It was a fairly humid morning as we descended from the familiar hills of Zaruma to make for the coast for a new years full of burning effigy’s and a flight back to New York!
We left without breakfast and hadn’t decided where we should eat on the road, I dreaded the idea, still feeling shaky in the intestines department. The first town still hadn’t awoken yet and it was nearing noon, so we pressed on a few miles sharing instead a humungus mangoe, a parting gift from Celso Aguilars finca.
We finally made our way out of the hilly country down to a larger road with lots of commerce and a local truckers restaurant? We sat at a large table with some unsteady chairs that looked like they came from someones dining set, yet all mismatched and no worse for wear.There was no menu to speak of and this place looked somewhat better than those next door or across the road. like I would know? Our guide, my brother-inlaw,asked what we wanted. It was a resounding yes on coffee, he ordered corvina for two,chicken for one and he decided on a tongue dish, I rolled my eyes! The food was very simple and oversauced,(peanut and some spices, probably a sofrito)some rice and plantains, we had entered the guineo zone! The tongue was offered around to the rest, I think even my brother-inlaw found the food simple, he even berated the head waitress for being cheap and not serving some yucca alongside the dish. As we made our way again,I wanted to seperate my mind from the world so I plugged in my headphones and blasted some tunes on the ipod. Stopping along the road we bought some cut sugar cane to chupar. Every half mile or so, our hands full after chewing the sugarcane for it’s juice,we would throw it out the windows into the fields, biodegradable.Better than some people just throwing trash without hesitation! As we neared Guayaquil more towns and cities cropped up, we stopped in one town to look at some drying cacao in the sun.
We went to the shaded building where the dried cacao was being held and readied for shipment.I thought about the route, the final destination this fruit would take,and why this land had not been able to process it for market to the taste of it’s biggest consumers? Probably that it isn’t cheap,and the taste hasn’t translated to the production yet?
Following the now busier highway’,started to fill with banana pickers going to celebrate the new year crammed precariously into the back of the company trucks.It seemed summer had arrived here in the tropics, so we stopped again for some water,taking a closer look at local roadside food like fresh conchas ,empanadas, fritada’s and maduro’s baked with queso.
We stayed at my brother-inlaws and decided breakfast the next day would be at "El patacon". we would try one of the coasts best reknowned specialty dishes, bolon.
I love this dish for breakfast and my brother-inlaw was once heralded the "Rey del Bolon" when he ran a small restaurant in the city. Bolon are a plantain fried,mashed, flourished with varying condiments like, cheese,crisp chicharon or both if preferred? The menu at "El Patacon" was filled with coastal specialties, but my eye’s went to the show stopper, the "super bolon"! It was offered with either plantain(verde) or a combination with sweet plantain (maduro). I opted for the mixed with just chicharon, my better instinct would of said just the regular plantain.When I first was introduced to this dish it was my wife who prepared it, she missed some lessons I think,product of parrochial schooling!
My brother-in law had his own ideas and did make a memorable "bolon", full of flavor.What he called concentrado, or the juices and scrapings in the pan from the roasted pork were added to the final product keeping the bolon moist, he also mixed the two types of plantain. It should be added that in Zaruma my wifes home town they make a softer variant with incredible home ground peanuts that are roasted, almost a mushy plantain full of cacuhuete essence! The place was packed and service all over the place, imagine locals filling the tables with cola overdosed kids eating all sorts of non-friendly diet food that would satisfy any bingers! Still without a plantain where would we all be without a bolon!(think about trans fat laws!)This particular one I had ordered came out before I finished the delicious coffee I had, black no milk or sugar thanks! The first bite indicated that they had overdone the mix and it was almost dessert sweet with hints of crisp pork, I suffered and my only condolence was to order an ice cold beer to cool off the tropical heat! Another family member who is notoriously late came in and ordered another dish that had a local spin, caldo de bolas.
A soup with plantain dumplings, yucca,corn and a healthy dose of peanut butter!Comfort food for sure!
During the day we made the tour of the año viejo vendors selling their effigies on a wide strip centrally located in the old part of town, it was a who’s who of
superheroes,politicians and the outright artistic! The night before we tried manuvering the same street.We were stalled in
traffic,finally abandoning our efforts we dodged cars at traffic lights that were out, it was
insane! I crossed myself many times and asked the Virgin of wherever to get me out alive, these guy’s don’t know how to drive!
Our plans were not in place for that nights festivities,logistics,etc….so we ended up waiting in line late in the evening virtually waiting to usher in the evening on another hotel buffet, a glass of wine later and twelve grapes. This being the Hilton I was already dissapointed about the grub,but to give me grapes that were wrapped in plastic looking like used and tattered,finally having to make a wish after each grape. Boom it was 12:00 midnight, I had hardly swallowed the grapes! This being the most unevenful holiday of the year I was almost happy it ended! Leaving an uneventful dinner without any feeling of cheer we circumnavigated the streets of Guayaquil avoiding the smoldering añjo viejo’s that had ceremoniously been torched and forgotten. With only the crackle of fireworks to remind us of the new year’s arrival we went home to bed.
So this was Ecuador, it had been three years since my last visit and it’s alway’s an adventure but it has lots of interesting people,places,and food that keep fond memories alive!Undoubtedly I will make a return visit, smoke some Cuban cigars,check out some new locations and well just deal with what happens on the road!