Destination #2: Ecuador
The second destination on our quest to meet 500 women around the world was Ecuador. Immediately after landing in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, we witnessed the colored buildings, colored tiles in sidewalks, and vibrant displays in shop windows.The Ecuadorian culture uses color as an important form of expression. We made it a point to capture this throughout items we curated for the Ecuador box!
Why We Chose Ecuador
Ecuador is a beautiful understated country that is often overshadowed by Peru, a larger country with similar cultural history. Ecuador has everything a small country could want such as coast, mountains, history, and modern business. It’s so small though that the cars are registered to the country, not the county or state like we do it in the United States. Markets in Quito are well-known and booming with vivid products. Between the markets and stunning geography, Ecuador felt like the perfect place to visit.
The Lay of the Land
Ecuador gets its name from the equator, which runs through the country only a few kilometers away from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. This makes Ecuador one of the only countries in the world named after a geographical feature. Fun Fact: It is rumored that if you can balance a raw egg on the head of a pin at the equator, the government will award you a certificate! Ecuador is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the entire world due to its many geographical features such as: the Andes Mountains, el Oriente (Amazon jungle), la Costa (Pacific coastal lowlands), and the Galapagos Islands to the west.
Before we began shopping at the markets, we took the first couple of days to explore the geography in Ecuador. On the first day, we left Quito to drive up into the Andes Mountains, where we passed magnificent dormant volcanoes and deep river valleys. We witnessed the Peguchi Water Falls in the Andes Mountains, which gave us a true feeling of an equatorial rain forest. It was absolutely incredible!
We spent most of our time in and around Quito. Since Quito was built on the ruins of an Incan city, it is very long and narrow. The mountains are so tall around it, the city just keeps growing up the valley, rather than up the mountain sides. The weather in Quito was a breath of fresh air with temperature averages between 60°F and 70°F. Perfect weather for spending most of our time outdoors and exploring this beautiful country!
The Culture / The History
Each person we interacted with in Ecuador was kind, inviting and, ready to share their life stories and history of the land. A brief history lesson: Over the last 8,000 years, a variety of cultures and territories influenced what Ecuador is today, the Republic of Ecuador. There are thousands of articles online if you’re interested in reading more about the six eras of Ecuadorian history. Notably, not that long ago, in May of 1999, Ecuador and Peru signed a treaty ending a nearly 60-year border dispute.
Many of the buildings and homes throughout Ecuador have Spanish, French, Greek, and early American influences. The non-Spanish styles were a visual representation of Ecuadorians breaking from Spain and a form of protest following the country’s independence. During colonialism, Spanish buildings were often painted white and did not include any color. Following independence, many Ecuadorians painted their houses in expressive colors.
Upon arrival in Quito, we learned that no currency exchange was needed! Ecuador has been using the U.S Dollar for nearly twenty years – this made getting right to the fun much easier! Note: There are no prices on anything, so you have to ask the price. Most people aren’t comfortable with haggling but they seem to view it as a social activity. If you can’t get the price you want, walk away. Another stall may have a similar item or they will come after you and offer a better price.
Otavalo, Ecuador is high in the Andes Mountains above Quito and is known for their extensive markets. There were so many colors, prints, and patterns everywhere we looked. Each vendor rents a tiny stall where they display their goods. Most stalls have a main focus such as knitted products like caps and scarves.
The artistry within the border of Quito was impressive. During our time in Ecuador, we met many women but Delfina was certainly memorable. We met Delfina in the Otavalo Markets. She hand-painted a majority of the bowls featured in the Passport500 Ecuador box. Her husband carved the bowls and then he hands it to her to paint and design as she pleases! Each bowl is one-of-a-kind and features beautiful and intricate designs, which is a testament to her creative abilities!
In addition to the many different products you can find at these markets, you will also find the most amazing roses! The Cayambe region in the Andes Mountains is a primary producer of long-stemmed roses for the entire world. If you have ever received long-stemmed roses, chances are, they came from Ecuador. There are booths at most corners in this region that have dozens of these beautiful roses you can purchase! The colors are vibrant and the scent was strong and fragrant. These markets were so different than our first experience in Morocco but we loved getting to experience markets in a completely different part of the world.
One of our favorite parts of traveling to different countries is experiencing new food dishes. From citrusy ceviche, to fresh coconut water, to delicious empanadas – the Ecuadorian cuisine did not disappoint. While at the market, we ran into food vendors at every turn – full flavor met us every time we sat down to eat.
Getting fresh coconut milk and coconut is a form of entertainment in Ecuador. A machete-wielding vendor lops off the top of a coconut, cuts the husk off of, sticks a straw in it and hands you the whole thing. You stand there and enjoy this fresh treat and when finished you hand it back to the vendor. He swings his machete a few times at the coconut and Voila, it falls open in three pieces from which he cuts out the juicy fresh coconut meat, and hands it to you in a baggy. A delicious snack as you walk through the market!
One dish we were served on more than one occasion was traditional Ecuadorian empanadas (em-pan-ah-duhs) These are often filled with seasoned rice and veggies but you can also get them filled with cheese. I’ve made these empanadas de viento (fried cheese empanadas) for my family and they were a hit! (Compliments of www.laylita.com)
15 medium size or 25 small empanada discs – can use homemade dough (recipe below) or store bought empanada discs.
For the homemade empanada dough:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tablespoon of sugar – optional (if you want a hint of sweetness in the dough)
- 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cut in 8 pieces
- ¼ cup or 4 tablespoons of orange juice
- ~2/3 cup sparkling water or still water, add more if needed
For the cheese filling and cooking:
- ~2 ½ cups grated cheese (you can use quesillo, mozzarella, monterey jack, Oaxaca or any other cheese that melts well or a combination of your favorites)
- 1 cup finely chopped white onion (optional)
- ½ cup sugar for sprinkling
- Oil for frying
To make the empanada dough:
- Mix the flour, salt, sugar (if using), and baking powder in a food processor.
- Add the pieces of butter and pulse until mixed.
- Add the orange juice and sparkling water – start with ½ cup of water and then add more as needed, pulse and mix until clumps of dough start to form.
- To make the empanada dough by hand, follow the same instruction but use your hands to mix the ingredients together.
- Form a ball with the dough and knead lightly.
- Place the dough in bowl, coat with small amount of oil, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour.
- To make the empanada discs or rounds, you can either roll out the dough into a thin layer and cut out round disc shapes for empanadas (use round molds or a small plate). Or you can make several small balls of dough, about 1.5 oz to 2 oz in weight, then use a tortilla press or a rolling pin to roll them out – they don’t need to be perfectly round. It’s really important to get the discs very thin since they cook very quickly when you fry them, if after cutting out the round shapes or pressing them with a tortilla press, they are still thick, try rolling each disc a little more until it is very thin. Some people also use a pasta machine to get the dough very thin.
- The empanada discs can be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator or freezer to use later.
- You can find more details and step by step photos on the process for making empanada dough for frying here.
To fill, assemble, and fry the empanadas:
- Mix the grated cheese and chopped onions together.
- Spoon the cheese filling on the center of the each empanada disc.
- Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges, first pressing gently with your fingers, next use a fork to press down and seal, finally twist and fold the edges of the empanadas and then use the fork again for the final sealing.
- Chill the empanadas for at least an hour, this will help them seal better and prevent leaks.
- Fry the empanadas either in a deep fryer or in a frying pan, if using a frying pan add enough oil to cover at least half of the empanada, let the oil get very hot and fry each empanada until they are golden on each side or about a minute per side.
- Place the empanadas on paper towels to drain any excess oil, sprinkle generously with sugar and serve warm.
Ecuador is a wonderful country full of culture, color, beautiful geographical terrain, and much more! If you get the chance, visit Ecuador and experience it yourself! Until then, purchase the Passport500 Ecuador box and bring five hand-selected Ecuadorian items into your life. 🙂