For less than the cost of a small hamburger and drink at McDonalds, you can walk away from lunch in Cuenca having eaten a three-course meal, drink included. Almuerzo (lunch) is offered in small restaurantes along every block. Patrons squeeze into tiny establishments–indoors or open-air–with three, four or five tables and wait for the owner/chef/ waiter to serve the mid-day meal.
You have little say in the menu. That’s all been prepared ahead of time.
First comes juga. A glass of fruit juice — be it anything from pineapple to naranjilla, maro or mango. Ecuador grows hundreds of varieties of fruits, most I’ve never heard of.
Babaco is bright yellow, tart to the taste and shaped like a torpedo.Some call it champagne fruit. Chirimoya, also called custard apple, is the size of a softball. Eat the sweet pulp, spit out the many black seeds. Pitajaya, Ecuador’s most expensive fruit, is so sweet you’ll want to cut the top off and eat it with a spoon. Drink up…it’s good for you.
Sopa comes next. I’ve attempted to eat a mystery soup with cheese, beans, some kind of meat and plantains in a creamy broth but handed it over to husband. David loved it. I’ve wanted seconds on creamy broccoli soup and chunky potato soup. Lunch is a gamble.
For the main course, rice is a staple. And it often comes with a side of papas frite (french fries). Carb diets don’t have a chance in Ecuador. A small portion of meat–beef, chicken or pork–provides the protein. Count on three or four bites, just the right amount of ounces for any die-hard weight watcher. A small green salad usually adds color to the plate.
The owner/chef/waiter clears the table and places before you a small amount of sliced fruit, a tiny bowl of jello or two-bites of a chocolate brownie. A taste of something sweet. Nothing more. You got your sugar from the boatload of rice in the main course.
Lunch is over and you leave well-fed, with cash in your pocket.
I compare the $1.75 for a homemade meal here to the $12-$15 lunches I had in Atlanta where I too often left overfed and overcharged.
I’ll go with almuerzo, por favor.