There’s nothing better than a stroll through its food markets to get to know a city’s everyday rhythms. So on my one and only day in Quito, a definite highlight was the wander around Mercado Iñaquito in the north of Ecuador’s capital.
I loved the dizzying variety of corn – from morocho to mais morado to mais negro. Ecuador is known for its many kinds of maize, which is traditionally used for staple foods and drinks such as chicha (a maize beer), palomitas de maiz (popcorn), tamales, tostadas, and tortillas.
And then there are bananas – small, giant, red, black. There are over 15 varieties in Ecuador, I was told. A propos of fruit, I loved the juice stalls with a big sign advertising “juice therapy”. People come up to the stalls, explain what ails them and in a couple of minutes, the women working the stalls whip up a miraculous liquid cure.
It was especially fun to chat with the medicine ladies about the healing use of different herbs and flowers. That’s how I learned about Sangre de Drago (Dragon’s Blood), a medicinal powerhouse that comes out of a sap of an Amazonian tree and serves as a natural disinfectant, among other things. The indigenous peoples of the rainforest have been using the sap since the beginning of time to treat wounds and various ailments, including diarrhea, ulcers, intestinal problems, and apparently even cancer. Whether the last is true is up for debate but Sangre de Drago was a reminder that the Amazon provides so much medicine we haven’t tapped into. I wish more doctors turned to the natural resources our planet provides instead of prescribing pills. So perhaps it’s the ladies at Mercado Iñaquito that hold the secret key to our health.
I left the market with coca tea to bring back home to Brooklyn, and almost walked away with a huge pouch of herbs that a vendor claimed would work wonders in a bath to relax me and lift me out of a bad mood when I’m down. She almost convinced me but then I realized there was no way I’d get past the customs with a bunch of random Ecuadorian leafs and plants. As far as I was concerned, it would have been the perfect gift to self.
Disclaimer: My recent trip to Ecuador was sponsored by LAN Airlines.