In Baños, the semi-tropical Andean town under the shadow of the frequently erupting Tungurahua volcano in central Ecuador in a region they call the Avenue of the Volcanoes, nearly every mom and pop soda shop can be seen practicing an art that seems a little bit out of the ordinary. Right in the street side doorway there is a small wooden peg with what looks like pink bubble gum wrapped around it. The person begins to pull it and pull it until it is a stretched for several meters and then wraps it back around the knob. Sometimes they take a lump of it and slam it against the counter or beat it against the worn out doorframe. These are the melcocheros. The product? Melcocha, the local sugar cane taffy/toffee.
The Melcocha Making Process
Creating the signature sweet of Baños and Ecuador is a labor-intensive process, that thankfully, hasn’t yet jumped ship to be made in a factory somewhere. After boiling a mixture of sugar and water, the sugar paste is then clumped onto the doorway knob. The melcochero pulls the taffy to release the air bubbles and crystals from the sugar paste. After the melcocha is pulled, it is formed into little bricks and placed on plastic sheets to dry.
While melcocha is extremely sweet and the flavor somewhat raisin like, the defining characteristic is the tooth braking density of it. One bite with a loose incisor and you won’t be getting it back. Still, for the small price of an American quarter, it is worth a try. If you walk by and watch they’ll even give you a taste for free.
Other culinary delights to be found in Baños, Ecuador:
Llapingachos – I have a hard time mentioning anything food related in the Ecuadorian highlands without speaking of Llapingachos. The typical plate tops a mashed and then fried potato (and sometimes plantain) pancake with a helping of sausage and fried eggs and a side of avocado. The heaping plate is like six meals to the super model, but for the average person who just soaked in the nearby hot springs after a grueling hike or rafting run it hits the spot.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.