can be outrageously expensive compared to what we may be used to in the States. For example, I saw a box of Mac ‘n Cheese for $2.95, and most U.S. brand chocolate bars or candy have prices that seem out of place when compared with the fairly low cost of the Ecuadorian brands. Also, even though the cocoa plant is grown in Ecuador, the finished chocolate bar is processed abroad and when it is shipped back to Ecuador, it can cost over $5 dollars.
Don’t forget: trying new things is a must. When people ask if I’ve had cuy, or Guinea pig, while in Ecuador, I can honestly answer “no me gusta,” or it’s not my favorite. To me, the greasy skin and tough meat of the little rodent isn’t a delicacy—especially because when it’s cooking at restaurants on the side of the street, the poor creature is usually speared through the mouth to roast. But differences between cultures’ food is always interesting to witness and you have to experiment once in a while.
(The prices I have included are based on what items that I’ve bought in my two months abroad. They aren’t the best representation of all food prices but should serve as a platform for people interested in researching the part of economics dealing with food costs.)