By: Bernarda Carranza
Photos: Jorge Vinueza
Glorita of Quito’s Central Market, or Florcita of Ambato’s Market, do not need to follow a recipe, nor do they have a timer that tells them when their dish is ready, when to flip the fish or llapingacho. They don’t own scales to weigh their ingredients… It’s all “al ojo” (literally, by the eye). They just know exactly what to do so that it tastes the same day in and day out… Their timers are internal, in their memories. Their grandmothers, their mothers, their aunts, and then, they themselves, have collectively inherited the secrets of their flavor.
Ask any cook who has secured themselves a popular stall in a marketplace… they will no doubt tell you they’ve been there for at least two decades.
One doesn’t just buy a ticket in the push-and-shove world of the market… It’s a privilege.
Any market vendor who has stood the test of time has convinced their patrons, has perfected their preparations and acquired the know-how of their clientele’s cravings. It’s no surprise that Ivanna Zauzich, a food journalist dedicated to tasting food and writing about it, from street kiosks to gourmet restaurants, affirms that “the best way to get to know a country in terms of its cuisine is through its markets.” It follows then that chefs as experienced in traditional cuisine as Carlos Fuentes of La Purísima affirms he does not cook fritada, hornado, or any other marketplace classics in his restaurant, because the market ladies “do it better, anyways.”
The market experience is one to behold: the mix of aromas; the hurried shoppers seeking out their casera (favorite market vendor); the rainbow colors of fruits and vegetables; the infinite range of textures (if you put your hand out to touch the produce); the hubbub of gossip, whether whispered or yelled; the clanging of plates and silverware from the food court. All set the busy scene of this deeply commercial world, whose hawkers call out “venga mijito”, “venga mi reina”, “mi bonita”, “mi amor” (“try some of this, my son…”, “come here, my queen…”, “my gorgeous”, “my love”).
This is all part of the allure. They’ll give you a piece, a slice, a sip to taste, and if you succumb, they’ll serve up a dish, and then give you the “yapita”, that little extra serving, accompanied by a smile and a wink, as they wait for you to tell them it was delicious – even though they know full well it was. “Because these hands already have memory in their muscles,” they would tell you if you were to ask. They could prepare the dish with their eyes closed… These hands are the products of a collective memory that has kneaded, fried, beat and fed its city since time immemorial, true to the flavors passed down through generations, ensuring the city stays true to its essence.