Tasting Organic Chocolate and Absinthe on a Friday Night in Quito: an Expo Alimentar 2015 Notebook
QUITO — Full disclosure: when I arrived at the Quito Exposition Center last Friday (27 Feb) night, I had no idea that I was about to step into the waning hours of a trade show’s third day. I didn’t even know that I was at the Centro de Exposiciones. Lisa aka Zebra from Playamart, who was visiting from Jama, and I merely accepted our friend Silvana’s suggestion to come and try some interesting local foods. For such an invite, I’m never a particularly hard sell. I know the rewards are always quite memorable. This time?
I wound up sampling the finest organic chocolate on the planet, experiencing Synsepalum dulcificum for the first time and tasting absinthe made in Ecuador. Yes – Ecuadorian absenta.
I didn’t come prepared to take notes, so this review of Expo Alimentar 2015 is very narrow in scope with photos limited to somewhat shaky snaps with my mobile phone.
I am however compelled to highlight a handful of items that anyone visiting Ecuador needs to seek out and try. Beginning with Pacari organic chocolate. More specifically, the first single-origin organic chocolate made entirely in Ecuador.
It’s available in other parts of the world so you may have heard of it; Pacari collected 14 medals at the 2014 International Chocolate Awards in London last November, five of them gold. It wasn’t the first time that the family-owned company, which practices fair trade and sustainability, earned international accolades. I doubt it’ll be the last. I tried the 70% raw (delightful) but was most intrigued by its spirulina bar. I didn’t try it but will find it this week and report back.
Nope, despite the resemblance, no connection to pomegranate whatsoever.
In the U.S. it’s marketed as Miracle Fruit, a somewhat lazy name, but one it lives up to.
Its miracle lies in its ability to turn sour into sweet, an effect that will last up to an hour. The benefits are numerous, including its use as a sugar substitute to help control diabetes and obesity. Its origins are in West Africa but is now also grown in parts of South America. But the fruit-bearing shrub doesn’t do too well in the U.S. where, predictably, it comes with a fairly hefty price tag. To do some window shopping, here are a few Synsepalum dulcificum links on Amazon. And here’s a bit more from an Ecuadorian producer, Ecuaforestar. (Click an icon at upper right to switch the language.)
The only brewery represented –at least that I was aware of– was Cerveza Ballesta, who came armed with a golden ale and porter. The latter was light-bodied so not what most porter fans would expect, but still my favorite of the two. A very food-friendly dark brew.
Steve Sia has worked in Silicon Valley, was a photographer in Washington DC and even spent a few summers in Geneva-on-the-Lake east of Cleveland. “Now,” he said, “I’m in Ecuador selling peanuts.”
Not just any peanuts; his crunchy oven roasted lightly-spiced Hermosa Manni brand is low in salt and sugar, tasty and addictive. The several packages I bought were gone the next afternoon. Their website is here and Facebook page here.
The first and best collection of salsa we tried were from Bravado; I bought a jar of the mango and lemon. My only regret is that I didn’t buy two. Find out more on their Facebook page.
And finally, the absinthe.
To me, just the realization that absinthe is being produced in Ecuador bordered on the surreal. Which only goes to show how limited my thinking can sometimes be. Point taken.
Nonna Tere has been producing spirits in southern Italy since 1949 and landed in Ecuador two years ago; as the name –roughly translated to ‘grandma’s land’—implies, the company produces Italian style offerings which include limoncello and its sister liquors made from oranges, mandarins and grapefruit. But it was the Absinthe, or absenta, that drew me in. And others too.
Nonna Tere’s was the last booth to close, and the last stop (surprise!) for most of those visiting and exhibiting. It was loud, raucous, lively. Grandma would have been proud. Their website is here, and Facebook page here.
Oh, the lead photo?
Those are the happy honey makers from Apicola Santa Anita in Cayambe. I loved their live bee display and their infectious smiles. And their honey is pretty good, too.