Flavors of the land
The railroad truly reveals Ecuador’s amazing agricultural dimension and potential. As we make our way from the high Andes to the Andean slopes and eventually the coastal plains, we get to experience and observe not only clear changes in climate, but astounding varieties of crops, some of which are being grown right next to the tracks.
A modern age trading route
While the train has transported large numbers of people from one corner of the country to the other, even more crops, grains, legumes, fruits and livestock have been loaded onto its wagons. The train quickly became the country’s most important means of transportation, making agriculture a lucrative business in Ecuador almost overnight.
Paradoxically, around the same time the railroad between Quito and Guayaquil was completed, a tragic epidemic obliterated one of the most profitable industries in the country’s history: cacao. The impact of the tragedy – in those early years the chocolate industry had influenced the creation and use of the railroad – was only lessened thanks to the astounding variety of agricultural products cultivated throughout the country.
Once the route from the Andes to the coast was underway, the opportunity to trade and transport products from every acre of this rich land forever changed the country’s economy, and thereby, its society, forever.
Landowners were quick to place their plantations, crops, farms and collection centers right up against the rails. The train even made unscheduled stops to load wagons with goods straight from the fields. Even now, despite years and years of irregular use, we can still see how the railroad changed, shaped and molded Ecuador’s incredibly rich and diverse agrarian world.
Wheat mills, sugar mills, pineapple plantations, rice paddies, banana groves on the coast, as well as a regenerated cocoa industry, escort and flank the railway today.
In the highlands, the tracks scythe through corn, potato and lupin fields, legume and quinoa fields, as well as flower and rose plantations (the most profitable industry in the country in recent years). The landscape is dominated by the colors, shapes and environments of each crop, from the vivid, fertile rice paddies to the seemingly barren pineapple fields, from the purple flowers of the potato to the sublime hues of quinoa: all part of Pachamama’s patchwork of flowing, undulating, colorful, wondrous life.
As part of the Ecuadorian Railway’s efforts to value all of the country’s traditions – including the culinary – as well as bring a long chain of suppliers into its sphere of influence, it’s possible to taste many of these delights on journeys both short and long.
Snacks served on the Tren Crucero are a good example. Whether it be choclo con habas y queso (corn on the cob with lima beans and fresh cheese), tamales, chocolate, delicious fresh juices, Ecuadorian coffee, dainty traditional sweets or even whole meals of lamb stew or fresh ceviche, the luxury train is as much about ‘eating the land you pass through’ as it is about enjoying the countryside and meeting the people.
All of the dishes and delights are prepared by local suppliers, who the Railways have trained to ensure they guarantee and improve quality and hygiene, as well providing stable sources of income for whole families.
On the expedition routes, every Café del Tren is a hive of local produce, offering hot and cold dishes, as well as herbal teas, freshly-brewed coffee and juices. The Cafés are run by local entrepreneurs and always serve food from their surrounding region.
In the high Andes of Urbina, for example, the Café serves freshly-baked flat bread, horchata herbal infusions, and the simple yet delicious choclos, while ice-cream is served by the last “ice-man” Balthazar Ushca’s family, made blackberries, sugar and ice from glaciers of the nearby colossus, the Chimborazo Volcano.
On the Tren del Cacao (Chocolate Train) from Guayaquil eastwards winto the heart of cacao country, you can expect, of course, an overload of chocolate, as well as the chance to learn about the industry while visiting a plantation of trees overloaded with the precious pods. The pineapples served along this and another coastal routes are also to die for.
The Railways truly reflect Ecuador’s rich and varied culinary landscapes, no matter on which route you travel.