Dining at Mashpi: Rooted in the Forest and in Ecuador’s Food Culture
Mashpi prides itself on providing guests with a totally immersive experience into the forest. The architecture and design of all infrastructure, including that of the restaurant, places the forest front and centre in all that you see. Mashpi attempts to do the same with its food, inspired by traditional Ecuadorian food culture and international gastronomy.
“Originally we wanted to grow our own food,” says Marc Bery, the lodge’s general manager, “but the soil is just too damp. It’s very complicated to grow anything besides heart of palm.” Instead, Mashpi works with locally-sourced ingredients, such as the sugar cane that grows around Pacto and is used in recipes as unrefined sugar.
Once the team had realized that they couldn’t grow fruit and vegetables, they turned their attention to cultivating herbs and spices from the forest itself. “Although we would never eat any of the animals that live in the forest, we wanted to transmit the essence of the environment through our food, bringing the consistencies and colours of the forest to the dish,” Marc explains.
This process wasn’t without complications however, as it required a highly experienced team of local plant experts to avoid poisonous or dangerous plants. This combination of biology and culinary skills is something that is in constant development at the cloudforest lodge. Two of the spices currently used are mountain garlic and chillagua herb (a relative of cilantro).
The menu at Mashpi reflects elements of local dishes combined with international delicacies, giving guests a sense of comfort combined with the exotic ingredients typical of Ecuador’s food culture. To reflect its location in the lush forest that leads from the Andes to the coast, elements of both regions can be found on the menu. From the traditional Andean locro de papa (a traditional creamy soup that’s often prepared and served to warm the soul) to the tropical maito de pescado (fish cooked in banana leaf typical of coastal areas). When you are booking, don’t be afraid to include any dietary requirements in your reservation, as the kitchen will gladly prepare food specially accommodating your needs.
The passion and precision of the kitchen staff at Mashpi is evident in the presentation of their dishes. Perfectly poised meat, fish and vegetables are complemented by delicate designs made from sauces and garnishes. The restaurant team’s sincere service – most of which hail from local communities – can often make meals the highlight of any day at the lodge, conveying Ecuador’s food culture to visitors who might not have been aware of its existence before their trip.
The restaurant also offers a fine wine list, designed especially to compliment the dishes presented by the kitchen. Focusing on Latin American wines mostly from Chile and Argentina (though a growing industry, locally produced wine is not a major feature in Ecuador’s food culture), the list compiles a bottle for every occasion.
The cocktail menu, envisioned to reflect the forest and its inhabitants, has delicious names such as the Golden Tanager, or the Ornate Rainfrog Mojito. Created by their in-house mixologists, these cocktails are the perfect accompaniment to mingling with other guests at the guides’ happy hour which takes place daily at 6:30p.m. at the bar.
The restaurant itself is an architectural masterpiece and somehow makes the food taste even better. Picture being inside a cocoon, totally surrounded by rainforest, but sheltered from the elements by high-glass walls on either side.
“The protagonist of everything we do here is the forest,” explains Marc, “we want people to be totally immersed in our ecosystem with each of their senses. Seeing and hearing the forest is provided through the restaurant’s architecture, smelling and tasting the forest is provided through our cuisine. All-in-all, this helps in bringing our guests that much closer to the forest.”