Chimborazo: Come for the food, stay for the cultural lesson
Rather than belatedly eat Mexican food on May 6, my new friend Kate Sommers and I decided to try the Ecuadorian restaurant on 29th and Central for a little post Cinco de Mayo lunch. We thought we were in for normal Ecuadorian cuisine, but it turns out there is no such thing. Our chef (and the owner), Marcos Pinguil, gave us a tour of the four main cultures in Ecuador, explaining how his food comes from the native cultures of the mountain area, as opposed to the Spanish-influenced city dwellers, or the Esmeraldas, or the Churros people of the grasslands--none of whom get along with one another, he says. Pinguil's native language is Quicho, and only much later in life did he learn basic Spanish.
So with our cultural appreciation in hand, we took off down the road of Ecuadorian mountain cuisine. Pinguil has been cooking food like this since he was 14, working on a large banana farm in Ecuador in the kitchen. He came to the U.S. when he was 21 and worked in a variety of South American restaurants until opening Chimborazo a year ago. He normally picks out the meat himself from Restaurant Depot, but is sometimes able to buy directly from a farm in Isanti. His many years with the cuisine and care for his craft were evident.
Kate and I both had our opinions about the food.
Kate: The soup, caldo de bolas de verde. Ecuadorians eat a lot of soup, and now I know why. The plantain dumpling filled with meat and vegetables in a peanut broth was both light and satisfying.
Rob: Definitely the muchin de yuca, three deep-fried yucca croquettes filled with onion and cheese. The yucca was delicious, like a sweet flour breading, and the aji criollo sauce for dipping had just the right amount of spice. It's now my favorite State Fair food not at the State Fair, and not on a stick.
Least favorite thing.
Kate: The cerdo, a roasted pork sandwich with sweet plantain and aji criollo. I'm used to eating flavorful meat, but the pork taste totally overwhelmed the other elements.
Rob: I agree. I thought the sandwich lacked texture, and the sweetness of the plantain didn't balance out the pork, but rather fought with it.
What do you wish you had the recipe for:
Rob: The aji criollo sauce that was served with everything really was a plus to the meal. It's a mixture of cilantro, garlic, and jalapenos but isn't overwhelmingly hot. It's got a future as the next new condiment.
Kate: I really liked the potato pancakes, the llapingachon, which came with our entree. They were light, fluffy, and came with a delicious peanut sauce (who knew Ecuadorians used so many peanuts in their cuisine?)
Rob: I liked the mix of our entree, the chorizo, the potato pancakes, the peanut sauce, the egg, and the rice. It was a very different combination of foods.
Likely to return?
Kate: Definitely! I'd love to come here for a casual dinner party with friends, order one of everything, and share it. I'd even consider it for my next birthday gathering.
Rob: Of course. Maybe even tomorrow.
Chimborazo, named for a volcano that is Ecuador's highest summit, is on the corner of 29th Avenue NE and Central Avenue in Minneapolis