Cooking Quimbolitos Con Mama

Lily Shaffer - Ecuador


November 12, 2010

Quimbolitos are little gifts from the gods.  I’m not kidding. They’re these delectable pound cake-like, steamed concoctions of sweet, buttery goodness wrapped up in the leaf of some secret plant I still can’t figure out.

If you ever come to Ecuador, make sure quimbolitos are the first meal you eat—they’ll also be the last, because you’ll want them for every meal, every day, all day.

Much to my delight, mi Mamá in Quito has a quimbolito business!! (WOW I LOVE ECUADOR) But seriously, every Thursday night, she starts whipping up nearly a hundred quimbolitos for hungry neighbors, friends, and church members.  I love Fridays because I get a quimbolito for breakfast and dinner, and sometimes, if she’s in a good mood (which is basically all the time), she’ll make extra so I can eat them Saturday and Sunday as well.

So, for the send-off, appreciation party, each Fellow had to cook something with her family.  Bet you can’t guess what we made.

On Wednesday night, I was, if you can try to imagine, pretty excited at the fact that I was about to receive quimbolito lessons from the quimbolito maestra.  She never let me help on Thursdays because the first night I moved in, she said I could fold a leaf, and – I ripped it in half.  Instead, I sat, mouthwatering, wide-eyed, watching her fold the mystery-plants ever so delicately.  But on this night, I was going to create each and every one.

So the scene is laid out:  Donde Está Elisa?, our favorite novela, is unfolding on the grainy kitchen TV (the detectives are just about to find out that it was the Tia who killed the Elisa!), the cheese and lime rind are neatly shredded, the pot is boiling on the stove, the leaves are washed and trimmed, our hairnets are on, and I am ready to cook.  What am I not ready for? The fact that although it looks easy, I’m dealing with a guru here.  It’s not easy.

I start folding and the first thing out of mi Mamá’s mouth is “AY YAY YAY. What was I thinking, letting you try to make Quimbolito?! The only Ecuadorian thing you can cook well for a gringa is rice. That is a HORRENDOUS quimbolito.  Here, let me show you how it’s done.”

This goes on about ten times, until I finally say, “No! Mamá, if you never let me do it, I’ll never learn.” To which she shakes her head, tells me once again that I am a failure (in the most loving way possible), laughs a little bit, and then intently shifts her focus to the novela.  After a few minutes, I showed her my (at least I thought it was) “perfect” little delicacy.

Not perfect enough for her! But that’s when the teamwork begins. We start folding together, and pretty soon, I’m getting the hang of it.  Then we get all fancy and made some chocolate topping to mix in, “marble quimbolitos” if you will. And we’re making mini’s and grandes, licking the spatula, practically crying when the first batch is burned. But wait! We forgot we put in chocolate! The brown is not burnt batter, it’s just chocolate batter! Then Kathy stops by and wants one but we need to save them for the party, and the phone’s ringing, and la Tia just killed her husband on TV, and we’re using self-timer on the camera from on top of the fridge, and Juan needs to be let in at the gate, and we’re laughing, and she keeps telling me I’m a quimbolito-failure, and we’re laughing some more and chuta! It’s getting late. And we’re running out of raisins.

And for the first time since getting to Ecuador, I’m feeling really, truly, wholly, happy.

Lily Shaffer