Contrasting treasures create unforgettable flavors in San Roque

22/Junio/2012 | 17:04

By Lance Brashear

[email protected]

It would seem an unlikely union:  the city’s newest, ritzy hotel, Casa Gangotena – the product of a 3-year, $11 million restoration - placed smack in the middle of a traditional neighborhood where an entire month’s wages for a typical resident remain less than a one-night stay in the luxurious mansion.

Though it will provide an interesting case study for economic sustainability over time, the marriage of Casa Gangotena with the San Roque neighborhood is already providing testimony to the viability of preserving one very important tradition: the local gastronomy.

“The idea of the hotel is to be not just a luxury hotel in the middle of San Roque, but to be a neighbor,” says Chef Andres Davila. 

He readily acknowledges that their clientele and the San Roque residents are two very different publics, but he says they try to show the community that the hotel is not separate from, but part of, the neighborhood.

For all of the shiny and disinfected splendor of Quito’s newest and arguably most glamourous hotel, guests are invited to visit the more uncouth elements of authentic Quito, or what Davila calls “the true Ecuador.”

San Roque offers a living cookbook for the city’s culinary heritage and Davila often takes hotel guests to the markets as part of a gastronomic tour.  The outing is not meant to be a show, but rather a genuine encounter with tradition and heritage.

Touring San Roque

As we leave the hotel on a recent morning, walking along Cuenca Street, Davila immediately points out the availability of fresh product.  “Look, this is what is called the street of spices.  Almost all the restaurants in Quito buy their spices here, in front of our hotel…cinnamon, oregano, cloves.” 

We turn up Rocafuerte Street and head towards the San Francisco market.  He points out the shops selling more herbs, meats, and grains as we walk past women in indigenous dress who have spread out their fruits and vegetables along the sidewalk. 

We pass women cooking “Caldo de tronquito” (broth of the male cow sexual organ) and “yaguarlocro” (potato soup made with the blood of a sheep) on an open flame.  Guinea pigs are for sale, roasted head to tail (both still attached), and tucked away in their covered baskets. Once we reach the market, severed cow legs, stacked in pyramids, wait to become “Caldo de pata” (cow leg broth) and sit next to trays of unrefrigerated meat. 

Though it is all part of the culinary package of San Roque and part of the extensive heritage of Ecuadorian cuisine, Davila does not come for the meats (Casa Gangotena’s health requirements prohibit purchasing meat in the local markets).  What does interest him is everything else: fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, and herbs.

“I come every day at 7:00 a.m. to the market to see what I can get for the day’s special,” says Davia.  Before leaving the hotel he had decided to cook prawns and filet mignon for the day, but he had not decided exactly how to prepare them.  He was searching for ideas at the market.

Davila purchases carrots, corn, peas, taxo fruit, and potatoes, conversing with each of the ladies.  He seems to revel in the interaction and friendships he has made among the vendors.  “You talk, you tell things, this is important.  It is the added value…I could pay a provider to bring all these things to me…but for me it is important to come and see.”

With products in hand we leave the colorful market atmosphere for the even more colorful street scenes.

Next stop: Molino San Martin, a local mill that has been operating in San Roque for 48 years grinding corn, wheat, barley, soy beans, and other products into flours.   Davila picks up some pea (arveja) flower and exchanges a few words with owner Francisco Calvopiña. 

The final stop is the Confeteria del Gato for a taste of assorted, local sweets. The stop has nothing to do with the day’s menu; it is simply one last diversion before returning to the hotel.

Dining at Gangotena

Back in his kitchen Davila had decided how to use the products for today’s menu.  He updates the white board with the daily specials: Prawns in corn sauce (using our fresh corn from the market) with white carrot puree perfumed with manchego cheese.  And for meat lovers, a filet mignon with air of taxo and mix of Andean potatoes and vegetables (taxo, potatoes, and vegetables are also from our morning outing).

To the surprise of many, the restaurant at Casa Gangotena does not serve international cuisine.  It offers Ecuadorian food. 

“Our idea is to use local cuisine...national recipes in a five star restaurant,” says Davila. “What we do is look for traditional recipes and make traditional food and signature cuisine.”

Davila offers one of Ecuador´s classic dishes, seco de chiva, but with a fresh approach. “We offer not just one version…in one plate we offer a coastal version, an Andean version, and our own interpretation.”

Churrasco is also on the menu - a very traditional plate of meat served with eggs, rice, and potatoes. Casa Gantotena has dressed up their version.   Instead of a cheap cut of meat with a fried egg thrown on top, they have converted the dish to a gourmet plate: filet mignon cut in medallions with a cubed egg and an overall impressive presentation.  Davila calls it churrasco “añinado,” or spirited churrasco.

A soup from the menu catches the eye of diners:  consume de cola de buey (ox tail consume).

“The stock of the ox tail is a stock that we use for many things,” says Davila.  “But because it is so delicious, it is also worthwhile to offer [as a soup].”  (Note: The oxtail does not come from the local market).

Other surprises are sprinkled throughout the menu: corviche de albacore – a traditional dish from Manta - and bonitisimas (corn flower tortillas with smoked salmon tartar and fresh cilantro cream) are the newest additions.

The one thing never missing from an Ecuadorian table, but often foregone in high-end restaurants, is the aji, or chili pepper, condiment.  It is indispensable for local cuisine, but somehow considered not quite appropriate at a gourmet eatery. 

Gangotena not only breaks the unspoken rule, they do it in style:  a presentation of five ajis, four from the different regions of Ecuador and a house version made of maracuya and rocoto chili pepper.  Visitors often sample them all.  The coastal aji, a Guayaquil tradition, is the spiciest, using three kinds of chili peppers. 

“We call it ‘pocos amigos,’” says Davila.  It seems an ironic name for a chef who has so many friends in San Roque.

Hotel Gangotena is located on the south side of San Francisco Plaza.  Starters average $9 and main courses are $20-25. For reservation call 400-8000.


Though gastronomic tours are reserved for hotels guests only, locals can take a tour of San Roque and learn about its culinary offerings through the “Guardianas de Patrimonio,” a community initiative supported by Casa Gangotena through the GesCultura Foundation. Visit their website at   Tours begin in front of the Casa Gangotena and cost $6.50 for adults.


Ciudad Quito

Archivado en | Miami Herald  | Dining Out 

Tags :

Actualizado por

lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.