A guide to street food in Quito

At twelve o’clock today, a hurricane passed through our office. Curiously, papers were untouched and laptops unmolested. The only traces that it had been were the recently vacated office chairs – spinning wildly from their new freedom. Everyone had been evacuated safely, and when I walked out onto the street there they were, standing smilingly, in the line for the chiclo stand.

Food in Quito reflects the atmosphere of the city: fast-paced, full-blooded, and minutely colourful. From the moment that you get up, food is there to be celebrated: grab something quick from a colourful fruit stand, or take a while to wake by sitting in a cafe with the characteristic colada morada and a guagua de pan. If you haven’t ever started a morning with purple drank and a cheesy crocodile, then you haven’t lived well.

Traditional breakfast in Quito, absolutely brilliant.
All the fruits – pina, manzana, platano, chiclo …

The ultimate meal of the day is lunch, as my co-workers and friends would agree. It’s best to eat out, as there are so many different stands to choose from. Do you go for an enormous bowl of the ubiquitous chichlo, and risk not being able to walk upstairs after? This feast of maize kernels, fried plantain, fresh salad, potato and pork is one of the Seven Wonders of Quito. You could choose something from the frito stand: round bolones, or empanadas, fried yucca filled with cheese … all bright yellow and swimming in grease, just how I like it! There are snack stands with approximately five million varieties of candy, all called names like Fiesta and Popi. On the other hand, you can be healthy and load up on a plastic cup of fruit for $1. There’s really something for everyone.

At the park near my house, Parque el Ejido, that proof is in the pudding. Here, vendors almost outnumber the flocks of Quitoans playing and relaxing. Ejido is a playground of Alice-in-Wonderland dimensions. Sand-bags of candyfloss appear to tether a small umbrella’d trolley to the ground. A real-life game of Candy Crush is being played with fruit being stacked and sold from a stand. And the smoke rising from the local kebaberia seems to rival the plume from Cotopaxi.
More like Cotto-paxi, am I right?
What’s a dentist’s favourite patient? The candyman, he flosses every day!

It’s so chilled. Forget lunch al desko or even al Tesco – at Ejido it’s all about the great outdoors, grabbing a bite and participating in a peculiar local phenomenon: mobile park comedy. How it starts: you notice a group of bystanders in the distance. As you approach, a small crowd is drawn around a single comedian and gathers itself in. The crowd, drawing gravitational attraction, expands in size; it inhales and exhales like a single lung as passengers of the comedy show arrive and leave. The comedian senses his power; he uses the black hole of his mouth to entice, encourage, the bystanders to follow him. Slowly, this group of tattered souls moves around the circumference of the park, orbiting the central star; and the vendors follow, with their brightly-striped umbrellas and cawing voices.

What a sight! Listening to comedy in another language is rather exhausting, though. My favourite place to go for lunch is on the roundabout connecting Avenida de 12 Octubre and Av. Cristobal Colon. This takes about 15 minutes from my office. On the corner of the two streets, I will find Blanca. She is tiny and wizened, but has lungs big enough to shout one word – chiclo! – over and over, loud enough to compete with the foghorns of trucks whizzing through the roundabout. A portion of maize is $1.25, and she’ll load me up with a bowl bigger than my head. Do I want chicharron? Zanahorias? Salsa?* Whatever I’m not in the mood to add, she’ll ask if I want more of something else. The answer is always yes: here in Quito, more is moreish.

Blanca’s chiclo. I would eat this every day if I weren’t too lazy to walk here.
*Pork, carrots, sauce.

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