On the short cobblestone street of Galavis, in the Florestra district, there is a wonderful Friday Farmers Market. From my hotel window, I can see the vendors setting up bright and early in the morning. I’ve heard they are around until mid-afternoon but I would recommend buying before the heat of the day. Refrigeration is not common here.
The market is only one short block of about 10 vendors all selling fresh and local items. The vast majority are selling either fruits or vegetables. Vendors seems to specialize in one or the other. But there was also a gentleman selling chickens, another selling fresh fish, cutting the steaks and filets as you ordered, and a large stand of fresh flowers. A couple of gentlemen walked the center aisle hawking freshly peeled cloves of garlic.
This last Friday was the first time I had been to a Quiteño market on my own and the wide variety of produce was overwhelming. There are a lot of different foods here. Ecuadorian Corn, or choclo, is nothing like the American variety; each ear is short and wide, each kernel fat and very starchy. Women in the stalls pop off the kernels by hand so you can buy corn either by the ear (mazorca) or by the kilo in kernels (granos). Carrots are short and fat (and very, very tasty), lemons look more like small grapefruit. I bought a potato like vegetable that isn’t a potato at all and another called a white carrot (zanahoria blanca) that is really shaped more like a sweet potato but doesn’t have the flavor of either a carrot or a sweet potato. When cooked, it’s flesh was dry, like a Japanese sweet potato, but it’s flavor was more starchy, not unlike plantain or yucca.
I also bought some things we would all recognize – local fresh cheese to serve with the choclo, green beans, bell peppers in red, yellow, and green, as well as brussel sprouts, all very recognizable foods. And at almost every stand I asked how to cook something. I learned that brussel sprouts are served cooked but at room temperature, sliced and dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, like a salad. Zanahorias blancas are most often pureed like mashed potatoes.
In the weeks that come, I’ll make sure to write about the different types of food, including local names, and tell you how they’re used. But for now, I feel pretty good that I managed to walk away with a decent haul of fresh vegetables for our dinners this week!