Virtually hidden among the cluster of rustic spaces in old towns La Ronda district, Chef Carlos Manya prepares 45 flavors of Quitos traditional ice cream, all made naturally in large bronze pots for the San Juan Bakery, and in full view of customers who find the way to their second floor shop.
Downstairs from the Bakery, the Indemeni family - Bertrand Indemini, Cristina Baez Montenegro and their daughter, Cristina make pastries and bonbons at Chez Tiff while offering visitors a crash course on the history of chocolate.
And down the street Mayra Quishpe and her husband sell honey and honey-made products without harmful chemicals under the brand Api Real.
We are naturalists, Quishpe explains. It is an expression of our way of life.
Api Real, Chez Tiff, and the San Juan Bakery are part of a municipal-sponsored program called Manos de la Ronda (Hands of La Ronda) that is attempting to attract more visitors to Quitos historical walkway. A dozen artisans are on hand every day to demonstrate and talk about their crafts while visitors observe and, in some cases, taste the end result.
At the San Juan Bakery visitors encounter some of Quitos most traditional desserts including aplanchados, suspiros, moncaibos, chimborazos, pañuelito, biscochos, alfahoras, and their famous quesdillas , cheese-based pastries which have become the symbol of the house.
Though it takes its name from its location in the San Juan neighborhood for many decades, the pastry shop has returned to its roots with the Manos de la Ronda program. It was founded in this same neighborhood in 1935 by the family of Manuela Cobo Quintana, the current owner.
Though the quesadilla pastry is their star product so many come to see the making of their traditional ice cream. San Juan has diversified their flavors using medicinal plants and herbs such as lemon verbena and basil to complement the usual flavors such as guanabana, taxo, and blackberry. They get tired of the traditional flavors..they prefer to experiment with others, says Manya.
As you leave their second floor shop, or before you climb the stairs, Chez Tiff is often full of tourists who are fascinated with the world of chocolate. Visitors are immediately drawn to their demonstration table where chocolate is ground by hand before an aromatic and colorful display of herbs, leaves, and cocoa pods.
Bertrand Indemini, an Italian pastry chef, began experimenting with chocolate seven years ago, and together with his wife Cristina, a historian by training, created a concept that was waiting to happen.
Together they offer explanations and demonstrations combined with a video presentation about the origins of chocolate. The idea is to combine the two professions from cocoa we give a history of Ecuador.
Walk in off the street, as most do, and both Cristinas are there to meet you. We have every kind of sweet spices, all that you can find in this country, which are not necessarily used in chocolate but we have adapted them with such luck that we utilize them in chocolate, mixing them with cocoa paste, explains the mother.
Her daughter points and names them all: ginger, laurel, cinnamon flower, sambo seeds, calendula leaf, Jamaica flower, and leaves from the guayusa plant. From there, customers are directed to the bonbon display, with bite size portions or boxes available for purchase in flavors such as blackberry, coffee, passion fruit, coconut, mint, and blue bird, which has the taste of a regional liquor.
Though Chez Tiff and the San Juan Bakery, survive by the delicious flavors they produce, some fellow artisans have found a need to expand beyond the palate.
Api Real began as a honey business producing artisan honey made from the nector of particular plants and trees throughout Ecuador nine years ago. Business was good until an unexplained crisis reduced the local bee population and forced Mayra Quishpe and her husband to expand to other products.
We said, either we do something different, with honey, or we go broke, she says. We began to produce derivatives since it [honey] has curative properties, it is medicinal, we utilized it as a base for secondary products..soaps, shampoo, creams.
Api Real uses other products to augment the use of honey in their soaps and creams, including ortiga, a native plant, and mortiño, a local blueberry. And they work with other communities that provide their sustainable packaging.
All of their efforts are done with consideration. Their goal is to recover a way of life that is sustainable. We have successfully produced a product that does not have chemicals, she says with an obvious pride. She is the first to admit her way of life is not easy. We know what it is to produce. We know that many times those who are producing are those who earn the least.
She and the other artisans in La Ronda are all battling the tendencies of todays world to consume industrialized, mass-produced products. Their shops demonstrate a way of life and they invite you to discover it with them.
*SPONSORED BY QUITO TURISMO