Your Ecuadorian Fruit Education
Lesson #6: Claudias
Claudias are another of my favorite fruits here in Ecuador. They’re also sometimes called reina claudias and are sweet and tiny yellow plums. You can buy about 15 for $1 and you never know what you’ll get. Some are tarter and almost sour while others are wonderfully sweet. They’re so tiny that the make the perfect snack, especially when on the go, and I usually eat 2 or 3 at a time. There are also purple claudias like we have in the States but they’re rarer where I live and most that I see are imported but these claudias amarillas are local and delicious.
Things I’ve Learned In Ecuador: #13 You’re Nobody Until Somebody Paints Your Nails
I rarely - if ever - got manicures or pedicures in the United States. I’m a terrible nail-biter so manicures were a waste of money and I didn’t really see the need for a pedicure when I was perfectly able of doing the job myself – fo free! That all changed when I came to Ecuador. Manicures and pedicures are a way of life here, especially on the coast. It seriously seems like there must be a nail art class in every elementary school because all the women I know love painting nails and do an amazing job. Some women just do it for fun, but a lot of women have their own small mani/pedi businesses. When I walk around my small community of a few thousand people, I can spot about a dozen little mani/pedi salons and that’s not even counting all of the women that probably do it from their homes.
My first pedicure experience in Ecuador was when I first arrived to my site and my host mom asked me if I liked to paint my nails. She could see my bright teal polish, so she must’ve known when she asked that the answer was yes. That night, she asked if she could paint my nails. I was a little confused by this but agreed. A half an hour later when my toenails were sparkling with a fresh pedicure and tiny little flowers delicately painted on, I understood that nail painting was different here. I began to take notice of the other women in the community. It was rare to see someone’s toenails painted without an intricate design also present. Plain painted toenails were out for sure. I quickly realized that you weren’t fully dressed and looking good unless you had a freshly painted pedicure.
For integration reasons (and laziness… and vanity), I began to get pedicures like the rest of the coastal women. At $2 a pedicure, or $2.50 for a house call, you absolutely couldn’t go wrong. All pedicures include the norms of a foot soak, nail clipping and filing, painting and the obligatory design painted on. Some even include an exfoliating foot scrub with sugar! I also learned some really great nail-painting tips that I’ll put on Pinterest ya mísmo. Although I do paint my nails myself a lot of the time, I’ve learned that nothing beats a $2 pedi in Ecuador.
Your Ecuadorian Fruit Education
Lesson #5: Mango de Chupar
Mangos de chupar (or sucking mangos as we would perhaps say in English?) are my favorite kind of mango here in Ecuador. Just writing this right now is making my mouth water since, unfortunately, it’s no longer mango season. Even though they’re still around, they’re definitely not being sold from every street corner like they were in January. Mangos de chupar are about the size of an apple and are smaller than mangos sold in the U.S., but they’re much more flavorful. You can buy about 10 to 15 for a dollar during mango season and they’re delicious. You don’t eat them like you would eat a regular sized mango though. They’re called mangos de chupar because… well, you suck ‘em!
First you squish and squeeze the mango in your hand a bit to soften it up. Then you take a knife and cut a little slice off the top where you suck the juice and fruit from. It sounds strange and the first time I saw someone eating one I had to do a double-take because I couldn’t believe someone was sucking a mango, but it’s actually a pretty great fruit eating method. It’s much less messy and you don’t have to deal with terribly sticky mango hands and… it’s just more fun! Mangos de chupar are definitely the number one fruit that I’ll miss when it comes time to say goodbye to Ecuador next year.
Photos from Quito’s Botanical Gardens which includes greenhouses of orchids and a carnivorous plant room. Another item crossed off of my bucket list!
Your Ecuadorian Fruit Education
Lesson #4: Mangostino
Mangostinos (or mangosteen in English) was a fun find that I bought at an organic market in the sierra while there for a Peace Corps conference. They were selling them 4 for a dollar and after a free sample, I couldn’t resist. Mangostinos are another tropical fruit but they aren’t very popular here in Ecuador and I’ve only seen them for sale that one time. Some online research tells me that they’re more popular in Colombia where the tree’s been introduced from Southeast Asia. Sorry to all those in the good old U.S.A. though, mangostinos can fetch up to $8 a pound in specialty stores in NYC. ¡Que caro!
When mangostinos are ripe, the outer part of the fruit is easily pried open to reveal the inner edible fruit. The inner purplish, reddish rind is inedible and you can only eat the white fruit inside that tastes absolutely delicious! It’s sweet but also a little tangy and citrusy and very juicy with a texture similar to a peach. You can make syrup or jam from mangostinos but they’re so yummy I’d choose eating it plain instead of spending time cooking and adding sugar to this already sweet fruit. It’s honestly like a desert and I’d take a mangostino over a piece of cake any day!
Photos from my group’s mid-service conference. We were there celebrating completing one year in our sites, showcasing our work from the past year and talking about plans for year numero dos. Dani, Justin and I (who make up the tiny cluster in the province of Esmeraldas) decided to dress like coastal folks… thus the skin-tight white leggings and sexy kitty shirt. Dani and I also displayed some of the recycled coin purses and other art from recycled materials that we’ve made. I made the platter completely from recycled magazines! It was great to see everyone from our group and what they’ve been up to for the past year. We all left re-energized for year two!
Your Ecuadorian Fruit Education
Lesson #3: Maracuyá
Maracuyá or passion fruit is another of my favorite fruits in Ecuador and one that I’ve recently begun buying often. Before moving to Ecuador, I knew passion fruit only as one of the many fruits listed in store bought tropical fruit drinks. The fresh version is much, much better. MUCH BETTER.
Maracuyás are usually pretty sour and my favorite way to eat them is blended into a jugo (juice) or batido (smoothie). Ripe maracuyás are about the size of an apple or orange and are very yellow. To touch, they feel almost hollow and give easily to gentle pressure on its thick waxy skin. When you open them up, they are extremely fragrant and smell absolutely delicious. The insides are similar to taxo and have many little black seeds surrounded by the yellowy, orangey gelatinous fruit.
You can scoop out the seeds and eat them raw but, like I said, they can be pretty sour so I put mine in the blender and mixed it up with some water and sugar. You can buy 4 for about 50 cents or so and enjoy real tropical fruit juice anytime! It’s especially good mixed with piña and papaya.
Please support my Peace Corps project
Hello everyone… amigos, familia y desconocidos también!
First of all, I want to thank everyone that’s kept up with my Peace Corps journey by reading this blog. My time in Ecuador has been incredible so far and I’m so happy I get to share it here. To everyone who has kept in touch and supported me, I thank you so much. Muchísimas gracias, you have no idea what your packages, letters, emails, generosity and kind words of support have meant to me.
I am writing this because I want to call on your support once again. I have been working at the local high school in my town and our school year starts again soon in May. I’ve been planning some projects, the most ambitious being a school-wide recycling competition with a goal of collecting and selling 1,000 plastic bottles. Trash and littering is a huge problem in my community and I also want to support this competition with recycling and waste management education during classes and after-school recycling projects.
We’re also planning on putting some recycling bins around the community and brightening up the school by painting a large world map mural. Your contribution would go towards making these plans a reality and helping to beautify my small coastal community. I would appreciate anything you are able to give. Once again, thank you so much and please contact me if you have any questions.
Things I’ve Learned In Ecuador: #12 Don’t Always Count on Beginner’s Luck
About two weeks ago I went fishing in another PCV’s site about forty minutes away. Catching my own fish and then preparing and eating it was one of the things on my Ecuador bucket list so when he asked if I wanted to join him for a day of fishing, I automatically said yes.
I travelled to Muisne in the morning and was instantly disappointed when I saw how cloudy and gloomy it was during the bus ride. Not a good sign for any perspective fisherman. But I arrived to Muisne, got a traditional fisherman’s breakfast of encebollado (onion and fish soup) and met up with Justin.
After meeting up with Justin’s Ecuadorian friend that was going to take us out on the boat and an extra niño that was invited along the way, we hopped into the church’s lancha that we were renting for the day and set out to buy some bait in the pouring rain. Unfortunately neither of us had brought a rain jacket and the rain was coming down pretty hard as we sped along in the boat so we resorted to wrapping a dirty plastic tarp around ourselves to try and stay dry. Improvisation at its best.
We then made it to the home of the people we were buying our bait from. After our Ecuadorian guides spent about 15 minutes yelling outside the house for the owners, the family finally arrived by boat to sell us our bait… live shrimp! I have been fishing before with my Dad in the States but we never used live shrimp as bait, and even when we used live earth worms, I usually left the job of putting them on the hook to him. But I wanted to do everything myself this time around. I would hook my own bait, catch my own fish, unhook it and then prepare it and eat it. It was a lofty goal for basically a beginner fisherwoman, but I was determined. After getting our bait, we finally set out in the lancha for the mouth of the river with the mangroves nearby. The day was finally becoming sunny and I hoped for some beginner’s luck.
Catching the shrimp to use them as bait was possibly more difficult than catching a fish. Those things sure can move! But I did always eventually catch one, sometimes with the help of our Ecuadorian niño guide. After that all that was left to do was lower your line and wait for a bite. At first I was using Justin’s fishing rod that he brought from home but got nervous about breaking it after he lost the top of it in the water. The mangroves are not the easiest place to fish, as we soon discovered, and we lost at least 10 hooks and weights to the roots and branches lurking in the water. I also got my line caught on the anchor of the boat no less than three times. Oops!
I decided to forego the rod and instead try fishing like an Ecuadorian and only use nylon. The Ecuadorians we were with were convinced that fishing rods were useless and that you can only feel a bite when using only the fishing line. Justin and I had to disagree and both thought that a rod made fishing a lot easier, at least on your hands when reeling something in, but I kept these thoughts to myself and decided to do things the Ecuadorian way.
Fishing with the rod, I hadn’t caught anything but a little while after starting to use only the nylon I caught a small pargo (aka a red porgy in English according to trusty old Wikipedia). Unfortunately, I would have no beginner’s luck and it would be the only fish I’d catch that day but I was thrilled. At least I’d caught something besides the anchor! The rest of the day I spent attempting to catch another fish, accidentally tangling up my fishing line and enjoying the water and sunny day.
Justin and the two Ecuadorians we were with had more luck than I did and they ended up catching some pargos and a róbalo (seabass) or two. They also caught two poisonous puffer fish or pez globo during the day which were really cool. I asked our Ecuadorian friend what would happen if you touched its poisonous spikes and he motioned death and said you’d go straight to the hospital. Since I wasn’t even sure where the nearest reliable hospital was, I made sure not to get too close.
After we were sufficiently sunburnt and all fished-out, we headed back to Justin’s to prepare our catch since the Ecuadorians were nice enough to share and regalar some of their catch with us. Justin taught me to descale, cut the head off, and clean the guts out of the fish I caught. It was a very proud moment for me. I didn’t actually fillet any fish, that’ll be a goal for next time, but later that week I cooked my fish in a nice lime herb marinade and enjoyed every bite. There’s not enough that can be said for knowing exactly where your food came from. ¡Delicioso!
Things I’ve Learned In Ecuador: #11 Bananas are an Endangered Fruit
Since I have quite a bastante amount of time on my hands most days, I read a lot here in Ecuador. And by a lot… I mean A LOT. Recently I read a book called Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel. Before reading the book, I had no idea that the banana is literally an endangered fruit nor about the huge political sway that the big banana companies have had throughout the years.
When the banana was first introduced to the United States in 1870, Americans were eating the Gros Michel banana brought from Jamaica by an American captain named Lorenzo Dow Baker. For a short while the banana was seen as an exotic luxury to be enjoyed by the upper classes before becoming the reliable and cheap staple fruit we know today. And as a silly sidenote, back when bananas were first introduced in the States, shopkeepers sold bananas cut up in tin foil so as to not offend the Victorian purity of their clients with the suggestive shape of the fruit.
The two competing banana companies of the era, United Fruit, which we now know as Chiquita, and Standard Fruit which changed its name to Dole in the 1970s, reigned supreme and became huge companies that owned acres upon acres of land in the tropical rain forests of Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala. The banana industry was so lucrative and its profit margins depended so much on the rock bottom wages paid to local laborers and subpar working conditions that the two banana titans refused to make any concessions to labor unions lest it result in a revenue decrease. Over the years to keep the status quo, the companies intervened countless times in the politics of Central and South American countries. The prime examples being a coup in Guatemala that ousted the first democratically elected leader of a Central American country and the 1929 banana massacre that left hundreds of striking laborers and their families dead in Colombia. The Bay of Pigs operation was also partially funded by United Fruit.
Then in the early 1900’s, Panama disease showed up which is one of the plagues affecting the world’s banana crops and threatening the fruit’s existence to this day. The disease has been wreaking havoc worldwide and did such damage that in the 1950s the Gros Michel variety died out and the banana companies silently switched to the Cavendish variety of banana that we now enjoy today. However, the same Panama disease that wiped out the Gros Michel is now wiping out the Cavendish. For many years, banana companies refused to look at the big picture and simply resorted to spraying massive quantities of environmentally damaging chemicals while cutting down acres of tropical Amazonian rainforest to create new banana plantations as the disease spread. In the 1940’s, United Fruit owned about a million acres of land in Cuba, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.
Today, scientists are working worldwide to come up with a new variety of banana that has all the qualities desirable of an exportable banana: taste, durability when shipping, and resistance to Panama and other diseases, among other things. Scientists are also experimenting with GMO bananas. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms and creating one involves a complex process of taking genetic material from one organism and adding it to the genetic material of another. For example, they are experimenting with crossing the disease resistance of a radish into a banana’s genetic material. These “Frankenbananas” would be legally banned in most parts of the world (except for the United States of course which is “the world’s most GMO-loaded country.”)
Banana was a super interesting read for me especially since in 1965 Ecuador became the largest exporter of bananas in the world. The book also mentions that the richest private citizen is Ecuador is also the owner of one of the country’s banana companies. I definitely recommend this book. It can be read while enjoying your morning cereal with sliced banana, a banana and peanut butter sandwich, or a banana split. Yum! … ¡Que viva el banano!