On the lunch menu that included options of nasi gareng and bihun tek-tek, both Indonesian fried rice-based dishes with beef tail or egg and vegetables, I ended up settling for Rice Surprise, or sopresa de arroz. The Indonesian-Ecuadorean fusion dish blended South-Asian fried rice with South American veg and seafood.
The restaurant in which I sat, Laboratorio, is a hub of gastronomic innovation in Quito, where traditionally the most famed dish has been roast pork. Appetites are changing, though.
For most visitors, Quito is a stopover, a necessary connection between home and the wildlife wonderland that is the Galapagos Islands. But Ecuador’s capital is increasingly a destination in its own right: Its airport is award-winning (the Global Airport Lounge of the Year Awards named Quito’s international lounge the best in the world citing its outdoor terrace and private wine cellar); multiple airlines, including Air Canada and Air France, are launching direct flights to the capital city this year; and with the opening of the first subway line due this summer, this skinny but booming city, wedged in a valley between mountains, will be a lot easier to get around.
Two neighbourhoods leading the charge in Quito’s creative growth are Mariscal Sucre and La Floresta – Laboratorio sits on the border of them both. Launched in 2015 by Camilo Kohn, the modern, industrial-designed restaurant, where beer is served in beakers, is what its name declares: a lab in which chefs from around the world come to cook for three or four months at a time.
Chef Dimas Putra Pratama, visiting from Indonesia, brought me my rice surprise. He’d won a competition through the Ecuadorian consulate in Indonesia and made the move without knowing a word of Spanish, he tells me. He was energized, not just by the work of finding local ingredients that he could incorporate into Indonesian dishes, but by the enthusiasm and hunger for something new.
A few blocks away on Valladolid, one of the area’s main streets, signs of change are literally painted on the storefronts and streets of La Floresta. Beautiful, quirky and colourful murals decorate shops and gates, while hipster record shops (La Venganza Del Analogo), cinemas (Ocho y Medio) and cafés (Botanica) draw the area’s creatives to its doors. The area even has its first concept shop, Artik Uio, in which several vendors of Ecuadorian goods have a space.
There’s no alpaca stuffed animals here (though awfully cute, they’re easy to find at all the traditional tourist spots). Instead, there’s modern homewares from local design studio Kuska, alpaca textiles from Shuar and hand-embroidered fashion brand Dominga.
It’s an exciting counterbalance to the city’s rich historic quarter, where more than 200 religious buildings (churches, monasteries, convents) can be found. It’s possible, if you’re okay with heights, to climb the tower of the Basilica del Voto Nacional to get a view of many of these structures and the changes that the city is undergoing.
Feet firmly on the ground in nearby Independence Square, I walk past construction for the metro line. New Quito is well under way.
The writer was a guest of Quito Tourism. The organization did not review or approve the story before publication.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.