Coastal Ecuador: Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, Manabí Province - A Report
I have been in Ecuador for almost 4 months now
since my arrival I have spent the majority of my time working in Tena (in the Oriente) and in the highlands (near Laguna Quilotoa). I finished with my second job two weeks ago, and a few days later, I was headed for the coast. My first stop was Guayaquil, where I visited some friends I had made and explored a bit of the city. Next stop was Santo Domingo, where I spent 3 nights and enjoyed the bustling city and the great, cheap food. Finally I headed for Canoa, a small beach town just north of Bahía de Caráquez in the province of Manabí.
I am going to venture to say that I think the food in coastal Ecuador is better than the food in the rest of Ecuador. This is obviously a matter of personal preference, although when I mentioned this to one of my friends from Santo Domingo, she looked at me as though I had made the most obvious statement in the world. Although I think the food is often very good all over Ecuador, I found that food is more plentiful, more flavorful and more varied on the coast.
In Guayaquil, I stayed at a house with two friends where we had access to a kitchen. Since I had not had such good kitchen (or supermarket) access in a while, I was happy to do lots of cooking. Since we cooked all of our dinners and breakfasts, we didn´t eat out too much. When we did eat out, it was often in mall food courts. This wasn´t super exciting, although the food courts do have much better food than food courts in the US. One of my favorite treats is pan de yuca (chewy bread made with manioc flour and often with cheese, like pao de queijo from brazil) with cold, yogurt smoothies. These stands are all over Guayaquil and in every food court mora (blackberry) smoothies were my favorite. Juice places are also all over the place .at one food court I had a huge freshly squeezed guava juice. I also managed to eat a good Cuban sandwich at a food court in one of the malls (sadly I forget which one) and some great ice cream.
After 4 days in Guayaquil, I headed off toward Santo Domingo. The bus ride took me through huge banana, rice and palm oil producing areas. I stopped just north of Babahoyo in the province of Los Rios to visit a small Dole banana plantation (I had visited the same one 3 years earlier and I had pictures from my previous trip). I got a full tour of the banana hacienda and saw the entire process, straight from the banana tree to the boxes headed straight for the US and Europe. It was pretty interesting to see where our bananas come from, and everyone there was extremely friendly. After a 2 hour visit, I continued north to Santo Domingo.
At first, Santo Domingo (especially the downtown area where I was staying) was a bit overwhelming. The streets were hot and dusty (when it wasn´t raining), filled with people selling everything all sorts of foods and fruits. I ate my first meal at a Chinese restaurant just below my hotel called Chifa China. My rice dish with pork was good (particularly the bits of sweet roasted pork) but not too interesting. The next two days, however, I tried lots of local restaurants and had several great, cheap meals. What really stood out to me was how easy it was to find a good, filling and tasty meal in Santo Domingo. My friends in Santo Domingo introduced me to some local specialties: empanadas made with plantains, another type of plantain empanada made with peanuts and filled with chicken, roasted sweet plantains filled with cheese. For one meal, I had a delicious crab and peanut soup with lots of vegetables, followed by fried chicken, rice, beans, cole slaw and Quaker (a juice, often a mix of fruits I think, with oatmeal). All that for $1.50. Another meal was a plate of grilled thin steak with a great seasoning (reminiscent of Mediterranean flavorings from Greece or Mid-East), also with rice and beans. I also ate some great humitas for breakfast one day these are similar to Mexican tamales, made with corn meal and steamed in the corn husk. I ate most of my meals at restaurants near the corner of Av. 21 de Mayo and Calle Ambato. For breakfast and lunch, this downtown area (very close to the Mercado central) is a great place to be.
After a few days in Santo Domingo, it was off to the beach in Canoa. I ended up staying here for more time than I expected thanks to the great, sandy beach and the excellent food. I stayed at a brand new hostel called Coco Loco, right on the beach. The rooms and showers were great, but what really stood about this place was the food. For those who go to Canoa and stay elsewhere, it is definitely worthwhile to head to Coco Loco for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast at Coco Loco, the specialties were homemade bread and homemade crepes. Both breakfasts came with sugar, lemon, homemade jam and homemade lemon curd. The lemon curd was fantastic on my last day there we even got some passion fruit curd! Breakfasts also included coffee or tea, fresh juice and fresh fruit salad.
For lunch almost every day I ate homemade soups from Coco Loco: cream of avocado, spicy peanut, pumpkin with ginger and carrot with cilantro; all really delicious, served with homemade bread. Twice I had to go down to Bahía de Caráquez for some errands, so I ate lunch there instead. I ate a good 1 dollar set meal of beef soup, fried fish, rice, beans and passion fruit juice on the pier near the shuttle boats to San Vicente. The other lunch was at a great place which I think was called El Sabor Criollo, located on Av. Bolívar between Riofrio and Ascázubi. This place was very popular with locals when I arrived at 1:30 they were already out of several lunch options. What they had left was great though .I started with an amazing vegetable soup, heavy on pumpkin and onion. The Segundo was pork in a peanut sauce the pork was very fatty but tender, like pork I have had at Sichuan restaurants in Boston. The sauce with the rice was amazing. To drink, more Quaker. This meal cost $1.25.
Happy Hour in Canoa was usually spent at Bambú, a popular bar, restaurant and hostal, also on the beach. They had lots of different cocktails, I usually stuck to caipiriñas and piña coladas. They also had an excellent plate of fried calamari for 3 dollars. I never ate dinner there, instead opting for other places in town.
My favorite restaurant in Canoa was called Genesis, located on the main street about 4 blocks from the beach. Here my friends and I usually ordered shrimp al ajillo (a sauce with garlic, onion, pepper) encocado de camarón (same idea, replacing garlic with coconut milk). Shrimp was generally very good, although on my last night there it was a bit overcooked. I also ate two meals at a nice, new, but out of the way place called Café Flor. My first meal of chicken burritos was somewhat disappointing, but my second meal of pizza was excellent. One of my friends also tried a shrimp pasta dish which was very good too. I also ate dinner at Posada de Daniel, a vegetarian place. I thought the food here was disappointing we shared an Indonesian rice dish and the nachos. Both were okay but not too flavorful or interesting.
It was very hard to leave Canoa, but I did it eventually after 6 nights. On my way back to Santo Domingo I had lunch of soup, chicken and rice at the bus station in Pedernales .more evidence supporting the statement that it is incredibly easy to find a good, cheap, and delicious meal on the coast. The food is even good in the middle of a dusty bus station.
Now I´m back in the highlands and am actually enjoying the food here in Riobamba too. I will hopefully post about that (especially the ice cream) sometime soon. Chau for now ..