Sugary-sweet adventures in Quito

She points to a caramel colored treat: “This is ‘caca de perro.”

Yes, you heard her correctly… dog poop.  It is a common site in downtown Quito where many ladies will try to sell it to you.  Just get past the name and give it a try.  These kernels of corn cooked with panela (unrefined sugar) and a few other ingredients like chocolate and vanilla extract, are one of Quito’s most famous candies.

Old town Quito is known internationally as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site because of its well-preserved historic center that includes monumental churches and convents dating to the 17th century, an important part of its tangible heritage.

But only those who visit learn that it has an equally rich INTANGIBLE heritage, including some very tasty treats.

Pay a visit to Luis Banda in the San Roque neighborhood of Quito where his family has been making traditional “colaciones” for 99 years the old fashion way.

Banda’s sweets begin as peanuts, which are first roasted and then rocked back and forth manually by Banda himself, in a large copper pot suspended by rope above hot coals, in his doorway.  The constant movement and addition of homemade sugar syrup, over the course of a couple of hours, converts the peanuts into small, white sugar balls, the size of marbles.  One small bag: $1.00.

As you walk around town you might see some old guys pushing one-wheel carts that stop and squirt a merengue like foam into plastic cups, topped off with blackberry sauce.  This is the traditional “ponche magolita,” made with beer extract, sugar, egg white, and vanilla.  For only $.35 it is definitely worth a try.

And on many corners you find ice cream vendors.  The most traditional sell only one flavor: guanabana – a local fruit with a fleshy pulp, made with dry ice, $.35 and $.50.

The most famous ice creams in Ecuador are the “helados de paila,” made in copper pots. The recipes are simple: fruit, water, and sugar, spun, as if on a frozen turntable, until the sweet liquid mixture becomes solid.  Traditional flavors include some of the country’s iconic fruits: mango, taxo, guanabana, blackberry, and naranjilla.

In Quito’s old town there are two great places to try them:  The Café Plaza Grande located inside the Hotel Plaza Grande, which is located, where else, but the Plaza Grande (corner of Garcia Moreno and Chile Streets).  The price is $7, but it comes mixed with additional fruits, cookies, and a “suspiro” on top and is big enough for two.

The other place, which also has one of the most varied selections of other traditional sweets, is the Heladeria San Agustin (west side of Guayaquil Street between Mejia and Chile, across from San Agustin Convent).  They offer ten flavors: chocolate, blackberry, uvilla, coconut, coffee, maracuya, strawberry, milk, guanabana, and taxo.  One scoop, $1.25, two scoops, $2.00.

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