La Comida in Ecuador: What's safe and what's not?

October 8, 2013

Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but – essentially nothing is safe outside of your host home. Our host families have been trained in how to cook for us gringos, but every time we eat out somewhere, we’re taking a gamble. My Ecuadorian friend has a helpful saying: “siempre vaya donde haya más gente” – “Always go where there are lots of people”. But unfortunately this trick doesn’t always save you from all the lovely vomiting and diarrhea problems I’ve heard about over the last few weeks. For instance, if it’s a big group of Ecuadorians sitting in the place, they’re clearly already immune to all the elements that make us gringos sick. Though it can sometimes take away from the authenticity, I always search out more American-looking places, sprinkled with satisfied-looking gringos. But the problem is, I rarely run into gringos when I go out.

My family also gives good advice: Don’t ever trust the water that they make those (I’m sad to say – DELICIOUS) juices with. I must admit I have committed that error several times and gotten lucky. My program directors also discourage us from eating fruits and vegetables that aren’t peeled, at least for the first couple of weeks. But the big no-no? Water from the tap. The natives don’t even drink it, and a couple swallows of that could make you sick in a heart beat. My family has a water filter that we drink from every day.

Anyways, I don’t know why I worry so, because so far [KNOCK ON WOOD], most people have run into stomach problems and I haven’t. I have eaten out several times sin problema. But every time I search out a restaurant, I am completely stumped as to what is considered safe and what’s not. The few tips I mention here often help to eliminate a FEW places, but still leave me stuck between a numerous sitios. In the end, I just close my eyes, choose one, and pray for the next 24 hours that it won’t hit me later…

The reason I am so honed in on this topic right now is because in a couple of weekends, we’re going to Atacames – a beach town – where, as my family tells me, almost every other host girl they’ve had has come home sun burnt and vomiting from food/water poisoning. Apparently the water is a LOT less safe there. Hearing that very attractive piece of information makes me slightly less excited about the whole trip, but they tell me that if I am careful, I can avoid it.

Not to get all philosophical, but how exactly can we define careful if we can only seem to come up with three tips for choosing gringo-safe restaurants? Spell it out more clearly please! (I have the same question about avoiding getting robbed. Natives always tell me ‘be careful’! But in some situations, there’s only so much you can do to avoid getting cornered, even if you’re with a friend in broad day light!)

Anyways, it is easy to be a worry wart about this kind of thing. But you can’t fret over everything. And who knows – maybe I have a strong stomach and I’ll be alright in the end! All we can do is try our best. And when if that fateful day arrives and I do get sick, I will embrace it with open arms and say “Welcome. I knew you were coming. Now let’s get this over with.” And hopefully after that experience, I will be done with it forever.

But don’t get me wrong – the food is spectacular aquí! I am obsessed with their specialty made out of corn: “humitas”, along with their delicious soups (which they eat religiously every day), meats and various fried delicacies! I absolutely PLAN on gaining weight here. If I don’t, I’m not trying all the things I want to try/taking advantage of the food here!

Plus, these should be the months where I say YES to as many entities as humanly possible (except for pamphlets they give out in the streets. To those, I say ‘no gracias’ because they are sometimes known to have sleepy drugs hidden underneath them)!

Other than that I say YES YES YES because I’m in Ecuador for heavens sakes!

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