Sangolqui is a town famous for its daily open market (mercado abierto) and food. People from Quito make their way every weekend for delicious eats, and the locals think of their city as a colorful and magical place.
Located in Valle de los Chillos, Sangolqui has a population of about 80,000 with at least four universities calling the city home. After our neighbor described it as “chévere!”, slang in Ecuador for cool, great or fabulous; we decided to check it out.
Valle de los Chillos is located to the south-east of the province of Pichincha, only 20 minutes from the historical centre of Quito. Many small villages and towns dot the valley including Tumbaco, Cununyacu, San Rafael, San Pedro del Tingo and Sangolqui.
Starting at Tumbaco, the intervalles highway through the valley didn’t always exist. I can only imagine what it was like to walk the dirt trail through thick forest from Tumbaco to the pools at Cununyacu. It was a very picturesque drive from Tumbaco, and we passed San Rafael stopping at San Pedro del Tingo to look out at the vista below.
Next stop was just outside Sangolqui’s city center for hornados, a delicious, Ecuadorian tradition of oven-roasted food. Thanks to this succulent dish, Sangolquí has earned a reputation for ‘the land of hornado’, and many tourists arrive here every weekend to indulge.
Moments after we left our car, the aroma of smoke and roasted meat wafted into our nostrils. And we soon discovered our lunch on display at the front of the restaurant. The famous establishment, Hornados Dieguito, reminded me of a Texas BBQ steakhouse with its long, banquet tables.
They’ve done so well for themselves that the family owns at least three different franchises cooking this traditional Ecuadorian food. Often hornados de chancho (roast pork) is accompanied by Llapingachos, little potato cakes. All I can say is “lucky I was wearing elasticated pants”.
My impression of Sangolqui was of a slow-paced, traditional and delightful city. With one of the prettiest town plazas I have seen, the surrounding buildings were well preserved, colorful and bustling with business. There were more people walking than driving, which I’ve found rare in the big cities of Ecuador.
Sunny weather called for an ice cream of the Ecuadorian-kind, helados de paila. Apparently, the best place in town was Heladeria Victoria, which has been a family business for the last 60 years. Exotic fruit and standard flavors were scribbled on the menu so I chose Simon’s favorite Ecuador fruit, taxo. A banana passionfruit, taxo is quite tart in flavor but mixed with milk tastes a little like apricot. Regrettably, the small cone of taxo-flavored deliciousness left me craving more.
Wandering the town plaza, we spotted an old man holding a pistol and standing in front of a bright, green board. The Ecuadorian ran a carnival-like game where you shot darts at the board to win candy or money. We’re talking really sharp darts and not suction cups. Simon landed his dart almost on the bull’s eye for $5. But we left quite promptly when a gaggle of young boys grabbed the pistols and carelessly waved them around.
A Saturday trip to Sangolqui isn’t complete without visiting the markets so we ventured to the mercado abierto (open market) for juice and fresh vegetables. This Ecuador food market is clean, well-maintained and open everyday of the week.
People from Quito come on the weekends just to buy their produce. We took home tomatoes at $0.50 per pound; $1.50 for a big, juicy pineapple and $0.50 per pound for pimiento roja (red capsicum).
By far the highlight of our day was catching the sun setting on Pichincha Volcano at the nearby Ruminahui lookout. It was a race to reach the top of the ridge before the sun disappeared, so we were quite hushed in the car. Iridescent rays were on my left as I craned to catch a glimpse of the volcano ahead.
The road was made of dirt and stone which made the journey even more adventurous (I’ve started to associate dirt roads here with amazing moments). And the sight that greeted us as we all jumped out of the car was simply magnificent. With the quiet hush of twilight and giggle of the little Ecuadorian girls watching us, we took five photos before the moment was gone. We stood there until dusk had well and truly settled in for the night, witnesses to the painting before us.
Read more about Linda’s favourite “helados de paila” (Ecuadorian ice-cream) on Pro-Ecuador.com — Ibarra History: Bloody Battles and Famous Ice Cream