By Sylvan Hardy
Located in the proudly indigenous town of Saraguro, 70 miles south of Cuenca, Shamuí gets rave reviews from the few tourists and expats who know about it, mostly those stopping off on the drive between Cuenca and Vilcabamba, or those taking day-trips to Saraguro.
There is good reason for Shamuí’s Spanish predilection. The owners, a brother and two sisters from the Ortega family, left Saraguro when they were young and grew up in Spain. Samuel Ortega attended Spanish culinary academy and has been a chef in a number of European restaurants. Sister Mariana was a restaurant sommelier, or wine steward, in Spain.
Shamuí, a combination of Quecha, Catalán and English sounds, is three doors down from Saraguro’s main church. The dining area is small and simple, but tastefully decorated by the Ortega sisters and has a decidedly southern European feel. There are tables on the verandah in front of the restaurant that overlooks the main plaza; if the weather is nice, it’s the place to be.
The cuisine, which the Ortegas’ refer to as European – Ecuadorian fusion, strongly reflects the tastes and style of the Catalonia region of Spain, with a little southern France thrown in for good measure. Almost as remarkable as the quality of the meals served at Shamuí, are rock-bottom prices.
The menu is not extensive but offers plenty of variety. It’s written in the charming but long-winded Catalonian style, sure to keep customers occupied while they wait for a server.
It includes an excellent choice of tapas and appetizers, some of which can be meals in themselves, including the chorizo, tomate de Avena, $2.60, paella de mar y tierra, $4, macarrones de boloñesa, $3.80, tortilla de papas y pan de tomate, $4. There’s even a pair of mini-hamburgers, with fries, for $4.
From personal experience and that of my friends, I can report that the main courses –and we’ve tried most of them– are excellent. Choices range from the Canelones de carne y tomate, $4.25; Pincho de carne, col verde y morada, platanos maduros, $3.90; trucha al horno con papas arvejas tomate y cebolla confitada (did I mentioned the Catalonian long-windedness), $7; and, albóndigas de pollo y langostinos, $8.
In addition to tapas and main courses, Shamuí offers a full range of coffees, including house specialties, all made from the roasted beans of the nearby Papaya coffee hacienda. Dessert choices are equally expansive, including Coulant de Chocolate, Choco-Banana, and Crema Catalana y sambo.
Shamui’s small but very respectable wine list is overseen by Mariana. And it’s hard to beat the Pilsener grande for a buck-fifty.
If you’re heading to Loja or Vilcabmaba, make a point to drop by Shamuí. It’s even worth a special trip that combines Saraguro sight-seeing and crafts-buying with a fabulous meal. For more about Saraguro, click here.
Shamui (Shamuico Espai Gastronomica), Av. Loja y 10 de Marzo, three doors down from the church; Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner; phone 098 586 0736; Shamui’s Facebook page.