Eat Ecuador – Quito’s Central Market & Its Best Dish CORVINA
Read about this series here: the Eat Ecuador Food Series
One of the best places to eat traditional food in Quito
Quito’s Mercado Central, or Central Market, is a must-stop when visiting the Ecuadorian capital. It’s a great place to observe the culture, but more than that, it’s a great place to get a delicious meal.
Mercado Central de Quito
On the corner of Av Pichincha and Esmeraldas
The History of Quito’s Central Market/Mercado Central
Mercado Central has been in operation for over 67 years. It opened its doors in 1952, but the real story starts in 1950 when a fire broke out in Plaza de San Blas. At that time, there was an open air market that operated out of the plaza. The fire destroyed most of the vendor stalls, and financially hurt a lot of people.
San Blas was a great place for a market, it’s located in Quito’s historic district (just north of where Mercado Central now stands), however, the facilities weren’t great. They didn’t have proper electrical hook-ups, running water, and other things that would make the market safer.
The vendors of San Blas got together with a neighbouring market, La Marin who was happy to help out. They were also concerned that something like that could happen to them, so the two groups went to the government authorities with a request: Could they donate land to build a proper market where both groups could operate out of?
The mayor ended up giving them property where a slaughter house once was, and in 1952 the doors to Quito’s Central Market opened for business.
Mercado Central: The Goods
The market is known for it’s selection of flowers, but you can pretty much get all of your groceries there. Meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables are hot items. You can also get medicinal herbs. That being said, the best part of the market are the food vendors. They’re scattered across two floors in the building. The basement level has a lot of breakfast items. Upstairs you’ll find all kinds of traditional Ecuadorian dishes, including some that are absolutely considered bizarre foods.
What to Eat in the Quito’s Central Market
Café Doña Esther -- For Breakfast
If you’re looking for breakfast, try a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast of tortillas made from green banana along with a fried egg. This booth is known for having the best coffee in the market.
Dona Lucy -- For the Adventurous
Lucy Zapata has worked at this stall for more than 50 years. She makes a mean fritada (fried pork), but the must-try here is a dish that’s incredibly rare and somewhat disturbing. It’s called El Bille, which literally means “the ticket”. It’s a baked cow fetus mixed into a stew. If you like veal, why not take it a step further?
She also makes La Colada con Churos -- which I believe means ‘washed snails’. It’s a type of small snail that’s thoroughly washed and then served with a sort of creamy broth.
Los Ricos Cueros de ‘Michita’ -- For the Udderly Adventurous
“The Rich Skin of Michita” isn’t a booth that serves Michita’s skin. They’re specialty is pig skin, which they do in a combo they call “El Completo”. It consists of rice, pig skin, blood, avocado and potatoes. It’s a rich and heavy meal that packs a ton of calories.
But this isn’t even their most bizarre dish.
Arroz con ubre is literally rice with cow udder. They stew the udder so it’s soft. I don’t know what cow udder tastes like, but one day I’ll try it.
Michita is actually the original owner of this booth, she’s the mother of the current owner, but this stall has been operating for over 50 years.
Inigualables jugos naturales ‘Don Marco’ -- For the thirsty
“The Unique natural juices of Don Marco” -- even though Don’s name is on the sign, his wife has been here much longer. Her mother started the booth 50 years ago. Juice in the market is a must. You’ll be blown away by the taste and the variety. Some people choose based on taste alone, but perhaps you want to get a dose of something healthy in your juice, like alfalfa. The naranjilla (a fruit that’s a cross between an orange and a tomato) with alfalfa is a highly recommended mix. They also have guanábana (soursop), which is suppose to be really good for you. One study showed that it inhibited the growth of cancer cells. It’s also believed to inhibit the development of the herpes virus. I really love this stuff -- and not cause I’m constantly battling with herpes outbreaks. It tastes a bit like a creamy pineapple and cherry combo. Add some alfalfa and you won’t be disappointed.
Las Corvinas de Don Jimmy -- For the hungry
This is the best thing to eat in Central Mercado. I haven’t tried everything, but I can’t imagine anything being tastier.
Don Jimmy opened in 1953, a year after the market first opened. He serves a fairly typical market dish called corvina. Corvina is a type of fish, I believe similar to sea bass. The thing is, corvina isn’t made with corvina anymore. The fish was over-fished and now they are substituting cheaper alternatives for this meal. This helps to keep the price down, but don’t think you’re getting ripped off. The fish always has a white flaky flesh. I think it’s usually Mahi-mahi, which I’ve never been disappointed with. The outer layer is battered and fried crispy. It comes with some roasted potatoes, a bowl of toasted corn and popcorn, and a small serving of shrimp ceviche. It’s a ton of food, and the cost is only $6.
You’ll find three corvinas places in Quito’s Central Market. I can vouch for Las Corvinas de Gloria, who has been in operation just as long as Jimmy and honestly, I can’t really see any differences between the two vendors.
Los exquisitos y legítimos ‘Llapingachos’ -- For the rich food lovers
“The exquisite and legitimate llapingachos” serve one of my favorite side dishes in Ecuador. Llapingachos are a mashed potato mixed with cheese and grilled so they’re crispy on the bottom.
The booth is owned by Maria Escobar, who’s been making llapingachos for 65 years. Normally, the potatoes are grilled on a flat griddle, but Maria cooks them in clay pots. I don’t know how this affects the taste, but you can’t argue with deliciousness.
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