This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on July 1, 2022. To get Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter delivered to your inbox on Fridays, sign up at Independent.com/newsletters.
This is my last Full Belly Files until September, unless my scalable trip to strike-stricken Ecuador is completely cancelled.
If all had gone as planned, I would have visited a farm and vineyard in the mountains east of Quito, Ecuador yesterday, and had dinner last night at a lakeside venue called Nuum Gastronomia, whose Instagram page — full of indigenous Andean ingredients, curated in gourmet ways — is as exciting as anything I see in the United States. Tonight I would leave my loft in the historic heart of Quito to eat at another place called Quitu Identidad Culinaria, which might be the most avant-garde restaurant in all of Latin America.
None of this happens, however.
A nationwide strike – led by Indigenous activists demanding gas, food, health care, etc. After watching hours of live footage from the protests and reading all the news reports I can find in English and Spanish, from mainstream sources to social media — all in an effort to determine if I should still go to Quito with my 12 year old son in tow – I’ve become a bit of a minor expert on the politics of Ecuador.
In short, the strike, which seems to be largely linked to inflation, creates roadblocks that restrict the flow of goods and services in unpredictable ways. It has also resulted in the deaths of protesters (who are hit by tear gas canisters) and government forces, whose convoys and offices have been attacked and set on fire. Taxi drivers and buses are stopped in the street with flat tires in an attempt to force a stop. Underlying all of this is a simmering anti-colonialist sentiment that continues to rise in South America and around the world, so many battle lines are also being carved around perceptions of race, wealth and gender. education.
Although there is broad left-wing support for the indigenous movement, many people in Quito – and much of Ecuador in general – seem ready to return to work and generate income. Over the weekend, the increasingly unpopular center-right president lowered gas prices, ended a sort of martial law that had lasted for weeks and briefly agreed to talk.
But those talks ended on Tuesday less than two days after they began. Protests resumed, with allegations of abuse coming from all sides.
Our riding plan, hatched not too long ago, was to visit the Pacific coast of Ecuador near the surf town of Olón, where our good friends, who are professors at UCSB, rented a house for the week with their sons. Only my son was available to join me from our family – my wife is busy with work and my daughter has summer camps – and I decided to add a Quito leg to our trip to boost the cultural and urban quotient .
It was then that I discovered that the city had a vibrant food scene, seemingly on the verge of being discovered by the whole world. I was hoping to tell this story and was already in touch with a number of chefs there. But last Monday, as the talks appeared to be going south and the protests grew increasingly violent, I made the parental call to skip the Quito visit.
I have traveled to dangerous areas many times in the past – indeed much of my career has been built on visiting post-war areas in Nagorno-Karabakh and Uganda, not to mention reporting over impoverished and somewhat fragmented regions of Belize, Bolivia and India. But I didn’t think it would be wise to bring my child into such a hazy situation.
When the talks collapsed on Tuesday, I felt even more confident in my decision. That our Airbnb host immediately refunded our rented loft was further indication that we had made the right choice, and the chefs I was in contact with were disappointed but understood. The tourist office I had been in contact with stopped responding.
When I first wrote this on Wednesday morning, we were still planning to check out the northwest coast of Guayaquil by flying this way on a Friday night with red eyes. But on Wednesday night, my friends decided to avoid Ecuador altogether. As I edit this Thursday morning, we are heading to Panama, specifically Bocas del Toro. I spent about a week there 15 years ago as part of my honeymoon tour through Panama. So it will be fun to show my son where his mom and I enjoyed the early days of our marriage.
Let’s just hope Tropical Storm Bonnie stays out of our way. I won’t hold my breath.
Anyway, this will probably be my last Full Belly Files for a few months. I badly need a break from the weekly newspaper flow, so I’m taking the rest of July and August to focus on my other jobs, cleaning my garage, tending to my yard and enjoying a bit of sunshine. been like I haven’t been able to for many years.
So thank you so much for reading and writing to me and enjoying this weekly content. I will be back in September!
Quick bites and bevvies
My recent edible adventures closer to home have included:
- Solid soul food at Soul Bites on State Street, where I went with fellow food and drink writer Vanessa Vin. Crispy fried chicken and fish, crispy cracklins over macaroni and cheese, and smoked collard greens with smoked turkey were the highlights. We’ll have a story soon enough!
As the website shows, it’s made under the umbrella of Anna’s Cider, which they also make, and this product is super drinkable. Dinner was great, if a little long at around six – two no-shows from their kitchen staff didn’t help – and my kids made it most of the way! I will write more about Dom soon.
From our table
In this week’s newspaper:
And here are some of my recent pieces for other publications:
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