I loved it when I lived in Ecuador, South America. But there were times that I hated it too. I traveled quite often, alone, throughout the country. Usually I was traveling in my four-wheel-drive Chevy Blazer. My trips lasted several days out away from my family. When I left for these trips it was impossible to take any kind of real food along with me other than snacks and bottled water or soft drinks. I had planned to write about my great grandfather in this column but thoughts kept running rampant through my head about traveling in Ecuador and the food I had to eat while traveling. Maybe I’ll catch my great granddad next week.
During the first couple of years of living in Ecuador, everything was new to me and so it took a while to figure out not only how to eat while traveling but where and more importantly, what to eat. I had learned that most of the small towns that were large enough to have a restaurant or two would usually have a Chinese restaurant. Ecuador for some reason has a lot of Chinese immigrants and just about all of them had a restaurant, or so it seemed.
During those first two years in Ecuador, I had learned that I could get a good hot meal in any Chinese restaurant, with the emphasis on “GOOD.” But there were those times when I would get hungry with no Chinese restaurant in sight and a few times where there were no towns in sight. On one of these occasions I stopped at a roadside “restaurant”. The name restaurant is slightly misleading, as it was more akin to a cross between a hastily constructed lean-to and a five year-old’s lemonade stand.
I had learned that the Quechua Indians made excellent soups, which were quite tasty. So when traveling with no Chinese restaurants around I would generally eat soup at the few roadside “eating establishments” that I came across. I would do that for two reasons, not counting the obvious one of being hungry. First, the soups were generally very filling and quite tasty, but second and most important, the water in the soup had been boiled and theoretically was safer to eat than other foods cooked and served on a plate. Hopefully any bacteria had been killed by the cooking process.
I did have a doctor there in Ecuador tell me one time that boiling the water did no good unless it was also filtered. His take was you could boil the water until it was all boiled away and what was left in the pot, was what could still kill you. I just prayed over everything I ate or drank. I prayed a lot!
One day in the mountains above Riobomba I stopped at a roadside soup stand to eat. The area was heavily populated with the Quechua Indians. They only have one kind of soup and that is the “soup of the day” so there is no menu or anything to choose from. You just order the soup and they will bring you a bowl along with some homemade bread and a soft drink of your choice. That day I was enjoying the soup immensely. It had potatoes, onions and carrots along with some type of sweet white meat which I could not quite decide what it was. After finishing my bowl of soup and eating my bread, I was left with an empty bowl with a real slender bone in the bottom of the bowl that also defied being identified.
As I was paying the bill, I asked the lady with the stand what kind of soup she had that day. This wrinkled, craggy faced little Indian woman, who stood just over four feet tall, smiled, showing that one of her top front teeth was missing. She answered “Oh, sir, it is my specialty, cat soup! Did you like it?” I answered a simple “yes,” paid my bill and went on my way. Cat soup!
I wrestled with the idea that I had just eaten cat soup. What part of the cat was it, wasn’t near as important to me as the idea that it was “cat.” I didn’t even want to know what kind of cat it was, or anything about it. I had no ill effects from it, other than the pain in my mind. Ezekiel 3:3 says: “Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” The Lord was speaking to Ezekiel here. I can’t say that God was speaking to me in that roadside stand. Every time I passed that roadside stand, which was several times in a year, I always remembered the cat soup. Ezekiel ate a scroll and it was sweet as honey to him. I ate cat soup and it was good, as long as I didn’t know what it was while I was eating it! Strange thing though, even though the soup was good and I did not get sick, I never stopped there to eat again. AND I always asked from then on what kind of soup was being served wherever I ate soup. When we are hungry we speak of our stomach’s growling (like a dog?). I bet you never thought when you were hungry that your stomach was meowing like a cat!
Brad Morris, a retired minister, originally from Georgetown, served as a pastor and then as a missionary in Costa Rica and Ecuador, can be reached at email@example.com. He has been in ministry for 50 years and a columnist for 17 years, 13 of which have been for the Times.