The sweeter side of Quito - Colaciones & Golosinas

22/Junio/2012 | 17:07

By Lance Brashear

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When looking for a treasure you don’t always need a map.  Sometimes all that is needed is simply to follow your nose.

Quito is a labyrinth with treasures made by artisans of every trade.  Luis Banda, who works in the San Roque neighborhood, is perhaps one of the most well-known. 

To say Banda runs a family business is like saying the churches of Quito have nice paintings.  What Banda does is not simply produce a sweet-tasting product that has been popular for three generations; he and his candies, known as “colaciones,” are part of the city’s heritage.

When his grandfather began in 1915, the workshop was located at the corner of Bolivar and Imbabura, just behind the San Francisco Convent where a green cross mounted on the wall has been a reference for centuries. 

“According to some priests, where you find a cross is where they often found priests who had jumped the walls to go for a drink,” says Banda.  In this historically, religious city, it is a familiar legend of excess - stories of temptation from which even the men of God could not escape.

The Banda business eventually moved a block north nearer to Chimborazo Street, but still close enough to be considered, “Colaciones de la Cruz Verde,” (sweets of the green cross).

Though “colacion” in Spanish can mean snack or sweet, in Quito it refers to one specific treat, prepared daily by Banda. 

Luis works in sugar the way others work in oils, wood or fabric.  His sweets begin as peanuts, which are first roasted and then rocked back and forth manually by Banda himself, in a large copper pot suspended by rope above hot coals, in his doorway.  The constant movement and addition of homemade sugar syrup, over the course of a couple of hours, converts the peanuts into small, white sugar balls, the size of marbles. 

When they reach the right size, the sweets are packaged and sold in $1 and $2 presentations. 

Quito has a rich fair of traditional candies and confections.  Though Banda is one artisan with one star product, many others offer a variety of roasted, stewed, and cooked treats that can be found throughout old town Quito.

Along Benalcazar Street, behind the Metropolitan Cultural Center the store fronts and thick adobe walls are interrupted briefly by a wall of packages of roasted peanuts and sweet toasted corn at “Mani de Don Manzano.” 

Gloria Arrow, the wife of Don Manzano, is just visible over the stacks of plastic bags whose contents have taken on the color of their ingredients - panela (unrefined cane sugar) and chocolate that cover the outer kernels. 

She says the stacks of sweets grab the attention of passersby.  Once they approach they have no less than twelve products, packaged in four different presentations, to choose from.  For the uninitiated Arrow gives a quick lesson.

She points to a caramel colored treat: “This is ‘caca de perro,’ (dog poop?),” which she explains is corn kernels mixed with panela and other ingredients like chocolate and vanilla extract.  Though the name is enough to turn you off, until you taste it, it is one of El Centro’s most famous candies.

Arrow continues: “Here we include chocolate also with our ‘habas de dulce’ or ‘habas confitadas,’” pointing to the large, roasted beans.  She moves on to the peanut snacks: “mani de ajonjoli” (peanuts with sesame seed) are covered in chocolate, panela, vanilla and ‘otros politos mas,’” she says proudly.

“Mani de dulce” (sweet peanuts) has chocolate and butter, and she also offers regular “mani de sal” (salted peanuts) for those who do not have a sweet tooth.

If you like variety, she has a trail mix of sorts called “siete machos,” a name invented by her or her husband.  “It is for the men,” she says jokingly, “because it gives power and strength,” suggesting a dose of virility is included.  Interestingly though, it does not have siete, or seven, products, only four: caca de perro, peanuts, salted habas (beans), and raisins.

Finally, Arrow also offers melcochas (panela that is melted and twisted like taffy) and also distributes Banda’s sweets.

Located between Don Manzano and Luis Banda is a storefront that hasn’t changed much in sixty years.  On the corner of Sucre and Benalcazar – the northeast corner of San Francisco Plaza – Jose Jurado has been selling cookies and locally manufactured candy for more than half a century.  Testament to his longevity is the absence of anything electronic. 

The cash register is still a register and he said it was here before he took over.  Looking at it, one has no doubt he is correct.

Bodega Jurado is a place where you buy goodies by the pound or take a snack on the run. They offer individual cookies for $.10 each.  “Everything sells,” he says, as he points to mounds of aplanchados, melbas, biscochos, and the multi-colored packaging of Ecuadorian candies one finds in piñatas and Christmas stockings.  It is a place the locals know and the tourists often miss. 

Instead, visitors to Quito are often lured by the aroma of women stirring caldrons of nuts, sugar, and chocolate.   Near the city museum just across from the “Arca de la Reina” (Queen’s Arch) and the Convent of El Carmen Alto, you find Mani Centro, Kukurucho del Mani, and Confeteria del Gato - three artisan holes in the wall offering even more caca de perro, sweet peanuts, and other treats like dulce de guayaba, coconut, and candied figs.

After a sweet spin through the candy land of Quito, it is surprising that more crosses have not been erected because the “dulces” of El Centro seem a much better reason for indulging in excess.

Ciudad Quito

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