Day 272: Cuenca, Ecuador
Tis the season for round-ups and year in review posts. Rather than a photo post of my favourite destinations I wanted something that would reflect the excitement, pleasure and diversity of Latin America.
When I starting thinking about what I would remember most it seemed silly that I had not immediately considered my first love – food.
So here are my most memorable eats from the year. Some of them are the most delicious and some of them are just, well, memorable.
Mexico – Crickets
While I don’t think I ate anything in Mexico that I didn’t absolutely love, Oaxaca certainly introduced me to many things I loved.
Locals eat these crispy critters flavoured with chile and garlic as a snack. It was delicious and you would never know you were eating bugs if you didn’t see the tentacles.
I could write an entire blog about the deliciousness of Mexico, its streetfood and the other amazing things I ate in Oaxaca such as pickled pigs feet. I only spent 5 weeks in Mexico and I just scratched the surface.
Guatemala – Breakfast
I really had to think about the food in Guatemala because it didn’t stand out. It’s tough to be next in line after Mexico and because tourism is well developed all I remember are a lot of pizza and sandwich places.
However, breakfast is cheap and plentiful and was one of my favourite meals.
Belize – Stewed chicken with rice and coleslaw
I am by no means an expert on Belize. I spent a week there, decided I hated it and moved on. As an entry point Belize City was a disaster and my only memory that was not frightening was the stewed chicken I bought at Jenny’s Shack.
In Caye Caulker I also bought Chef Boyardee beef ravioli and ate it straight out the can but maybe that was a low point in my travels.
Honduras – Baleadas
Not surprisingly there was seafood aplenty in Honduras, particularly at the divers paradise Bay Islands. But my most fond memory is the discovery of baleadas.
My favourite filling of the toasted tortillas was bean puree, avocado, lettuce and tomato. In not-so-distant second place was learning that roasted corn slathered with mayonaise and fresh cheese tastes really good.
Nicaragua – Quesillos
Truly unique to Nicaraguan, I have never seen anything like Quesillos before but they are a cheese on cream on cheese masterpiece.
Nicaragua seemed to have a stronger food culture than Guatemala with many local specialties, and even though the nacatamale wasn’t as good as tamales in Mexico, I still enjoyed them.
Panama – Shrimp cocktail
This was a tough country to crack. I found the American influence on the country meant a lot of fast food joints and even street vendors were mostly selling hamburgers or hot dogs.
Colombia – Ten course dinner
Colombia has fantastic set lunches and incredible seafood but the most memorable was a 10-course dinner in Salento. It was so delicious I had it 3 nights in a row and then waddled out of Salento and back to Cali.
Ecuador – Cuy
Although the country is filled with porky deliciousness, the most memorable food was a different kind of pig. In Banos, my mother, sister and I went to a restaurant specializing in cuy and ordered the lunch special.
A bit traumatizing for my mother as she had once owned a pet guinea pig and was served a portion with feet. However, my sister who is notoriously picky really enjoyed the meal and agreed it tasted like chicken.
Peru – Ceviche
I’ve only spent a few weeks in Peru but have already fallen in love with ceviche and learned how to make it. In particular the discovery of black conch ceviche, a specialty of Northern Peru has landed itself on the top 10 things I’ve eaten.
When I look at all of these foods I realize that while they are all part of Latin America and speak Spanish (well except Belize) they are all incredibly different. What one country may eat changes from town to town depending on what is available, the history of foreign settlements and their proximity to the ocean.
It also makes me feel incredibly lucky to have experienced all of these things, as I didn’t know most of them even existed. I don’t know what 2011 will bring but I am looking forward to eating my way through it.