Not many people in the US know anything about the country of Ecuador. Have you ever heard of Ecuador? Or even the city of Quito? Ecuadorian cuisine is actually very fascinating compared to other South American cuisines. Mi Ciudad in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood on the far north side has some of the best authentic Ecuadorian cuisine in the city. What separates Ecuadorian food from other South American cuisines is the very little Spanish influence. Most of its cuisine is based on Incan dishes with a strong emphasis on vegetarian and seafood selections. When visiting Mi Ciudad, start out by kicking back to a warm glass of canelazo – a popular Ecuadorian alcoholic beverage made from aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol), pure cane sugar, naranjilla fruit juice, and water boiled with cinnamon. It’s a drink I personally don’t care for very much, but if you love sweet cocktails, this might just be for you.
Once you place your order, the waitress will bring out a basket of homemade tortilla chips and aji sauce. Aji sauce is a very spicy orange salsa made from aji peppers, tree tomatoes, cilantro, lime and onion. It’s a sauce that will clear out your sinuses quicker than you can put that third chip in your mouth. The chips themselves are delicious. They are hot, thin, and still have leftover oil from the fryer.
Since Ecuador is located directly on the equator, the climate creates a growing season ideal for tropical crops – especially in the Amazonian regions of eastern Ecuador. Crops such as plantains, corn, peas and beans are used in many of their dishes. Arrazon con camarones is a dish made up of some of their most common ingredients. The shrimp is extremely garlicky, and creates a powerful flavor to really bring this dish to life. The corn, peas, plantains and rice give it a nice body with a flavorful mix of nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Although vegetarian and seafood dishes are much more apparent in Ecuadorian cuisine, they also do meats very well. Parillade Ecutoriana is kind of like a meat sampler platter made up of beef ribs, Ecuadorian sausage, chicken, fried pork, grilled shrimp, and potato pancakes. All the meats are very tender, well-seasoned and flavorful. The potato pancakes are made with a lot of cheese and butter, which makes them melt in your mouth with every bite. Perhaps the most interesting element of this dish is the sausage. I had never in my life heard of a true meatless sausage until trying it at Mi Ciudad. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the filling, but I believe it was made from tree tomatoes, rice and yucca.
Ecuadorian food is truly unique, and I urge all my foodie followers to explore it. Mi Ciudad was recommended to me by an Ecuadorian friend living in Chicago who called it the best of Chicago’s three Ecuadorian restaurants. If you like what you eat there and want to try making the dishes at home, there’s only one place in the city to find many of the ingredients. El Condor in the Logan Square neighborhood not only carries those rare ingredients, but is actually one of the suppliers for Mi Ciudad.