“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.” - Mark Kurlansky
I agree whole-heartedly with the above statement, and on top of it I find eating a very pleasurable experience in itself. If you are anything like me, you try and squeeze in at least one special meal on each of your travels. Luckily, on a recent trip to Quito, Ecuador, I squeezed in 3 pretty top-notch meal experiences, and I was only in the city for 4 days! A positive affairs for a city that is competing with the Galapagos Islands, and many far larger, more cosmopolitan cities in South America.
So, if on your way to the Galapagos Islands, you find yourself with a day or two to spare in Quito (which you will have if you are travelling with Llama Travel), here are Quito dining experiences which I highly recommend.
Traditional Dishes, Traditional Ingredients, and a Traditional Colonial Chapel
Los Milagros, Quito Old Town
Located in a chapel complex in the oldest neighbourhood of Quito’s Old Town, you are definitely in for an atmospheric experience at Los Milagros. The chapel itself is hundreds of years old, as is the cobbled courtyard you walk across to reach the intimate restaurant. You walk down a steep cobbled street lined with colonial-era buildings to reach it, and need to push through a creaky wooden gate to get onto the premises.
Once you make it to your table you’ll notice that the menu is underpinned by a desire to revive traditional Ecuadorian ingredients and cooking techniques. Recognising, as Kurlansky did, that food is an intricate part of any culture, the folks behind Los Milagros want to keep these cooking traditions, and the stories they tell, alive.
The menu is small, with 2-3 options per course. I went all out with a beef steak which was served with a few different kinds of Andean potatoes, some corn (known as mote in much of South America) and a very distinctly-flavoured gravy. Desert was a piece of cake. While both items were created using traditional techniques, the cake was the most notable with a slightly odd bread-like texture and density to it.
The food at Los Milagros is good, but the best part was meeting people who are so passionate about keeping Ecuador’s food heritage alive, and of course, learning a bit about the history of Ecuadorian cuisine. Eating that food captured my imagination and had me picturing what it might’ve been like to be in Ecuador 200 years ago.
Trendy Ecuadorian Fusion Food Blending Historic Ingredients with Contemporary Cooking Methods
Urko, La Floresta
Urko is a super trendy (it has a very urban feel, complete with open kitchen so you can peer at what the chefs are up to) eatery in the heart of one of Quito’s most modern neighbourhoods. It thus provides a great juxtaposition between old and new. The menu is focused on contemporary dishes created with traditional ingredients, or to paraphrase their website, this is food using the same ingredients as their ancestors were using centuries ago, but cooked with modern culinary techniques. It tastes really good, and thanks to the small-portion tapas-style of presentation, I clubbed together with a couple of table mates and got to try a nice range of dishes.
The menu changes frequently but to give you an idea, you could theoretically order Masato, described as “sweet and green plantain soup with glazed shrimp in lemon butter, over grilled cheese and fried yucca with sal prieta.” Or you could go for Maito, “Organic chicken cooked with bijao leaf, green plantain majado, pickled spinach in golden berries and apple vinaigrette.”
It’s fun, and if you take the sharing approach that we did, it can be quite an adventurous, interactive dining experience. The food is great and the restaurant will show you a different side of Quito – the vibrant contemporary city, as opposed to the beautiful colonial city which can sometimes seem frozen in time.
Tasty Ecuadorian Fayre with a Side of Heart-Wrenching Ecuadorian Folk Music
Misquilla, La Floresta
In sticking with the theme, the menu at Misquilla has an emphasis on Ecuadorian recipes. Empanadas (small pasties), canelazo (a warm alcoholic drink made with sugarcane spirits and cinnamon water), mote (corn) and ceviche all make an appearance, and everything I tasted was really good. In my opinion the restaurant itself is not a patch on Urko nor Los Milagros. However, what it lacks in décor, it makes up for in its weekend entertainment offering.
After enjoying a starter, a main and a glass of canelazo, our table was ushered toward the stage area. (This is where the décor really took a dive - the industrial-chic look I assume they were going for felt more like someone’s garage.) That said though, there was a nice little stage, complete with velvet curtains, and as a fan of live music, it gave me a glimmer of hope.
As the quartet started playing, I realised that this was much more than a glimmer of hope. This was better than all three courses put together (had I had three courses). Three musicians and a charismatic singer with a magnificent voice lead me through the history books of Ecuadorian folk music, working through the full gamut of mournful love songs and more upbeat numbers. Even if the food hadn’t been good, I would still recommend Misquilla as a really entertaining cultural experience. Plus, even as the show goes on you can order drinks and snacks or dessert.
If you’re up for a good meal and an interesting evening out in Quito, you should hopefully have some ideas now. Buen provecho, as they say in Spanish!
If you'd like to visit Quito, you can see Llama Travel's Galapagos & Ecuador holidays here.