The sweeter side of Quito: Stepping back into the 1950's

17/Agosto/2012 | 16:05

By Lance Brashear

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Just as soda shops were the place to meet friends in North America half a century ago, so too were they popular hang outs in Quito. 

Today, two old soda shops still live on, but not just in the memories of Quiteñans.  El Caribe and Café Modelo offer diners a sense of nostalgia and a few memorable flavors.

The name El Caribe (the Caribbean) hardly describes Quito, but it is the name Luis Espinoza selected when he and his wife Esther Baez opened their shop on the corner of Bolivar and Venezuela in 1952.

Today Francisco Espinosa, one of seven children of Luis and Esther, administers El Caribe with the support of brothers and sisters, and says his father liked the name because it called attention and suggested something refreshing.

In the beginning El Caribe was just a store offering local necessities, but in response to the demand of the locals, Esther began selling coffee and soon learned to make ice cream.  And, to continue with the tradition established by the previous shop that had once occupied the same space, El Caribe began selling pernil, or sliced pork, sandwiches. 

But by far, El Caribe is associated with ice cream.  Espinosa says they sell up to 200 liters a day.

“Here, our ice cream is very traditional because they are very natural,” he says.  The same is true of their juices – all made from pure fruit.

Nearby, Café Modelo, begun by the family of Guillermo Báez Martínez, sits only a few blocks away.  It too, began sixty years ago and continues to be as popular today as ever.

Nelly Baez, a member of the family who administers local #3, which has been in its present location for more than forty years, says, “This is a place of tradition.” 

She says people come for a few select reasons.  “We have always maintained the same quality, the same recipes, the same customer service, with care.”

And she identifies one product in particular that gives them identity: the ponche.  “This is a very old recipe.  It has not changed, nothing has varied from the original.  It continues to be the same flavor since we began.”

If you are not from Quito, or you have not visited old town, you may have never tried a ponche.  Cafeterias and restaurants in the north of Quito do not prepare them. 

“The ponche is made by boiling milk, with egg, cinnamon and vanilla.  It must be well-cooked,” says Baez.  “It is hot drink, nutritious, since it has milk and egg, and it is flavorful.”   However, it needs a little sugar to help it along.

The ponche is also a tradition at El Caribe, though Espinoza says it has lost popularity among younger generations. “This is an old tradition.  Our grandparents used it a lot as a diet after a woman gave birth.  It is very concentrated in protein and very nutritious.”

Time has moved on but vestiges in each local still harken to the days when they were local hang outs.

From the signage above the ice cream machines inside Café Modelo, to the molded booths at El Caribe where clients settle to savor flavor of another era, both places function as a living testament to previous generations.

Espinoza says he resists modernizing El Caribe, but admits he has to give in and make changes because “the people ask for it.”  El Caribe became popular for ice cream and other local treats, but now they also offer coastal food, like bolones de verde, and even international and healthy options such as lasagna and fruit salad. 

“Dad wants a ponche, mom wants chocolate, but the kid wants pizza or hamburger,” he explains.  “It is not Ecuadorian but people ask for it.”

What gives him the greatest pleasure, though, are the other reasons people still come to El Caribe.  “Here people come to show their children or grandchildren.  This was a typical ice cream shop…a hangout for young people…they say to their children or grandchildren here I fell in love with your mother.”

El Caribe at the corner of Bolivar and Venezuela is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.   Café Model has three locations, but their original is on the south side of Mejia between Venezuela and Guayaquil Streets.


Ciudad Quito

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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.