Friday, May 25, 2012

Locro de Papa in Quito Ecuador

Hearty Soup High in the Andes
Beneath towering snow-capped mountains, the highland Ecuadorians, living at some 10,000 ft (3,000 m) above sea level, have long cherished the restorative powers of their native crop, the potato. Amid the lower fertile valleys, herds of grazing cows provide fresh cheese and milk for the rich, creamy dish locro de papa, guaranteed to get you up and over the next hilltop.

The Ecuadorian Andes favor early risers. As the day warms, moisture condenses and gathers in the air, and by afternoon, more often than not, clouds have obscured the peaks of the world’s longest mountain chain. But at dawn, the full glory of what 19th-century Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt named the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” is revealed, glacier-topped peaks puncturing the lush green, mountainous landscape.
The Andes run longitudinally through Ecuador, dividing the country into three separate realms. The rivers to the west feed the sweltering seaboard of the Pacific Ocean; those to the east forge their way to the great headwaters of the Amazon River, some 2,000 miles (3,200 km) distant. Down the center, the mountain chain is like a Titan’s stepladder laid flat north to south, with the higher ground as the ladder’s rungs and the populated valleys as the spaces in between.
These valleys and their surrounding hillsides are painstakingly cultivated by Andean families on their farmsteads, maintaining their close bond with their land and with Pachamama, the Earth Mother. Rising at dawn, they till and toil beneath the piercing rays of the equatorial sun and the constant gaze of their apus, local mountains personified as deities. Days are long.
At lunch, there’s no better dish to restore their energy than locro de papa, a thick, creamy soup made with the Andes’ most important bequest to the world, the potato, combined with milk and fresh, crumbly white cheese and usually topped with slices of avocado.
The Incas, who came as conquerors from Peru and occupied these lands for around 50 years, were particularly fond of potatoes. They even used the time it took a certain variety to cook as a measurement of time – rather like a boiled egg. They were right to sing its praises: we now know that this tuber supplies every vital nutrient except calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
It grows fast, on very little land, almost anywhere.
And there are lots of varieties: wander through an Ecuadorian highland market and the color, shape, and size of the potatoes on sale is astonishing. In fact, the variety of all market produce here is amazing.
Ecuador’s varying altitudes and its position, right on the equator, allow it to produce just about every crop imaginable. On any one stand, you’ll find blackberries next to bananas, avocados atop tree tomatoes, and corn cobs tumbling over sacks of rice. This cornucopia, crowned by the precious potato, is one of the delights of discovering this engaging, hardworking country.

Best Places to Eat Locro de Papa

Hacienda San Agustín de Callo
There’s no better place to enjoy smooth, delicious, warming locro de papa than in the Inca-walled dining room of Hacienda San Agustín, in the shadow of the picture-postcard Cotopaxi volcano. The hacienda’s walls are thought to have been part of an Incan temple, but even without them, this would be a fine place to dine. Its style is country-home-turnedinn, with individually painted rooms with quirky touches ringing a flower-filled central courtyard and fireplaces keeping the chill at bay at night.
Service is personalized and, if you’re staying here too, the living room with its comfy sofas and books soon feels like it could be your own.
The locro is rich and cheesy, topped with perfectly ripe avocados and with fresh, piquant ají sauce on the side for those who like a little zip in their soup. Also on the menu are quinoa soup and croquettes, llapingachos (potato cakes) with guacamole, and fritada of fried pork in cumin, and all the vegetables are harvested from its own gardens. Desserts are a treat too – guaranteed to have you waddling off to a nearby sofa or hammock for a well-deserved siesta.
Lasso, Cotopaxi Province; open 1–3 PM daily (reservations advisable);

Above : Locro de papa – literally, “potato stew” – may be served smooth or with potato chunks. Achiote (annatto) seeds impart a golden glow

Above : A vendor dishes up fried potatoes at the Thursday Saquisili market in Cotopaxi, south of Quito, one of the largest and busiest in Ecuador 

In Quito
The list of establishments serving locro is as long as the list of its variants, but in Quito, La Choza in the La Floresta neighborhood (; moderate) is regarded by many as the best. It serves lots more fine traditional Ecuadorian dishes as well, such as hornado roast pork (see What Else to Eat, left), goat stew, soups, and ceviche.
Also in the Ecuadorian Andes
In the north, Hacienda Zuleta (www.zuleta. com; expensive) serves delicious soups made from organic ingredients; Hacienda Cusín (see Where to Stay) and historic Hacienda Pinsaquí (; expensive) near Otavalo are also good options. South of Quito, Estrella de Chimborazo (www.expedicionesandinas. com; inexpensive) is a high-altitude mountain lodge with a spectacular setting beneath the Chimborazo volcano, while Hostería Abraspungo near Riobamba (www.; moderate) has a nice rustic feel. In the southern highlands, try the Posada Ingapirca (; moderate) close to the Inca ruins of the same name. In Ecuador’s third-largest city, pretty Cuenca, Hotel Santa Lucía (www.; expensive), Mansión Alcázar (; expensive) and the cheerful Raymipampa (+593 7 283 4159; inexpensive) shouldn’t disappoint.
What Else to Eat
A revelation for many, hornado might well change the way you regard roast pork.
Slow-cooked, succulent, and tender, served with ají hot sauce or chopped red onions, potato patties, and fried corn, it’s a must. The Plaza Grande Hotel in Quito serves a superb suckling pig version. A meal is not a meal in the highlands without a soup appetizer. Look for one with quinoa, another Andean wonder-ingredient. Hacienda Zuleta ( serves delicious soups made from organic ingredients. To warm the cockles on a cold Andean night, a swig of canelazo hits the spot. It’s a hot toddy, usually made with naranjilla fruit and local liquor and spiced with cinnamon. Three Days in the Ecuadorian Highlands
The Ecuadorian highlands around the capital, Quito, are a tale of winding highways between valleys and mountains, rewarding the traveler with breathtaking scenery.
DAY ONE : Head to Quito’s Old Town, regarded as the largest, least-altered, and best-restored in the Americas. A World Heritage site since 1978, its colonial grid of streets is dominated by churches, chapels, convents, and monasteries, with enough museums and curiosities to keep inquiring minds happy for days.
DAY TWO : Travel north to Imbabura Province, famed for flower-growing, haciendasturned- inns, strong indigenous culture, and a daily craft market in Otavalo, which on Saturdays also features early-morning livestock trading and a fruit-and-veggie market.
DAY THREE : Hop on the restored railway from Quito to chug south to Cotopaxi Province, overshadowed by the Cotopaxi volcano and a host of other craggy peaks.
This is dairy and cowboy country par excellence, with comfortable haciendas making fine bases for hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.

Getting to Quito

Quito airport has fair international connections.Due to the state of the roads and erratic driving, it’s best to hire a guide and driver for touring.
Where to stay in Quito
Volcanoland (inexpensive) is well-located by the Cotopaxi volcano.
Hacienda Cusín (moderate) north of Quito has airy, pretty rooms.
Casona de San Miguel (expensive) is a converted colonial mansion in
Quito Visitors’ Bureau;

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