I have been reading Layla Pujol’s blog lately. She is an Ecuadorian nomad who loves to cook and travel. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington, USA. I find it entertaining that as an Ecuadorian nomad she is such a great resource for me, being and American nomad in Ecuador. Her insights are much more on point than the ones from tourists, or expats.
Not long after I read her blog about 15+ Ecuadorian street foods you must try, I found myself hungry somewhat before lunch time. I figured if I stayed around the condo until lunch time, I really wouldn’t get writing done, so I might as well go out in search of street food. I wanted to find about a dish, which Layla says you must not miss: “Salchipapas are my Ecuadorian street food/fast food weakness, it’s basically french fries – served in a bowl or plastic cup (or even plastic bag sometimes)- topped with small bite size pieces of hot dogs, salsa rosada (which is mayo + ketchup or homemade mayonnaise with tomatoes and spices), tomato and onion curtido salsa, and sometimes also tree tomato or tamarillo aji hot sauce,” Layla writes.
I pulled on a sweater, in defense of the perpetual spring chill in the Andes, and laced up the tennis shoes, which I am still not used to wearing. Sicking my Bose Sound Sports into my ears, making sure they were paired to my phone. I set my listening to Stuff You Missed In History Class, and checked to see that my Apple Watch was set to Outdoor Walk, before heading out to the street.
As I have written in earlier posts, Cuenca is a quiet and laid back town. Saturdays are still laid back, but there are more people milling about the street, and there tends to be more music. As I walked toward the Cathedral, I keep my iPhone out to take photos of doors, for an upcoming post. At one point a woman with a Northern European accent stopped and said, “They are too beautiful not to take photos of.” We spoke a little while about my photo project, before we each continued on our diverging paths.
As I was walking past the church, which is between my condo and the Cathedral, I noticed that in addition to the lady, who was always there selling empanadias, there was a man with a cart selling Chochos (lupini beans), chifles (thin green plantain chips) and tostado (Andean corn nuts), and popcorn. I knew that I had seen this sort of dish in Layla’s blog, but I had been so taken by the description of the french fries, I hadn’t paid much attention to the dish with the chips.
I was quite hungry, but I hesitated, and watched as several people purchased small bags, and walked off eating the contents with plastic spoons. When I saw he was idle, I went up and asked the price. He held up a plastic cup and told me it was a dollar. I guess I should have said that I wanted it in a bag, and paid a lower price for less, but I was hungry. Thanks to my sketchy reading of Layla’s writing, I wasn’t really sure what I would be getting. I thought that at the very least I would get some chips with a sauce of some sort. I watched as he layered in beans, plantain chips, popcorn, and corn nuts. He looked up at me and pointed to a salsa of fresh onions and tomatoes. I said, “Si, gracias.” I repeated myself as he pointed at some sort of sauce in a pitcher, and a lime.
After he squeezed fresh lime juice over the bowl and took one of my Susan B Anthony dollar coins, I walked away to a spot on the edge of the church foundation where I could sit and eat. It was really good. Once I finished, I wondered off looking for a trash bin. Not longer after I had divested myself of the trash, I spotted a Churro seller. One Churro for 25¢ or four for a dollar. I bought one, knowing that there would be more street food before my walk was over.
Single churros were served in little slips of plastic, that seemed to be the smallest bags cut in half, so that the remaining corner caught any of the sauce which might drip off the churro. I was offered a choice of chocolate or dulce de leche sauce. I chose the latter.
When I first arrived in Cuenca, I saw lots of street vendors selling what looked like ice cream. I was puzzled by this since though the weather was cool, it wasn’t enough for people to have trays of un refrigerated ice-cream. Only recently, I had convinced myself to try whatever it was. What could be the worse thing? I mean people bought a lot of it as I was watching.
I am reminded of a time when my best friend and I were dinning at an Indian restaurant in London, we decided to try the Bombay Duck. After the waiter walked away, a rather stereotypical British gentlemen came to our table and said, “You know that Bombay Duck, is not Duck?” He said it in a tone of voice that said, “Of course you two dumb American women don’t know anything of umportantnce.” I looked up at him and said, “Of course, I love dried fish.” Later as we strolled down to the local park, I remarked, “It would have been nice if he had informed us that Bombay Duck at that restaurant, was the foulest dried fish we would ever come across.”
Anyway, I was sure that the stuff being served in ice-cream cones, had to be better than my first and last Bombay Duck. As things tend to work out, as soon as I decided to try the treat, I was no longer seeing it being sold on the street. Before I had a chance to bravely try it, Layla’s blog informed me that it was, Espumillas. A cone of whipped cream, sometimes flavored with fruit, and topped with sauces and jimmies.
When I got to the cathedral, I was surprised that the only food vendors I saw, in the park, were the indigenous ladies selling frozen treats from igloo coolers. Though I plan on patronizing them someday, I wasn’t in the mood for ice-cream right then. I walked around the cathedral looking for more vendors. I stopped for a moment and listened to a band that sounded like a Peruvian band I had once heard in Seattle. Dropping a coin in their collection hat, I headed to the Plaza Rotary (the Rotary Club plaza) near Mercado 9 de Octubre, suspecting that on a lazy Saturday afternoon, there were sure to be plenty of food venders in the Plaza.
On my way to the plaza, I spotted a woman carrying a tray of the whipped treat on her head, while she carried the legs of the tray over her shoulder. I rushed to catch up with her. When I asked her the price she set the tray legs down and removed the tray from her head and placed it on the set of legs, and proceeded to serve me up a cone. I let her put all the toppings on, except the coconut. I wanted to find out what it tasted like without such a strong flavor.
Walking down the street, eating the whip, I wasn’t sure if I really liked it. It tasted more like a meringue than the whip cream I expected. Later I reread Layla’s blog and saw that she had written Meringue, not whip cream. I need to try it again, without the expectations of cream. I will probably like it better.
I continued to hunt for the french fry dish, without luck, until it was time for me to swing by the grocery store for wine and butter, before heading home.
The above video is just to give you a feel of how the plaza seemed to me on Saturday. Another one of the Peruvian bands was playing. I sort of like how so many of my videos have dogs in them.