Potato vendor Quito
Potato vendor Quito

Remembering the Ecuadorian Potato Lady

“Que loco.”

That’s what the woman above said to me when I asked her if she’s ever counted her potatoes.

She was right –it was a crazy notion.

But my question did force a smile, and even though she refused to look directly at the camera, it did produce a memory that’s still very much alive. For me at least. She’ll forever remain my favorite Ecuadorian Potato Lady.

There are more than 4,500 varieties of edible potato on the planet, the majority of them in the Andean countries of Latin America. About a dozen are in the photo above and in the one below, both taken in Quito’s Central Market.

Potatoes for sale, Quito
Potatoes for sale, Quito

They’re especially ubiquitous in Peru, which is home to more than 3,800 sorts, which come in just about any size, shape or color. They’re the planet’s third most important food crop after rice and wheat, consumed by more than one billion people, according to the International Potato Center.

Originating in the high Andes of southeastern Peru and northwester Bolivia not far from Lake Titicaca, ample evidence suggests they were domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago.

The Spanish first crossed paths with them in the 1500s, but the attraction was very slow to catch on. Europeans generally looked down on them, considering them a vile novelty consumed by heathens from the new world, fit only for animal fodder.

It took the better part of two centuries before they began gaining acceptance, first by the upper and ruling classes and later by the masses, who, fueled by potatoes, powered the industrial revolution. Together with corn, also from the New World, the potato eventually helped put an end to famine on the continent.

The Smithsonian has a great history lesson here, How the Potato Changed the World.


I wasn’t planning to write about, blog about or even think much about potatoes today until a pair of things conspired, within minutes, to force me down that road: reading a news piece about NASA’s plans to grow a “Peruvian” potato on Mars a la Matt Damon, and coming across this recipe for spinach and garlic potato patties and this one for Peruvian Causa, a layered potato and vegetable salad, via Facebook contacts.

That led to a search for these photos and my first encounter in more than a year with the Ecuadorian Potato Lady. I’d like to think that one day a series of otherwise unrelated events in her life will jar a memory of the man who asked her if she’s ever counted her potatoes. And then, after smiling, begins to count.


Tune du Jour?

Blue Charms, a jazzy, hip-hoppy melange by Canadian duo Potatohead People. What else?


For the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 832nd straight, was snapped in Quito, Ecuador, on 24 March 2015.

And if you missed it, here’s a post from the Mercado Central’s meat department.



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