Your Spanish dictionary, unless it’s a ringer from Monty Python, will tell you that almuerzo is Spanish for lunch. However in Cuenca, an almuerzo often refers to an inexpensive, fixed price lunch with a set menu. Inexpensive means that it is usually somewhere in the range of $2.50-$5.00 per person. An almuerzo generally consists of a small bowl of soup, a glass of fruit juice and a main course with a piece of meat, rice and a salad followed by a small square of dessert. The meat offered is frequently a piece of chicken.
Cafe Guayoyo is a small restaurant and bakery located in the Cuatro Rios building on Primero de Mayo near Avenida de Las Americas. It has taken the space formerly occupied by Popacuchu, the popular restaurant and bakery familiar to most ex-patriots living in Cuenca.
We had fine weather on a recent Saturday and decided to venture out and try the almuerzo at Guayoyo. Our lunch started with a small bowl of savory broth with vegetables. The soup was light and flavorful, a good start.
Our main course was a pleasant change from other almuerzos I have tried for a couple of reasons. First, the usual small piece of chicken was replaced by several slices of roast beef. The beef was dressed with a flavorful sauce containing Bell peppers, onions and a touch of bacon. Delicious. The second change was that green beans replaced the tossed salad normally present. I routinely avoid salads because I don’t trust many restaurants to adequately decontaminate their produce. As a result of these changes, I found our lunch more satisfying than other almuerzos I have had in the past.
The cost of our lunch (which also included a glass of papaya juice) was $4.00 per person. We splurged and got a cup of coffee with milk (cafe con leche) and two desserts. The desserts were a slice of apple cake with a cinnamon and butter crumb topping and a slice of cake with bits of chocolate included. The $2.00 for my coffee and the $1.00 for each slice of cake raised our total cost to $12.00. (Extravagant, right.) M. also had a cup of tea, but that was included with the lunch.
We also opted to take home a couple each of two types of pastry. One had a filling of mora berries and guayaba. Mora berries are a species of blackberries. Guayaba is, of course, guava. The combination of the two has a unique, but vaguely strawberry flavor. The other pastry filling was caramel with walnuts. Both are fantastic when warmed and topped with vanilla ice cream.
The total cost of our indulgence, including the $4.00 for our four to-go pastries, was $16.00. We had also come to the restaurant by taxi from our apartment, which, if you are keeping score, added another $1.75. This brought the total to $17.75. Add a 10% tip for the meal (typical for Ecuador), or $1.25, and the final outlay ended up being $19.00 for a good lunch for two, a couple of pleasant hours and a box of pastries to take home. (All prices are in U.S. dollars, which is the currency Ecuador uses.)
A Walk Home
After lunch and a brief chat with the restaurant owners, all of whom speak at least a little English, we decided to walk home along the Yanuncay River, about a 30 minute walk at our unhurried pace. The eucalyptus trees lining the river provided cooling shade and filled the air with their unbelievable scent. As we were walking, I tried to imagine what this part of town would have been like 40-50 years ago when it was almost entirely covered by eucalyptus forest.