Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mindo with a View

Mindo is a cute little tourist village in Northern Ecuador closed in by towering hills covered by a cloud forest. A cloud forest is as lush as it sounds. And that's because its a forest that, because of it's high-ish altitude, is often shrouded in clouds and mist, adding a mystical atmosphere and lots of condensation to feed the plants. It is dense and green and exotic with hundreds of species of birds (including some pretty cool hummingbirds) and bright colourful flowers everywhere. Look in any direction and the super-sized plants are exploding with life and colour. We are staying at a hostel right by a swift moving river, a tranquil setting perfect for relaxing and watching vibrant birds flit in and out of the bird feeders.

As we didn't accomplish much in Mindo other than hiking down winding, muddy roads back into the serenity of the cloud forest, I thought I'd talk about a topic close to my heart: food. Mindo is the first town in Ecuador where we actually had the opportunity to find a little local restaurant, order in Spanish and try to figure out what exactly local food is in these parts. Everywhere we have stayed so far has had most of the food included and its hard to say whether or not what the hostels were serving is local food, or what they thought us gringos would like- or a combination of both. Other than a few choice places, no one has served us anything with much flavour. Plain pasta, rice and potatoes for dinner. Fried eggs and bread for breakfast. When we got fruit- it was delicious- bananas with much more flavour than at home, watermelon and papaya. Veggies seem to be mostly tomatoes mixed with a few shreds of lettuce. The few times we stayed somewhere where dinner wasn't included we got so distracted by all the delicious fried snacks mid-afternoon and were too full for dinner. What I thought were 'empandas' were actually 'llapingacho'- small fried corn pancakes stuffed with melted cheese.  Fancier places even have this delicious chili-tomato-cilantro-onion sauce for dipping them in. Emapandas are more like pizza pockets, only filled with chicken and various other veggies/flavour. Apparently cheese empanadas do exist- we just haven't found them yet- our eyes are peeled.

So, we were on a mission. We walked up and down the one street in town, lined with restaurants and travel agents. There was a place with a big white concrete sign, the name painted on the front in blocky letters. It's open to the street, as every store is, and inside was lined with plastic tables and chairs. Locals were hunched over enormous portions and fresh fruit juice brightened up the tables. There was a huge banner-sign on the wall with faded pictures of food-filled plates, the names in Spanish and little price stickers by each picture. Our bellies were doing the happy dance. It was perfect. The old woman smiled at us as we studied the banner. J asked if there were any vegetarian options and the woman listed in Spanish the different combinations of rice, fries, beans, avacado etc... She pointed to the images of each choice on the plate pictures combining different sides around the meats. I picked the chicken version. She asked if we wanted to $2 or the $4 size. We picked the $4- we were hungry. It didn't take long before a massive plate of rice, beans, french fries and salad was placed in front of J and myself (mine with chicken instead of beans). Then came the fresh pineapple juice! yum! Everything tasted wonderful and we were stuffed. Woohoo! Mission successful!

We went back for breakfast. Everywhere serves a continental breakfast for $2.50. Tea, juice, a bun and an egg. I'm not sure why this is a good deal when you can get what the locals seem to eat for breakfast (although more research is needed)- fries, rice, salad, egg (although probably chicken instead of egg) and tea- for $2. A little unorthodox, but way more filling and a way better value than the boring western breakfast. Completed with a frozen mango fruit bar- and we were good to go off on another day of hiking through Mindo's magical cloud forest!

Lunch: All that hiking made us hungry. We went back to our new fav spot for food in Mindo. There was a picture of something called
'patacones con quesa.' By the picture and what I could translate, the dish was going to be whatever 'patacones' were, fried with cheese. Turns out patacones are plantains. They were sliced thinly and I think they were coated in a thin corn-based batter before being fried. Then there were chunks of cheese, in the Laughing Cow family, crumbled on top. With the tomato-cilantro salsa- they made for quite the different meal- for $1.50.

Fast forward to the bakery where I discovered 3 delicious buns this afternoon:
#3- the famed 'empanada con queso'- cheese baked into a bun/ turnover -yum
#2- a  big round bun baked with cheese and brown sugar in the middle- interesting, but pretty good
#1- and the winning bun, in my opinion, a longish bun with layers of dulce-de-luche baked into the folds. Essentially- it was a carmel bun and boy do I wish I bought more than one! Don't bother asking J how it tasted- he didn't even get a bite!

Where we stayed: La Casa de Cecilia - $16 for the room for the night. Great deal and really nice sitting area beside the river.

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Mom and Dad Mooney said...

Buen apetito!
We hope you got lots of pictures of the hummingbirds as Dad always misses them as they fly through Niagara Falls!

Anonymous said...

Hi J & K,
That is an excellent discription of the food and it made me hungry to think of it. I am sure your waistline increased somewhat. Sounds good,anyhow.