Wining On: Little Quito

I fear that Little Quito may not exist. Having firmly established that Little Lima is a neighbourhood, albeit it an unofficial one, practically worthy of its own subway station, in a bid to try and ascertain which nation’s cuisine is the winner in my where-shall-I-go-on-holiday competition, this past week has proven to be slippier than an eel in terms of finding any kind of Ecuadorean eating establishment lurking on some dingy corner, or otherwise, of Buenos Aires.

With my notebook and pen glued to my hand, this is how the investigation began.

My first port of call was an easy and obvious one. Simply tap up an Ecuadorean and ask them to share their favourite restaurants in Buenos Aires which offer up a taste of home.

Dropping an email to a friend whose boyfriend is the only Ecuadorean I know in the city (strange, given the hundreds of Colombians, and hundreds of Salvadorans and Venezuelans), I receive this response: “I’ve been asking him for a while but he hasn’t got the faintest idea. A few years ago, there was a terrible one in San Telmo but it closed down. Truth be known, I don’t even know if there is one in the whole of
Buenos Aires. It’s packed with Peruvian restaurants but I don’t think there are any Ecuadorean ones.”

Well. That was a particularly unlucky first break. I was so certain that a local boy, far from home, would have a bone to throw.

The next step was to see what other people had to say. And why not check out Guía Oleo, that online Bible offering your average José the chance to opine the California rolls didn’t have enough cream cheese, but the milanesa was excellent, perfect, at such-and-such sushi haunt.

Never trust a Guía Oleo review, so the saying goes (that I invented). But do, absolutely, use it to check an address or narrow down a specific type of cuisine you want to eat that day in Buenos Aires and the surrounding towns. (Note to readers. Hungary ties with England for three restaurants a piece, the latter incorporating a “curry house” as one of its trio of options, there are two Chilean, Russian, Polish, Colombian and Greek establishments, and one a piece for Portugal and Croatia.)

For goodness sake, there are more Irish (12!), Korean (six!) and Scandinavian (four!) restaurants than there are English ones. That’s right, this is the minority reporting.

However, on Guía Oleo, there is not a single Ecuadorean listing, vaguely fighting for its rights among the 668 porteño restaurants, 807 steak-houses and 1,633 “various” restaurants,” whatever that might mean. (Actually, I thought there would be 1,633 steak houses in Buenos Aires. Maybe we will see a rise in numbers given that beef consumption in Argentina’s green and pleasant land has risen again, this year by 13 percent to 60 kilos per person. Doesn’t pip the 2007 record of 71.9 kilos a person, however.)

However, there is a 22-strong pick ‘n mix section labelled “Latin American”. That’s right, shove all the other nations into one melting pot. Besides Cuba, Brazil and the aforementioned eateries, does that mean the rest of the continent cooks up its dishes in exactly the same way, with identical names and everything?

Almost all the restaurants offer a mixture of cuisines, combing Argentine fare with something cryptically Latin American, whatever that also means. Unless you trawl through all the reviews to ascertain (and that depends on) what the scribbler ate, the melting pot of luck could offer up anything, frankly, and it might not even be very lucky.

The third way of tracking down an Ecuadorean eaterie was also obvious. Maybe I should have gone in the first instance to Ecuador Street, which runs through Recoleta, Barrio Norte up to the edge of Balvanera and Plaza de Miserere. Surely there has to be some kind of eaterie specializing in the Pacific-lying nation’s fodder on that road? What, Mr. Links, you’ve found one? Wowsers, there is!

Ecuador 787 (Abasto, Tel: 4966-0706) is the unoriginal name, and it seems to go under the puerta cerrada operating guise, opening from Thursday to Saturday. Discreet, without any name outside, it serves up classic dishes including seco de carne, so similar looking to last week’s lunchtime special at Peruvian eaterie Mochica, it might just be one and the same, down to the perfect hillock of rice, not a grain out of place. 787 also offers a cumin-infused fish stew and wait! What’s this? Ceviche with a v. Now I don’t want to be initiating any kind of turf war here, but isn’t cebiche from Peru?

Ah, now we’re talking. I’d love to bib up and grease my mitts with fritata, pork fried in its own glorious fat, although the boiled wheat accompanying it sounds infinitely less exciting. And as mentioned last week, guatita (which means belly in Andean nations’ Spanish), made by 787 with tripe and doused in peanut sauce, which looks infinitely more exciting than it sounds.

Meanwhile, the true foodies’ online Bible, Planeta Joy, describes Rincón Ecuatoriano (Moreno 977, Monserrat, Tel: 4334-7679) as “a weird place to eat at.” The assumption can only be made that the comment refers to the food and not the venue, which looks like a home but doubles as a dance school.

If I can summon the energy after all this research, which has taken place on an empty guatita, I might head to either spot and claim the one I like best as the true Little Quito. But given that the Peruvian and Ecuadorean meals available in BA seem to be firmly related, I might ditch them both to hunt down Little Bogotá and go to Colombia on holiday, instead.

Photo by Mario Mosca

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