Soul food: Allullas and Queso de Hoja

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Everything is in the details, the patience, the consistency… Not to mention the delicious flavour and the desire to create something that will last in our memory. We arrive in front of the train station, at “Panificadora la Estación”. The locals can barely remember when this classic treat distinguished this very stop along the railway, filling the air with the sweet scent of hallullas and their indelible companion, queso de hoja (cheese wrapped in Achira leaves). Today, the places that sell these Latacunga classics are few and far between.

We were welcomed by Andrea and her brother Hugo Huertas, owners of the store. Hugo prepares to show us how the magic is made. He takes out boiled cheese and puts it on a table, stretches it slowly until it could easily be confused with pizza dough. “We are eight brothers and this is a family tradition we have kept alive, every day, for four generations,” Hugo spreads the salt on the dough, rolls in chopped pieces of cheese and places them carefully on Achira leaves to keep them fresh.

Andrea joins in when she sees her brother gather the ingredients for the hallullas (they say the etymology can be traced back to the Spanish moors and the Arabic term hallun). According to their calculations, making these crunchy salt crackers takes about 9 hours. On the day we visit, work began at midnight. Collecting the flour, yeast, lard and other ingredients, it’s all then placed in a strategic order in the machine that mixes them to form the dough. Andrea sits down and starts slowly picking chunks and molding them into their typical circular shape. The whole process seems endless, especially since they are then supposed to rest for a couple of hours before being put in the oven. But the result is worth it. She even tells us that they their hallullas are exported and served on special occasions in far-away countries. Her niece toddles along and begins to knead as well, repeating “llulla, llulla” with excitement, the reflection of a new generation marking the future of one of Latacunga’s essential flavors.

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