Ecuador comes to town

Sep 21, 2014, 04:30 IST | Phorum Dalal

Tropical fruits and vegetables from the rainforest, seafood along the pacific coast and potatoes and rice from the Highlands — Phorum Dalal gets a taste of Ecuador, the smallest country of South America which lies on both the northern and southern hemisphere

Ecuador may not be a tourist destination for India yet, but Héctor Cueva Jácome, the consul general representing Ecuador in Mumbai, aims to change this. Last week, he hosted a travel and culinary introductory event in the city as the first step in this direction.

Encocado de Pescado is fish in a coconut stew which is made tangy with oranges and lemons
Encocado de Pescado is fish in a coconut stew which is made tangy with oranges and lemons. Pics/Phorum Dalal

When we heard about Ecuador, we instantly thought of Argentine Marxist revolutionary and physician Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his travels through the South American country, along with his friend Alberto Grenada in 1952. Their journey was chronicled in the book, The Motorcycle Diaries, and later a film by the same name.

Boasting of the Amazon rainforest, the pacific coast, Andes — the highlands — and the Galapagos islands, each of the four diverse regions in Ecuador offers a distinct cuisine. Priscila Moscoso Meiller, the trade officer at the Consulate General of Ecuador in Mumbai, gave us a lowdown of the local food culture.

Ecuadorian chocolate truffles
Ecuadorian chocolate truffles

“With the Equator passing through the country, the shadow disappearing in the sun is not the only marvel of the country,” she joked.

Local flavours
Ecuadorian food comprises tropical fruits, such as oranges, lemons and mangoes, and vegetables, which are eaten with rice, chicken, seafood and beef stews.

The food is on the sweeter side but a spicy sauce is always served on the side. Ecuadorians also consume a lot of soups, made from corn, black beans, greens and lentils. “While fish is a staple diet along the coastal region, people living in the highlands consume a lot of potatoes. Apart from spices such as chillies, cumin and turmeric, we also use a lot of herbs such as thyme and rosemary. Coconut is a common ingredient in our food,” Meiller explained.

In the month of October, they celebrate the Day of the Dead, where they eat in the memory of their deceased family members. “The meal is consumed at a cemetery and comprises a typical bread called Colada Morada, which symbolises the dead person. This is served with a thick and hot juice made from herbs and fruits,” she added.

The two most popular dishes of Ecuador are Encocado de pescado, fish cooked in a coconut and citrusy stew and Empanadas De Viento, which is similar to Indian gujias. “Back home, they are bigger and stuffed with cheese and onions. We sprinkle them with sugar,” said Meiller.

When it comes to street food, they have a wide variety of options such as Choclo (our very own corn on the cob), Ceviche (raw seafood marinated in citric juice), Cevichocos (a vegetarian ceviche of cocoa beans, which are native to Ecuador), Churros (tiny sea snails served in a bag and topped with diced onions, coriander and lime), Empanadas and Salchipapas
(fried sausages).

Chocolate tasting
Chocolatier Sanjana Patel conducted an Ecuadorian chocolate tasting session for the audience as part of the event. She began with the history of cocoa beans, which were discovered by the Mayans. “There are three varieties of cocoa beans.

Criollo, found in Ecuador and Venezuela, makes three per cent of the total cocoa crop; Forastero, the Robusta bean cultivated for mass production; and Trinitario, which is a hybrid between the Criollo and Forastero trees, originated in Trinidad,” she said.

She added that in the ’90s, a massive flood in the highlands of Ecuador destroyed all the cocoa crops, and now, only a rare quantity is produced. Patel also taught us how to devour a chocolate.

We were given chocolate truffles, which we placed on our tongues, and just like wine, we allowed its flavours to release on our palate. After tasting the melt-in-the-mouth truffle, which was nutty with hints of vanilla and caramel, we also tried the hot chocolate, which was thick, dark and milky.

Now that you know what Ecuadorian cuisine is like, the next time you think of taking off for a vacation, head to Ecuador. At home, you can also try the Empanadas De Viento, a crunchy, sweet and salty snack.

Empanadas De Viento

For the dough
>> 3 cups all-purpose flour
>> ¼ tsp salt
>> 4 tbsp butter
>> 1 egg
>> 4-5 tbs water

Empanadas De Viento

For the filling
>> 2½ cups grated cheese
>> 1 cup onions, finely chopped
>> ½ cup sugar
>> Oil for frying

>> For the dough, mix the flour and salt
>> Add butter, egg and water until a lumpy dough forms
>> Knead the dough and keep aside for 30 minutes
>> Roll 15 round discs
>> For the filling, mix the grated cheese and chopped onions together
>> Spoon the cheese filling on the centre of each empanada disc
>> Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges. First press gently with your fingers, next use a fork to press down and seal, finally twist and fold the edges of the empanadas
>> Chill the empanadas for an hour
>> Deep-fry the empanadas until they are golden on each side
>> Sprinkle sugar and serve warm

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