Pie in the sky: sweet discovery in a mountain town

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I don’t publish a lot of restaurant reviews on The Travelling Boomer. I leave that to the foodies, unless I find a place that’s really special. Usually that’s a historic eatery like Café Central in Vienna, or the Grand Café Orient in Prague. But now and then I come across a place that’s special in a different, quirky kind of way – like the one I found on the Plaza de Ponchos in Otavalo, Ecuador.

Despite the excellent produce available, most Ecuadorean cooking is nothing to write home about. The basic meal, called a menestra, consists of soup (always soup), followed by rice and stewed beans or lentils, a bit of shredded veggie salad, and a piece of meat that’s usually good for a long chew. If you seek out a good restaurant, you’ll get better meat – maybe even some guinea pig — and more adventurous side dishes, but haute cuisine is a rarity.

That’s why I was delighted to discover, in the Andean town of Otavalo, something so far from the daily drudge of menestras that it kindled a warm glow in my heart: a pie shop. In fact, if I hadn’t read about it in my Lonely Planet guidebook I might have missed it altogether. But there it was, hidden behind a rack of colourful hats on the town’s main plaza, a plain-looking shop with a sign that read: The Pie Shop “Shanandoa”.

Pie in the sky pie shop

And so I went in. It wasn’t exactly the pie shop I remember from my youth, with white table cloths and a counter lined with pies displayed under glass domes. It was a pie shop Ecuadorean style, with six or eight bare tables and a TV flickering silently in the corner. But there were flowers on the tables, the atmosphere was homey, and there, at the back of the shop, was a glass case filled with the main attraction: an amazing array of pies.

The older lady behind the counter looked a bit harried – it was market day, so the shop was filled with tourists. But asked about the offerings of the day, she dutifully recited the list: apple, blueberry, strawberry, lemon, lemon meringue, pineapple and maracuya (passion fruit, to you and me). A piece with a coffee was three dollars — three-fifty with a scoop of helado, or ice cream.

I eyed the more exotic items, but in the end, I couldn’t resist the look of the blueberry, and in a couple of minutes it was delivered to my table, piled high with blueberries and magically, still warm. No helado – my system quarrels with milk – but the coffee was black and hot.

Bllueberry pie close-up

For once I managed to wait long enough to take a photo before diving in, but it only took one bite to realize this was the real thing. I hadn’t had pie this good in a long time, the berries bursting with flavour but not too sweet, the crust rich and savoury. The coffee was good, too — not always the case in Ecuador, where some places still serve you a cup of hot water and a bowl of instant.

I hadn’t expected to stay too long in Otavalo, but a couple of days turned into a couple more, and a few days later I found myself back at the Shanandoa pie shop. I could have just had a regular lunch, but hey, this pie in the sky was too good to resist. This time I chose the strawberry, which the Lonely Planet writer had called “amazing”.

For somestrawberry pie reason I expected something cold and crisp, but it was warm like the blueberry, and it melted in your mouth.

The pie shop’s hours were a bit on the wonky side – it was closed at times you’d expect a restaurant to be open, and open when you’d expect it to be closed. But on my last day in Otavalo, I found it open for business around midday, and decided on one last visit.

This time I was resolved to venture into the unknown, with a piece of the strange but enticing maracuya. My hopes were dashed: “No hay”, said the woman – none today. Disappointed, I chose the piña, or pineapple. Like the others it was warm as if from the oven, and it tasted even better than you’d imagine. I ate it with satisfaction, and the woman opened the door to let me out – the pie shop was closing for the day. Goodbye, Otavalo.

I’ve eaten in grander restaurants on my travels, and certainly more expensive ones. But there’s something about finding a warm, delicious taste of home in a far-off country that’s just as good as three Michelin stars. After all – what says home like a piece of pie?

Pineapple pie

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

4 Comments

    • It was delicious, and not full of little woody bits like you get here. I suppose it was blueberry season — they were everywhere, though the seasons are different there on the equator, so maybe they get more than one crop. And there’s quite a big greenhouse growing industry there: toward Quito you see acres of white “tents” where they grow the roses we see in our flower shops.

  1. Pie in the sky sounds delicious. One of my most favorite deserts. As for the some of the other items you mentioned , I think they would soon entice me to become a vegetarian.

    • Yeah, Dennis, I wish I could have brought that shop home with me — though it could be a threat to most people’s diet. Some of the other stuff they eat in Ecuador can be a bit of a shock. I saw a woman selling tiny snails out of a bucket, and near the animal market was a shop selling a big stack of pigs’ heads. (The guinea pig is actually pretty good, though — not too different from rabbit.)

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