Mistelas de fruta – a hard candy with a surprise center!

A few days ago, my youngest and I headed out to the Feria de las Dulces, an annual festival of sweets held at the Museo de la Ciudad (calle Vicente Rocafuerte and García Moreno) in Quito, Ecuador.

Our goal was to taste as many sweets as we could possibly manage. We went during lunch hour and while I don’t often recommend eating only sugar for lunch, I was willing to make an exception on this day. How often do you get to gorge on Ecuadorian sweets?

When we say the word sweets in the US, we might think candies. And there was a vendor selling mistelas, a round candy that looks like it should be held on the tongue for hours before melting. But mistelas are tricky and the very first one you place in your mouth will catch you by surprise. Skip to the next paragraph if you think you might try one in the near future! Otherwise, know that when you place a candy on your tongue, the hard surface melts away and the delicate candy wall gives way to an explosion of liqueur in your mouth. Some are filled with anisette, my favorite, and others with fruit liqueurs, and another with a stronger burst of whiskey. We bought the latter two for tasting at home!

A pristiño and a bitten buñuelo… the spoon is for drizzling sauce on the fried treats.

Other stands were filled with large deep fryers and offered buñuelos, fried balls of dough made with flour, milk, and eggs, flavored with aniseed, and pristiños, strips of a dough made with lard and flour fried until super crisp. Both of these were served with a sauce flavored with a secret recipe of spices. I tried to find out exactly what, but the woman at the booth wasn’t sharing the family recipe that day! I definitely tasted cinnamon and possibly star anise. Its texture was similar to real maple syrup and I could see using it as substitute here in the land where maple trees don’t exist.

After eating too much fried dough, we turned to the next booth to try a Tamal de Gallina, which literally translates to chicken tamale. Don’t be fooled. We didn’t taste any chicken in our tamale. What we did taste was a wonderful masa, or dough, made with peanuts or peanut butter. It came wrapped in the banana leaf in which it was steamed. It was creamy and rich and served with hot pepper sauce famous in Ecuador called aji. By far, it was my favorite dish of the day. I love the combination of spicy and sweet.

A brother and sister team – they’ve been cooking together for years.

Higos con queso or figs with cheese served in a bowl or on a sandwich, your choice!

We also tried some conserved figs served with cheese or higos con queso. This is a traditional dish of the area around Otovalo. And we learned this from two young men who shared our table, students at a university near the city of Otovalo, about an hour outside of Quito. They were thrilled to help us finish our figs – we had over estimated what our stomachs could hold!

And this was just the food – we also tried a few samples of drinks, Rosero Quiteño, a fruity punch similar to a sangria, Colada Morada, a purple drink made with purple corn and served hot and spiced like mulled wine, but thicker, and fresh fruit juices like tamarindo and naranja.

And we hadn’t even touched the surface – we still needed to try the sugared nuts, the spumilla, a fluffy white concoction served in an ice cream cone, the chocolates, and much, much more. Luckily, this festival will continue until the end of September so we can look forward to a sugary lunch all over again!

If you want to get an idea of what the festival looks like, check out this news video. It’s in Spanish, so you can test your knowledge of the language as well! See if you can catch what funny named candy I’m not sure I want to try!