Students in Dr. Karen Metheny’s Summer Term course, Anthropology of Food (MET ML 641) are contributing guest posts this month. Today’s post is from Madeline V. Long.
In March, I traveled to Vilcabamba, Ecuador, to visit my parents who were living there with friends for the winter. In regard to food, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew from talking to my dad that there would be plenty of guinea pig to eat, but beyond that offering, which I politely did not try, I had very few preconceived notions on what Ecuadorian food and cuisine comprised.
Vilcabamba is a small village in the southern region of Ecuador and is a sort of melting pot of expatriates. Because of this, there are a broad range of foods available to please many palates. When my parents picked me up from the airport, they had Pain Au Chocolate from the local French bakery for us to enjoy on our ride back to the village. For lunch, we went to a café that offered falafel and curries among other vegan and vegetarian things. That evening, we dined at a sort of western cowboy themed restaurant where I had surprisingly good pizza margherita and my mom had pasta primavera. Needless to say, these were not the kinds of foods I expected to be eating.
While in Vilca, as the locals call it, the most traditionally Ecuadorian dish I had was Salchipapas, a hot dog on top of French fries served with ketchup and mayonnaise. This dish is actually a popular street food originating from Lima, Peru, and has spread to other parts of Latin America like Ecuador and Boliva over the years.
It wasn’t until we were in the larger city of Cuenca that we would visit Tiesto’s, one of very few restaurants in the country that offers Ecuadorian food. After we decided on the tasting menu, our waiter brought out ten small dishes, each filled with different varieties of stewed hot peppers, pickled vegetables, and other condiments to be eaten with bread and the meal we were about to have. Aside from these delicious accompaniments, the highlight of the meal was the Ecuadoran Potato Soup made with potatoes, onion, garlic, cumin, annatto, milk, cheese, and cilantro. We also had scrambled eggs with corn, sweet potato dumplings, and grilled meat.
While this restaurant is considered one of the best in Cuenca and Ecuador, it did not seem to be frequented by locals, most likely because it was more expensive than most places. How authentically Ecuadorian of an experience was eating at this restaurant if the only Ecuadorian people there were the ones working? I found myself thinking about the differences in culture and wondering if a local wanted to go out for traditional Ecuadorian food, would they be able to? Or, is that kind of food something they would only enjoy in their home, made by themselves, friends, or family? Here in New England, if someone wants to go out for dinner and enjoy regional cuisine, the options are endless. Why is it that in some countries, going out to eat means enjoying a cuisine different than your own and in others it might mean enjoying something familiar?