Traditional Lunch at the Sani Community Center, Amazon Basin, Ecuador

Written December 7, 2011

Sani Lodge – Day 4 Continued

The second activity for the day is a visit to the local Sani village where the woman’s association has prepared a traditional lunch for us. We arrive starving but first take a tour of the kitchen before they set out the lunch. The association is housed in an open air covered building divided into sections. The entrance is decorated with palm fronds and flowers. Inside is a small area for the gift shop where they sell beaded jewelry. The local musician sits with a guitar in his lap and his young son next to him. The entrance to the kitchen area is behind a partition where a wood fire is flanked by four to five small hammocks hanging at odd angles around, each contain a sleeping baby who is given a little push when an adult passes by.

Jessica, a volunteer from Mexico and our tour guide for the afternoon, explains what’s cooking on the wood fire – yucca, plantain, fish cooked in a leaf (a preparation called maito), hearts of palm chopped fine and cooked in a leaf, skewers of white cacao beans and the local delicacy mallones (grubs) cooked two ways – maito, like the fish, and skewered, like the cacao beans.

In the corner sits a red bowl half full of water with the rest of the wriggling mallones that didn’t make the lunch.

Jessica explains that it is quite a treat to eat mallones as it required a lot of work to find them. A palm tree must be cut down where they find the live beetle larvae living at the base, each about the size of a thumb.

After the tour of the kitchen braided palm fronds are placed on the floor. Next the dishes are brought out and laid on the fronds.

We are told that locals eat with their hands, sitting on the floor. All the foods taste of smoke from the fire, especially the mallones. The first one I pop in my mouth is still piping hot. With the first bite, the crunchy skin bursts in my mouth oozing out a rich and creamy interior.

It is not unpleasant and quite tasty once you get past the idea that you are eating a grub. To wash down the meal we are given a bowl of chicha, a fermented yucca drink, slightly sweet with a distinct fermented taste.

After lunch we take a tour of the community. No one lives at the center, rather it’s a place where the local Sani people gather for meetings, work projects, and parties.

The community center also includes a school, clinic and cacao project. Jessica explains that the woman’s association was developed to give the women a way to earn money by selling handicrafts and putting on these traditional lunches.

After the tour we are taken back to the main house where they have put together a musical presentation for us. Two women perform a traditional dance accompanied by the musician on his guitar. The younger one swings around with pride while the older one timidly sways to the music. After a few minutes they bring Don and Freddy into the dance and the dance soon ends in laughter.

Next the musician sings a couple of local songs accompanied by his guitar and then violin. His explains with pride his quest to learn these musical instruments and the song lyrics (sung in quechua) about the daily life of the people living in the area.

The community is new at hosting tourists and they are still working out the kinks, getting over their shyness and trying to develop an understanding of what will interest visitors and bring in money for the community.

Dinner back at the lodge seems painfully ordinary compared to our tantalizing lunch – cauliflower soup garnished with popcorn, fried quinoa patty, puréed yucca and side of vegetables in a tomato sauce. An odd combination with little protein. Nut cake for dessert.

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3 Responses to Traditional Lunch at the Sani Community Center, Amazon Basin, Ecuador

  1. How did the mallones taste like?

    • baidanbi says:

      Great question! They tasted smoky and rich like bacon but with a soft creamy texture something like pudding. Thanks for checking in.

      • I like the smoky taste…since knowing what it is…the soft creamy part, it is something I would try but not looking. hahaha. Thanks for documenting your trip with all those beautiful wildlife pix and culture.

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