Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 9 - Bananas, Plantains, Chifles, Maduro...

In William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, there is a reoccurring reference to bananas, which are at once exotic yet obtainable in 1930s America.  This is what I remember waltzing into any restaurant in Ecuador.  Plantains in Ecuador are like potatoes in America.  We do our taters fried, mashed, baked, as hash browns, as french fries, etc.  They do their plantains mashed, sweetened, with cheese, as chips, as breading, etc.

Starchy, sweet, mushy, or crunchy: plantains are a staple of the Ecuadorian diet and one of the things I'll miss most in Ecuador.  For the uninitiated, a glossary - abbreviated - of plantains.

  • Chifles - shaved, fried plantain chips.  Good with ceviche.
  • Patacones - flattened but still thick, fried plantain disks.  Eat them with sauce, with cheese, pile food on top, etc.
  • Maduro - very ripe plantain.  Baked or fried and served with rice and beans.
  • Verde - under ripe, firm, starchy plantain.  Used for tortillas, empanadas, bolon, corviche, and breading on fried meats.  (deserves a subcategory all its own)
  • Guineo - what we call "banana"  
Later this week, I'll be posting photos of my baking attempts.  Until then, I strongly recommend you check out for other Ecuadorian cuisine.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 8 - The House Gecko

It stalks its prey in the darkness of night.  Its beady eyes shining across the room.  "Cheep, cheep, cheep," it peeps, scurrying from beneath the frame of calla lilies on the wall.  It's on the prowl for any trespassers, and I welcome it's appetite.  ........He's the house gecko!

No, as my dad lamely joked, he does not offer any other types of insurance, but it serves its pest-patrol purpose well and is usually quite tidy about it.  Plus they are tiny and adorable and sort of pink-colored.

Unfortunately, being that they are nocturnal, I don't have any photos.  In lieu of the house gecko, please accept this photo of it's Amazonian brethren, a bigger, well-fed fellow that was visible by candlelight.  

As you can see, they prefer corners and stay close to the ceilings.  This is fun when you have to clean their poops.

A version of these friendly reptiles has been introduced to my home state.  The reason?  To keep grillos and cucarachas at bay in my college town.  Maybe I won't have to miss the house gecko after all.  That is, if they ever migrate past the campus.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 7 - Deliveries

Stateside there has been a lot of press recently surrounding Burger King's roll out of delivery service in select cities.  I don't want to encourage the "fat American" stereotype, but um....exciiiiting! 

When I first vacationed in Mexico several years ago, many cities were amazingly walkable thanks to Spanish colonial design.  Delivery service played an important role in this.  As I cruised the plazas and peatonals, dirt bikes and scooters whizzed pass, touting delivery service for every food and convenience imaginable.  It was not that these companies encouraged lazy living.  On the contrary, many people walked everywhere and many did not own cars.  The deliveries had developed as a way to bring food and services to these people. 

Fast forward a few years, and I'm living in Ecuador.  Delivery services are not only by car or motorbike.  They are also by bike, cart, and foot.  Some companies specialize only in delivery.  You tell the service what you want picked up, and they arrange to deliver it to you for a fee.

America Norte has yet to understand the awesome abilities of delivery services and the important role they can play in cities which want to encourage more pedestrian activity, fewer carbon emissions, or just greater help to the elderly and disabled.  Hail to the delivery service!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 6 - Surfing

His arms waved in big circles as he walked around the house.  "What are you doing?" I asked.  "I'm just mind surfing," he responded.  I laughed.
That was months ago.  Now, back in the wind and cold of the United States, I'm laying belly down on the cold garage floor after a run, practicing cobra pose and yes, wheeling my arms through the air.  I give one more paddle to catch up with the wave, then pop up and check my stance.  I don't have a board underfoot, but I'm pretty sure it's a good pop-up.  I imagine I ride my wave in close to the shore, now almost in warrior pose, keeping my arms out for balance.  When I think I've stood there long enough, I stand up again (mountain pose), take a deep breath (or maybe it's a sigh), and go indoors. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 5 - Glass Bottle Cokes

I once had friends, logical and rational friends, who would swear to me that glass bottle Coke was the best type of Coke, and that, in fact, glass bottle beverages of all types were inherently more delicious. Their reasoning was inexplicable and seemed to toe the line of delusions such as "the yellow m&ms taste more lemony and the brown ones taste more chocolatey."   My response was always bemused.

Now in Ecuador, glass bottles are the preference, and something about these mystical bottles has pulled me in.  Is it the instant relief they provide from the equatorial sun?  The novelty of drinking out of a glass bottle?  The convenience store community of glass bottle drinkers?

After hours of taste tests and contemplation, I've come no closer to understanding the mysteries.  I have instead hatched numerous plans for bringing glass bottles back to America Norte  - my most elaborate being a "Coke for America" campaign that knows no bounds.  For those with a belief in the power of social networking and common sense approach to change - or just a belief in glass bottle Cokes - you can sign the petition to get Coca-Cola back in glass bottles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 4 - Fireworks

As I watched this week's fireworks display from my living room window, I thought of the Ecuadorian flag.  The frequency of fireworks in my neighborhood alone is enough to honorarily re-purpose the yellow, red, and blue of the flag into the tri-color of a burning flame.  This nation is a nation of pyrotechnics.  Birthdays, holidays, and festivals all require explosives.  While my weekly fireworks shows are probably the result of birthdays (always a big to-do here), the most famous displays in Ecuador occur during January. 

In the weeks leading up to New Year's Eve, cartoon characters, political figures, and celebrities mingle in the streets as papier-mâché figures known as año viejos.  They can be as small as a kleenex box or as large as a house. Businesses keep small change jars, and customers contribute money for fireworks.

Then on New Year's Eve, these "old years" are strapped to cars and buses, driven around the city, and finally toasted and exploded in bacchanalian 
fiestas across the nation.  It's similar to Las Fallas in Spain, but without a lot of safety precautions.  This year, I'm saying good-bye to the old year by leaving Ecuador, but this is one tradition I hope to take with me. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Good Bye, Ecuador! Two Weeks of Things I'll Miss: Day 3 - Dollar Coins

In the States, I used to hate dollar coins.  They were either:

  1. Given as tips by old people who thought they were novel
  2. Refused as a legitimate currency at vending machines
  3. Less flat and easy to shove in your pocket or wallet
Back then, I preferred twenties.  Of course, now that I live in Ecuador, land of the fifty cent coke, the eighty cent popsicle, and the $1.00 pound of peaches, I covet Sacajaweas.  Ecuador switched from the Sucre to U.S. dollars in the 2000s to have a more stable currency.  It's awesome for travelers from the States, except for one thing:  Twenty dollar bills have become a liability. It's difficult to break them.  So, you carry only fives, and you hoard your dollar coins, refusing to make change even for friends. 

You may be wondering, "Won't these be in the States when you return?  What's all the fuss about?"  Unfortunately, as NPR reported in June, dollar coins are costly to make, rarely used and, therefore, soon to be discontinued in the States.