Welcome to Quito, Part 6: ‘Whining’ and dining

Speaking of food: I don’t always buy Ecuadorean-brand balsamic vinegar, but when I do, I prefer “Snob.” (As an editor, I have to note that the label on that bottle of olive oil in the background is cut off; in this photo, it reads “Aceite de virgen” — “Oil of Virgin.” That was unintentional.)

Quito has some very good restaurants, at least if you A: prefer Ecuadorean food or B: don’t mind spending a lot of money.

We have eaten at some of the fanciest joints in Quito: The food is exceptional, and the prices are not unlike what you’d expect to see in Chicago or Manhattan. Needless to say, this is a rare treat for us.

The funny thing about getting other types of ethnic food in Ecuador is that it mostly tastes like Ecuadorean food. Chinese food is abundant in Quito, but I’m told it tastes more like Ecuadorean food than anything resembling Chinese. For example, there’s a new Mongolian restaurant near our house. One night we walked past and looked at the menu. It featured numerous typically Ecuadorean dishes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Ecuadoreans are not quite as adventurous as diners elsewhere.

Thankfully, we have found two good, cheap restaurants near our house – both owned and operated by Italians. One is a pizzeria with its own brick oven. (This is the restaurant where Katherine met President Correa, which she detailed in a previous blog post.) Another serves homemade pasta, pizza and other Italian delicacies, with most of their ingredients imported from Italy. It is really a great restaurant, very inexpensive … and conveniently one block from our building. Needless to say, we are on a first-name basis with many of the staff.

At home, we eat vegetarian. In Ecuador, though, vegetarianism is (apparently) almost unknown – meat is king in this country. Some places you can’t even order a garden salad without meat in it. The other day, at a Juan Valdez coffee shop (a popular chain of coffee shops here), Katherine ordered a simple croissant. It arrived – with ham stuffed inside. Another time, we were at a burger joint and she ordered a cheese sandwich with a bunch of veggies (essentially, a cheeseburger without the burger). The cashier was overwhelmed: Wait – you want a what? Who would order such a thing? It took a few minutes of careful explanation for Katherine to place her order, and even then, her sandwich didn’t come out right.

That said, service in Ecuador varies widely. There lacks a service culture as there is in the U.S., or even in other Latin American countries with high tourism, such as Mexico or Puerto Rico. This extends to restaurants, shops, government offices, you name it – sometimes the service is really good, sometimes it’s awful; usually it’s mediocre at best, depending on where you are. This is something that I think will change as time goes by: Ecuador has a vast capacity for ecological tourism, and legions of Americans, Europeans and Asians are visiting this country – and are likely to visit in greater numbers in the future – to bear witness to its staggering biodiversity. To vie for these visitors’ wallets, the tourism and service industries would do well to raise their game just a bit.

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