Ecuador may be a small country in Southern America but my first encounter with its cuisine, however brief, was indeed an eye opener to the relatively unknown territories. Here, in Indonesia, we might already hear about South American countries but we never really tried the cuisines aside from Brazilian. Ecuador has the similar soul but the utilization of its unique ingredients and the execution of them all were just special!
Mr Patricio Ortega, the man behind all these amazing dishes, hailed from the coastal city of Guayaquil. As the envoy of the Ecuadorians, Mr Ortega is highly skilled with his 20 years of experience as a professional chef in five-star hotels back in Ecuador, a private chef in The States, and now as a consultant. Mr Ortega’s love for his native cuisine is surely something that cannot be underestimated.
During this food festival held in Gran Melia Jakarta, he employs everything available from the soil of Ecuador as the ingredients. From the highlands, he uses potatoes, sweet corn, and avocadoes. Inspired from Guayaquil, he utilizes banana, yam, rice, coconut, and other tropical fruits. But what’s admirable from his way of cooking is that he does not serve even a single dish using chilies and he wanted the guests to be able to appreciate the true flavor of the Ecuadorians, simple but sure.
After a brief introduction of the dishes, I decided to start right away from the appetizers. His signature Ecuadorian ceviche was a solid start – fresh, sour, and with plenty of fish. But for me, the stars of the appetizers are the mango vinaigrette used for the salad and definitely the escabeche de atun – tuna in pickled vegetables. The mango vinaigrette was not too oily, not too sweet, and not too sour, it’s just great to be a dipping sauce for almost everything from the appetizer buffet. As for the tuna, it was just like a fantastic bruschetta with plenty of diced tomatoes and herbs on top of it.
Additionally, the ensalada de mariscos – seafood salad with potato, and the banana chips were also great. I’d love to have the chips anywhere I go and even when I’m in my couch potato mode. Why? It’s not that sweet and it’s not that thin but still retains the crispness well,
The main dishes appeared rustic but much to my surprise, it was all delicately flavorful and came from unique ingredients. For example, the arros con congrejo – rice with crabs, was using banana, but the combination worked damn well. The banana was sweet but it added a different flavor and texture to the already savory rice. It’s just ingenious!
The rest was also brilliant. The fried chicken has a similar taste my aunt usually cooks back home, deep with flavors and all, but Chef Ortega added cumin with the chicken and again it went well! It tasted like my nostalgic fried chicken with a sense of Indian flavor there – a work of magic even for such simple recipe.
Another special use of Ecuadorian native ingredients was the sweet corn sauce or cazuela. Here, Chef Ortega used it for his fish and shrimp dish. It became creamy but added a tad of sweet note into the dish but the just-right flavor helped me to dig more and more. Try to combine it with the steamed vegetables or the potato cake dipped with peanut sauce. Lastly, the seco de chivo – lamb stew was also a formidable addition to the main dishes
To seal the deal, I gave a try to many quimbolito – delicious steamed pancake dough in banana leaf, and dipped it to a milky sweet sauce. You can add ice cream with it or any kind of toppings you’d like for your pancakes or waffles but for me, just a simple sauce. If I can, I’d have that as many as I can for my breakfast!
Other desserts were pretty much Westernized but I’d gave more room in my stomach for these and the sweet potato cake worked its way through fantastically. I was in awe with the balanced sweetness and richness. While the pumpkin pie, milky mousse, and the caramel pudding took me to respect the Ecuadorians to a new level and it was all due to the genius Chef Patricio Ortega. Salutations!
There’s still some time left before the end of the festival on November 11 and if it wasn’t for the deadline, I’d be flying back there right away!
PS: Ecuador is now officially in my South American trip bucket list. 😀