Although my parents immigrated to south Florida shortly after marrying, I consider Guayaquil, Ecuador central to my life origins. It is a place cherished by every relative I know and love, and the connection my family holds to Guayaquil is undeniable. Through my travels there, Guayaquil has revealed to me the fulfilling and transformative power of exploring one’s cultural roots.
Flying from Miami International Airport to José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport is nothing short of invigorating. Welcomed by family members that I do not get to see as often as I would like, I feel endless warmth upon arrival. Embracing my grandparents, uncles, and cousins at the airport is a moment that I look forward to every time we visit. While they rejoice in our return, we rejoice in their kindness.
Food has always been a source of connection for my entire family. While visiting our relatives in Ecuador, we relish in the country’s delicacies. For my Floridian family, shared meals foster invaluable connections with our Ecuadorian relatives. It is during moments of culinary togetherness that we extensively savor Ecuadorian cuisine.
Food has bonded me to my maternal grandmother, “Abuela Nini,” one of the people with whom I spend the most time while visiting Guayaquil. Staying at her home in the neighborhood of Entre Ríos, I hold sacred the love she continuously offers and the laughs she ceaselessly produces. Over time, I have noticed that she and I both view food as an outlet for intense satisfaction. We relate in that we not only acknowledge but cherish the power of flavor. For us, food is not fuel; it is one of life’s treasures. Therefore, eating with my grandmother is nothing short of wonderful.
While visiting Ecuador a few years ago, I had a profoundly special culinary experience with my grandmother. For an afternoon during my stay, I accompanied her as she ran errands around town. After a few hours of productivity, I suddenly recognized my surroundings from within her car; we were minutes away from Entre Ríos. Hungry after a long afternoon, I suggested that we eat at a restaurant called Naturissimo. Accepting my request with a smile, my grandmother soon made a right turn into Bocca, a nearby plaza where the restaurant is located. Among a wide array of city-wide locations, this specific spot is preferred by my family. Naturissimo is an Ecuadorian franchise known for offering delectable “pán de yuca” and yogurt drinks. “Pán de yuca,” a beloved baked good in Ecuador, is often viewed as a staple of casual dining. The dish consists of cassava cheese bread, always served warm. Every time I encounter it at Naturissimo, my taste buds are enlightened by the spirit of South American comfort food.
Entering the restaurant with my grandmother, I was immediately welcomed by the colorful paintings on the walls and the kind staff members. Behind the counter, there were several páns de yuca kept warm by insulated display cases. In addition to ordering some of these, we both selected raspberry-flavored yogurt drinks, which were similar to yogurt milkshakes. After paying, we decided to dine outside.
Sitting across from each other at a round table, we began to indulge. The warmth of the bread in my hands significantly elevated my excitement. Pulling the dough apart, I could see the steam rising and the cheese expanding. Pán de yuca has a crisp exterior, so every bite begins with a perfect hint of crunchiness. However, the inside of the bread is extremely delicate. The bread’s interior is like a savory cloud, melting in your mouth with every bite. The nuttiness of the cheese and the starchiness of the cassava complement each other, producing a blissfully warm sensation in your stomach. That day, the sweet-yet-tart raspberry yogurt drink exquisitely balanced the pán de yuca with bursts of fruitiness, beautifully contrasting the bread’s salty notes. Sips of the cold, smooth beverage highlighted the comforting warmth of pán de yuca.
In the past, I always wondered how my Ecuadorian roots specifically touched my life. As a south Florida resident, there are many differences between my lifestyle and that of my Ecuadorian relatives. Often, I would feel culturally detached while staying in Ecuador; visiting felt like I was stepping into a world drastically different from my own.
While eating at Naturissimo with my grandmother that night, I witnessed the joy that eating pán de yuca and sipping on raspberry yogurt drinks produced in us both. The happiness that I felt inside reminded me of the times that I had eaten pán de yuca in Florida. It suddenly dawned on me that every time I ate this baked good at home, I would think of the endless love that I have for my relatives in Ecuador and how deeply I miss seeing them during the school year. Looking into my grandmother’s eyes, I realized that Ecuadorian cuisine not only allows us to bond, but it also fosters thoughts that mentally unify me with my Ecuadorian roots.
The warmth of the pán de yuca equates to the loving warmth of my relatives abroad. For me, exploring my cultural roots means consuming Ecuadorian food and valuing the lovely thoughts that ensue. The food that pertains to my culture touches my life by reinforcing the respect I hold for familial ties. The pán de yuca and raspberry yogurt drink at Naturissimo taught me that love defies distance.