On our first full day in Cuenca, we decided to start our morning in a small neighborhood called Las Herrerías, or the Blacksmiths. We had read an article in Ñan magazine about the artists in the area and the famous wrought iron pieces they sell. Of course, we arrived on New Year’s Eve and not all workshops were open for business but the neighborhood was lively enough that our trip was certainly not wasted.
We started with breakfast at one of the most famous locations in all of Cuenca, El Sabor de las Herrerías. They are famous for their tamales, packets of cornmeal dough stuffed with pork or chicken, wrapped in banana leaves, and then steamed into savory goodness. The locals line up outside where portable gas stoves hold giant pots full of steaming water and hot tamales. The most popular tables are outside, just shy of taking over the sidewalk, but there are three tables inside, in a dark, almost somber space decorated with newspaper cuttings exclaiming the fame of this location.
There is also a plaque from the government of Ecuador naming this restaurant as a prime example of local food culture and a series of pictures showing the process of making tamales by hand.
On each table is a small dish of homemade ají, the local hot sauce. And the only way to eat your tamal is accompanied by a cup of steaming black coffee, heavily sweetened with sugar. No, you won’t have a choice on the sugar. It will come directly to the table pre-sweetened! You can always add more, however.
After stuffing ourselves on tamales, we walked down the street. Workshops were just beginning to open and we could see men bringing work out onto the sidewalks. This may sound strange to American readers but many workshops in Ecuador are small and often poorly lit. Work that requires more space or more light takes place on the sidewalk outside. We have been amazed to see workmen cutting tile, sanding large wooden planks, or welding metal as people casually walk nearby, not a safety cone or rope in sight.
The artwork of the area can be seen all over – in the signs advertising a special workshop or on the rooftops where crosses and angels adorn the tile peaks. Further down, there is a large park with a monument to metalworkers. A miniature volcano spews multi-colored tile lava across an orange brick-colored mountainside. Most striking is the metal man erupting from the volcano like Athena from Zeus’ forehead, fully formed and ready to work, a huge hammer held high in his right hand.
Alongside the park is a small museum. Most rooms are dedicated to office space and the only collections to view are in the central courtyard. But the entrance is free and the few moments spent looking at examples of pottery and ironwork are well worth the price. Overall, we think Las Herrerías is a great neighborhood to start a day in Cuenca.