This week I was very lucky to be invited to an exclusive dinner celebrating the flavours of Ecuador in the presences of the Ambassador of Ecuador on the UK. The event was hosted by the Ecuadorian Trade Office and Branding Latin America and was designed to show off some of Ecuador’s best foods and their producers.

The meal was prepared by Sven Hanne, executive chef at the Unipark Hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with a menu designed to highlight the individual ingredients more than traditional dishes.

Ecuador exports a vast array of foods, many of which I had never considered. Bananas and coffee are obvious, but they also export tuna, shellfish, plantain, palm hearts, a vast array of other fruit and vegetables, and cocoa. In fact, Ecuador is the largest exporter of fine flavour cocoa beans in the world.

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After an aperitif of Ecuadorian prawn ceviche, our starter was something I hadn’t encountered before. Heart of Palm is harvested from the growing buds of palm tries (or so Wikipedia tells me!). Served with an emulsion of chilli and fruits, and Mahi Mahi tartar with goldenberries, it was packed with flavours and textures.

There was certainly a lot going on here, but it was a dish specifically designed to show off the Ecuadorian ingredients and it fulfilled that role perfectly.

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Following the starter came a simple but delicious palate cleanser. The guava sorbet was sweet but refreshing with a perfectly smooth texture. I love guava, so this went down very well!

The main course (pictured at the top of this post) was a Tuna tataki with “Moro de Guandales”, a traditional rice and pea dish, served with fried slices of organic Ecuadorian vegetables. I hadn’t actually associated Ecuador with tuna, but they are in fact one of the biggest exporters in the world. Again, there was a lot of different flavours and textures on the plate, but the fish was still the star of the show and everything worked together well.

Of course, what I really came for was the dessert. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Photo: Branding Latin America

Photo: Branding Latin America

My friend Susana is co-founder of a brand new Ecuadorian chocolate couverture company called Montecristi Chocolate, and this was the first dessert prepared with the chocolate outside of Ecuador. Montecristi work with around a thousand farmers in the Manabi region of Ecuador, supervising every stage of the process, including the manufacturing in the Quito.

It’s still very rare for chocolate to be made in the country it grows, and this care and passion for the product, combined with a truly wonderful, fruity flavour makes it something a bit special.

Our dessert – a chocolate & banana cake served with cocoa nibs, served in a chocolate dome with papaya & mango ceviche showed off those flavours wonderfully. The cake somehow managed to be both intensely chocolatey and light and fruity at the same time.

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Simply by using the local Ecuadorian flavours he had to work with, chef Sven Hanne created a wonderful dessert where the fruit and chocolate complemented each other perfectly.

This was a wonderful way to end a great evening. I came away not just satisfied, but knowing a lot more about Ecuador and its flavours. I hope to visit the country soon to taste and learn a lot more!

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