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Eating abroad, remembering (at) home

Three foodscapes of Ecuadorian migration in New York, London and Santander
Manger à l’étranger, des souvenirs familiaux. Trois "foodscapes" de la migration équatorienne à New York, Londres et Santander
Diana Mata Codesal


The relationship migrants forge with food is not straightforward. Along with migrants' personal or group features (e.g. gender, generation, age, etc.), specific origin and residence characteristics encourage or hinder specific practices in their new places of residency. Such descriptors also imbue migrants' food practices with different meanings. Using data from Ecuadorian migration to Europe and the US I sketch in this paper three different ways in which food plays out in contexts of migrancy; the case of New York city where Ecuadorian migrants can easily get into an 'already-present home from home' creating and sustaining a transnational food sphere; London where there are very few Ecuadorian migrants but they can draw onto other transnational communities' food resources; and the Spanish Northern town of Santander1 where there is neither a strong Ecuadorian community nor other relevant ethnic communities.

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  • 2  Several recent conferences and publications support this statement: the cross-cluster session on F (...)

1Food and migration is currently an interesting topic of research2. Several studies have shown the persistence of eating practices between migrant communities all over the world (for America see for instance Brown and Mussell, 1984; Diner, 2001 or Gabaccia, 1998; for the UK see Valentine, 1999; for Spain see Abu-Shams, 2006; Durán Monfort, 2004; Kaplan and Carrasco, 2002). Eating patterns have been maintained in some cases even long after language acculturation has taken place (Valentine, 1999: 519). This is so, because ‘in Homo Sapiens food not only nourishes but also signifies’ (Fischler, 1988: 276). There is, however, in the context of food and migration, a preference for researching food in relation with health concerns (Brown and Mussell, 1984; Hargreaves et al., 2002; Jonsson et al, 2002; Mellin-Olsen and Wandel, 2005).

2With the recent revival of interest (both academic and non-academic) in identity-related issues, food has been brought to the front due its power to perform and produce identity. Ethnic food festivals have also received well-deserved scholar attention (Brown and Mussell, 1984; Charon Cardona, 2004; Law, 2001). These festivals can be conceived as the public expression of an authentic albeit 'tamed' culinary difference. They have a very clear communication aim, from the minority to the mainstream society (Gabbacia 1998: 193). However, food in the context of migration also plays a less visible and intimate role. Migration is a abrupt change in migrants' sensescapes, a change in their 'sensory world of everyday experience'(Ahmed 1999: 341). The unmediated contact that some migrants develop with food (through eating, cooking, buying, receiving, sharing, etc.) can help to ease the change. As it will be seen food practices do not same deploy in every context of migrancy.

3In section one of this paper I present a transnational context where recently-arrived migrants enter a well-established transnational net, which can easily act as an 'already-present home from home'. This is also true for their food practices, as they can replicate quite easily 'food from home' (subject to price and time constraints). The borough of Queens in New York city is the residence of a high (although undetermined) number of Ecuadorians. Queens is also the destination of hundreds of food parcels originated in the Southern Ecuadorian Andes. By focusing onto this specific type of inverse in-kind remittances sent from Ecuador to abroad by non-migrants to their migrant relatives, I aim to highlight the role that non-migrants can play in the construction of a transnational food sphere.

4In new destinations of Ecuadorian migration, such as London, Ecuadorians lack of such a well-established transnational net of their own. However in such a multicultural environment as London, Ecuadorian migrants can strategically draw onto other groups' transnational food resources. This is the second case I sketch in this paper.

5Finally, I deal with the case of those Ecuadorian migrants who lived (in the summer of 2007, at the time of the data collection) in an environment of very low immigration. In this context, neither Ecuadorians nor any other migrant/ethnic community have developed significant transnational networks and the availability of Ecuadorian foodstuffs is very limited. In this case migrants craft an intense but very intimate relationship with food.

6Information for this paper was gathered in two different fieldwork periods in the form of a multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995). Data about foodways of Ecuadorian migrants living in the Northern Spanish city of Santander was gathered in the summer of 2007 through a detailed questionnaire and several informal interviews. Data for the rest of the paper was collected in nine months of fieldwork in 2009 in two villages of Highland Ecuador through participant observation, in-depth interviews and a questionnaire administered to 10% or each village population. Information about Andean Ecuador foodscapes belong to a broader research project regarding villagers' remittance behaviours. Food quickly arose as the most common inverse remittance sent to migrant relatives abroad. Except for the section on Santander (where migrants were interviewed), data come from returnees and migrants' close relatives in Ecuador. A constant sensuous involvement with food was also a very important part of the data gathering in both Ecuador and Spain, as it also proved to be a fundamental access tool (for some information about 'embodied learning' see Abbots 2008, Jenkins 1994, or Wilcox 2009). This is an exploratory paper. More systematic evidence is needed before any solid typology can be presented.

  • 3 In the province of Azuay fieldwork was carried out in the parish of Xarbán with 1,793 inhabitantsac (...)
  • 4 The three regional cuisines (Costa-Coast, Sierra-Highlands and Oriente-Jungle) are the consequenc (...)

7The article strictly deals with the foodscapes of Ecuadorian migrants coming from Southern Andean Ecuador. Research in Ecuador took place in the province of Azuay and the province of Loja. Both belong to a broader region locally known as Austro3. This regional distinction is relevant because Ecuador marked geographical differences (Costa, Sierra and Oriente) are also translated into the country foodscapes4. Regional distinctions regarding foodways are kept after migration.

New York: Importance of food parcels

  • 5 Data from my fieldwork in Ecuador also supports this heavy spatial concentration: 56% of all the (...)
  • 6 In few cases changes in occupation take place over time, however most migrants work in the constr (...)
  • 7 In Xarbán I was shown a picture by the mother of one of the few female villager migrants in New Y (...)

8Consistent estimations report a figure of half a million Ecuadorians living in the US, most of them irregularly (Gratton, 2007: 583). A fourth of them live in the New York borough of Queens (Gratton, 2005: 35)5. Ecuadorian migration to the US is predominantly male. Migrants usually share accommodation with other paisanos (migrants from the same village of origin). Long working hours6, and the absence of female relatives in male-only flats, force migrants to self-organize to deal with all the domestic tasks, including buying food and cooking. Confronted with the situation of having to cook, clean the house and do the laundry, Ecuadorian male migrants in New York city resort in rare cases to hiring other female migrants' cooking skills (Pribilsky, 2004: 319). More often, though, they cook simple filling food to take with them to work. In New York virtually all the required ingredients to cook most customary Ecuadorian dishes are available (albeit at higher prices). The few female Ecuadorian migrants living in New York cook customary dishes on special occasions7. Contrary to women, most Ecuadorian men from the highlands were not expected or taught how to cook elaborated and time-consuming customary Ecuadorian dishes. Most of them, though, have basic cooking skills acquired in previous mobility experiences. Many males have migrated internally in their youth to the coastal banana plantations, the shrimp farms or the gold mines in the Oriente (the Amazon part of Ecuador). All these work places did not allow family migration, so even if migrants were married they needed to learn how to cook by themselves.

  • 8 An important change has taken place in Ecuador's foodscape since the 70s when Weismantel carried (...)
  • 9 The irregular status of virtually all migrants from Xarbán in the US, the high cost (around $15,0 (...)

9All my informants (wives of male migrants in the US or returnees) recall rice with chicken as the dish migrants most often ate while in New York. Rice with chicken is cheap, easy to cook and contain the staple in current Ecuadorian diet, rice8. Because of the meat, it provides the needed protein intake to perform the physically demanding jobs  Ecuadorian migrants usually work at.  In this context of 'meaningless' food to just feed working-bodies, the food parcels that routinely are sent from Ecuador are essential in the relationship between migrants and their relatives back in Ecuador. These parcels are usually sent on special occasions, to mark dates such as Carnival, Christmas, birthdays, or the village festivities. As stated by Abbots these parcels have the power to 'collapse both time and space and (re)constitutes migrants […] as kin' (2008: 13). Same customary dishes are consumed at the same time by relatives who live very far away but who are keen to keep their link. These packages nurture a love bond besieged by distance and years without physical contact9. This romantic image has to be nuanced as the requiring of food by male relatives in New York and the cooking and sending of food by female ones in Ecuador also helps to restate gender roles of male domination which might be otherwise weaken by male migration.

10In Xarbán food sending practices are not used as a pressure tool by non-migrants. Money must be sent first from the US in order to allow financial resources to send heavy packages the other way round. In the nearby town of Gualaceo there are several courier firms. During weekends and market days it is quite common to see long queues of villagers from rural areas of the canton waiting to receive money from the US and/or send parcels to the US. Most of them are food.

  • 10 Throughout the Andes cuys play a prominent culturally role (Archetti, 1997).

11The foodstuff most often sent and most loaded with symbolic meanings is the cuy (guinea pig)10. In Xarbán every household raises some dozens of cuys. They are carefully manslaughtered following a clear routine. They are skewered in a wooden stick and hold over an open fire to roast. The smoke of a log fire makes them tastier for local palates. As stated by Abbots, villagers in the highlands consider that the meat of roasted guinea pigs 'travels well' (2008: 225). I have been told some stories of rotten guinea pigs because of delays in the sending, but these cases do not seem to prevent villagers in Xarbán from sending it again and again, and migrants in New York to keep on asking for them. Guinea pigs are often sent stuffed with mote (hominy). The nutritional importance of corn in all its different varieties and preparations is diminishing in highland Ecuador. It still keeps most of its outstanding cultural and symbolic position in the Andean cosmological vision.

12Bread is also usually sent to New York. It can be homemade but does not have to. Bread in highland Ecuador is considered a treat (golosina). Preparations change slightly from region to region. In Xarbán the only locally baked bread has melted cheese inside. Some dates have attached customary dishes. In Carnival the tradition is to eat dulce de poroto, a dark and very sweet purée made of beans and panela (brown sugarloaf). Hence, in February most parcels to the US contains at least some spoonfuls of this sweet, for the two parts of the family to eat in spite of the physical distance at the customary time. A few cases reported sending the national sugar cane liqueur Zhumir, which is available in New York but at prohibitive prices. Cheap cigarettes are also sent in rare occasions.

  • 11 La yoni is the way Xarbán villagers commonly refer to New York from the tourist stick I♥NY.

13Female relatives in Xarbán of migrants in New York are the ones who prepare food parcels to send. Migrants' wives send food to their husbands in la yony11. Mothers, sisters and in some cases daughters become food sendersin the case of single or divorced migrants, or in the unusual cases where husband and wife are both in New York. Preparation involves several steps. First, the selection of the ingredients. Regarding guinea pigs although it is possible to buy them at the animal market of Gualaceo, the ones to be eaten have to be fed in the house with dry green grass. This way they can be sure their guinea pigs are healthy and ready to be eaten. Secondly, the foodstuffs must be cooked in the proper way. For the hominy (mote) the cooking is a very long and tiring process. The dry white corn must be peeled off using boiling water and ashes. Once peeled, it is boiled for several hours stirring from time to time. Finally food must be conveniently packed to safely arrive in New York. The level of expertise in wrapping parcels of many female villagers is impressive.

Why in New York and not in Spain?

14In opposition to the comings and goings of money and food between Ecuador and New York, the link with Spain -where more than 440,000 Ecuadorians regularly live at September 2009 (OPI, 2009)- is only one-way. Money is sent from Spain to Ecuador, but food parcels do not go from Ecuador to Spain. Several reasons explain this difference. Sending mechanisms to Spain and the US show striking disparities in terms of cost, availability and time. On average, sending a two pound parcel to New York from any of the numerous sending agencies located in the Gualaceo area (a rural area of heavy outmigration to the US) would cost around 6 dollars and take 3 days (Summer of 2009). The same parcel will take over 8 days to get to Spain and will cost 22 dollars (same date). Some features of the outmigration flows explain why sending industries are differently developed regarding US and Europe. Migration to the US is older than to Europe, allowing time to the sending industry to achieve its maturity. With the US closer to Ecuador than Spain, geographical distance is another variable in the explanatory equation.

15The different gender composition of each flow is also relevant. Migrants to the US are overwhelmingly male, the flow to Europe (although initially female dominated) shows a more balanced gender composition. Cooking in rural Ecuador is still a women's task. Although many men know how to cook due to seasonal migration in their youth, once they get married, cooking becomes a female-only responsibility. Many married male migrants in the US still rely on food parcels from their wives to eat more elaborated food than the cheap and easy-to-cook rice with chicken they usually eat. In the case of single males, mothers and older female siblings are in charge of sending the customary food.

16Migrants' legal status also heavily impacts on the fact that sending mechanisms to Spain are poorly developed. Most Ecuadorians migrants in Spain hold regular legal status, which allows them to freely travel between Spain and Ecuador. Every time a relative or acquaintance returns from Ecuador to Spain, his/her suitcases are packed with stuff for other migrants. In my return to Spain my suitcases were packed with encomiendas (packages) people I have known during these months were sending to their migrant relatives in Spain. Most of them were food. Most Ecuadorian migrants in the US are in an irregular legal situation and the chance of becoming regularized is almost non-existent. It means they can not temporarily return back to Ecuador (unless they are willing to pay the smuggler again). This constraint means that for Ecuadorian migrants in the US whatever comes from 'home/Ecuador' is held in very high-esteem. Health regulations also shape the nature of the sending. All of my informants in Quisanga with close relatives in Spain recall the time when meat (prepared in a regional fashion) could be sent with other migrants. It is illegal now to bring raw meat into the European Union and close checks are carried out at the airports.

London: Adapting other groups' food resources

17London has recently appeared as a new destination for Ecuadorian migrants. The Ecuadorian population in the UK is still small. Most recent estimations state that there are around 70-90,000 Ecuadorians in the UK. Accurate data remains yet elusive with official statistics reporting figures of only a few thousands due to the irregular status of most Ecuadorian migrants in the country. Ecuadorians in the UK are spatially very concentrated in specific areas of London (McIIwaine 2008: 6). Data from my fieldwork in Quisanga, one village in the province of Loja, adds flesh to the grand statistics. A few migrants from Quisanga have travelled directly to London, specially after 2003 with the Spanish visa requirement for Ecuadorians. However, more often London was a secondary movement from Spain, where they failed to find work or met someone who told them wages in the UK were much higher than in Spain. From interviews with returnees from London and  with relatives of migrants in London was very easy to realize that these migrants show an acute desire for improvement and are not afraid of taking risks. They are pioneers, leading for a new destination where they had few previous links (McIlwaine 2008: 5). Once in London most Ecuadorians have irregular immigration status. Many of them work under fake or hired Spanish passports.

18Ecuadorian migration to the UK shows a light gender imbalance with more women than men (McIIwaine 2008: 8). Their irregular legal status forces migrants to work in hidden worksites. Most Ecuadorian migrants in London, irrespectively of their gender, work on cleaning jobs. These jobs entail invisibility, but also working anti-social hours and hard working conditions. The fact that both, men and women work in this kind of jobs (considered in rural Ecuador as a female-only task) strongly impacts on their gender practices (McIlwaine 2008: 23).

  • 12 Some data from my fieldwork suggest that migrants with regular status in Spain are leaving for Lo (...)
  • 13 From Google maps, accessed on 04-12-09.

19As a result of relatively small (albeit growing12) numbers, irregular status and work concentration on the cleaning sector, Ecuadorian migrants in the UK are very invisible. Invisibility and low numbers impact on the foodscape(s) of Ecuadorian migrants living in London. Most of the few Ecuadorian restaurants in London are not such. Although showing all the national paraphernalia (huge Ecuadorian flags, tourist photos, etc.), these restaurants have adjusted to the UK timetable and tastes, serving sandwiches and snacks to take-away. They also use the broad tag of Latino, or South American cuisine as a reaction to mainstream lack of knowledge about this group. The best-known Ecuadorian restaurant in North London, 'El Rincón Quiteño' (A little corner of Quito) advertises itself in internet as follows: 'Enjoy the best Ecuadorian, Colombian and Bolivian cuisine. Argentinian BBQ and a wide variety of Latin American dishes'13. Ecuadorians gather at these restaurants for special events (as football matches) but they do not attend them on a regular basis. Long distances, high prices and the London rat pace push migrants to eat in what they perceive as the English way, lots of snacks and home-made sandwiches for lunch.

20For migrants coming from a rural place in Ecuador, changes in their foodways are even stronger. On top of the sensorial changes that any international movement entails, they also need to cope with changes due to urbanisation. Pace, flavour, rhythms are very different not only because it is the UK and not Ecuador, they are also different because they live in a big city now and not in a small Andean village.

21Confronting the previous scenario of lack of room to choose own's foodways (due to lack of Ecuadorian food places, lack of time in the everyday, etc.), Ecuadorian migrants in London, as pioneer migrants arriving to a new destination, are also active players in the realm of their foodscape. On special occasions or days off some migrants (specially female ones living with relatives, e.g. husbands, children, nephews, etc.) replicate customary Ecuadorian dishes. Facing a scenario with no food transnational networks of their own and where the sending of food parcels as in New York is not a feasible option (there are not yet well established courier firms so even when there is the option, sending prices remain too high), Ecuadorian migrants in London seek and adapt other ethnic groups' food resources:

Q:In London did you cook in the Ecuadorian fashion? Was it be very expensive?

A: But you know that in the UK there are a lot of African people. There is a place called Brixton where Africans usually live. So there you find yucca, have you known the yucca? It is our food. You find yucca, green bananas, plantains. You find everything because Africans were used to eating a lot of yucca. So, food was not very difficult for us in London. I think it was better than to buy this sort of food in Spain where there is less choice for Ecuadorians. So it was not difficult at all. When I lived there I cooked the food from here. I do not know if you have eaten one dish, peas with green banana. Repe lojano [the best well-known dish from the province of Loja]. I always cooked it because there were peas in London. I bought them as well as fresh cheese. Here it is called quesillo. I bought the cheese from the Arabs' shops, they sold it, the quesillo. So I needed to learn where to buy everything. I had no problem with food. Well, I did have some problems but right at the beginning where I did not know where to look for. (M., 38 years, female returnee from London interviewed in Quisanga, Loja)

22As the previous quotation clearly shows Ecuadorian migrants in London follow a strategy of 'pick-n-mix'. After a while M. learnt to navigate her way through the available ethnic foods in London, using foodstuffs from different ethnic groups that best mimicked tastes she reminded from Ecuador.

Santander: Remembering and re-membering in a context of scarcity of food resources

  • 14  According to the latest available statistics at September 2009, there are 2,228 Ecuadorians with r (...)

23The last vignette presents yet another deployment of the relationship between migrants and food. Santander is a small city in the North of Spain of less than 200,000 inhabitants (INE, 2008). Contrary to New York, very few Ecuadorian migrants live in Santander14. Differently from London also, there are no other large ethnic groups, Ecuadorian migrants can draw onto their food resources. Hence Ecuadorian migrants in Santander are confronted with a scenario of scarcity of food 'from home'. In this context some Ecuadorian migrants have developed a very intense relationship with food. The subtle sensory features of food, which can be dismissed as irrelevant in contexts with more food-from-home choices, acquire for migrants in Santander an unique relevance. The link migrants develop with food in Santander is very intimate, afar from public exhibitions. Due to the invisibility of the group in the city food does not play an outward role; there is no need to generate symbols to be shown. There is neither room for gastro-ethnic festivals nor even for many home-cooking customary dishes. The aim is more that of fulfilling a primary personal need.

24Migration involves a sharp change in food, smells, flavours and known people, leaving behind a familiar sensorial environment. Living somewhere else can imply that ‘nothing tastes as it does at home’ or that ‘almost every smell here reminds me of home’ (answers given by the same person, a 31 year-old Ecuadorian male, to the questions, ‘could you tell me a flavour that reminds you of home?’ ‘And a smell?’). Migration is then also experienced through the body. The actual physical movement is a fully embodied experience. Food can be used to fight off the sense of fragmentation or discontinuity brought to people’s lives by migration.

  • 15 Data for this section comes for 38 long-questionnaires and a small number of informal interviews (...)

25Rice and some other staples are available in Santander, but many other ingredients are not accessible in this city or if they are, they are subject to relatively quite high prices. Nonetheless around half of those questioned15 reported eating Ecuadorian food everyday or every week. The other half eat Ecuadorian food only on special occasions.

  • 16 Ecuadorian women in Santander have a detailed knowledge of Spanish cuisine as most of them have w (...)

26Migrants' personal features are key to understand the link they forge with food. Age and gender intertwined with past experience influence the individual importance given to food. This statement, which is true for each of the three food scenarios sketched in this paper, becomes more relevant in the case of Santander. Irrespectively of the nature of the link, female Ecuadorian migrants have always stronger reactions towards food (whether in favour or against) than their male pals (Mata-Codesal, 2008: 11). Age at the time of migration is in this case key in explaining migrants' food-related strategies to fight off the sense of fragmentation that migration entails. Women who migrated in their adulthood (over 30s) as well as married men over 30s are more likely to keep on eating familial food on an everyday basis. On the other hand, single men (or those living without  family in Santander) and women who migrated in their youth (below 30s) incorporate Spanish foodways into their everyday food practices (they are cheaper, quicker to prepare and ingredients are easier to find, no need to look for them)16, eating only more elaborated Ecuadorian dishes on the special occasions they gather with other Ecuadorians living in the city. Hence, the everyday food panorama of both groups is dramatically different, as well as the meanings food conveys for each of them. There is a clear division between the unconsciousness of eating Ecuadorian food every day,  and the attempt to consciously engage in practices of remembering Ecuador through cooking and consuming Ecuadorian food on 'special' occasions (Mata-Codesal, 2008: 7). In the first case, Ecuadorian food is not considered special, just the standard food. In the second case, as the standard rule is eating Spanish dishes in their everyday, Ecuadorian food acquires the status of special food for these younger Ecuadorian migrants. The logics behind each strategy are also different.

27By enacting 'body memories' (the knowledge stored in our bodies without us even being aware) through familial food, older migrants are resisting to acknowledge the discontinuity migration has inserted into their lives. Because memories are created and re-created in a sensorial milieu, the senses have the ability to recall the original sensations, as the sense of being at home. Familiar food plays the role of a powerful comfort food for these older Ecuadorian migrants in Santander because it provides psychological and emotional comfort when the self feels fragmented in the situation of change that migration implies. As an Ecuadorian woman put it: ‘I know I am not in Ecuador when I eat Ecuadorian food, but it feels as if I am’. She was well aware she was in Santander when she ate Ecuadorian food, but simultaneously she somehow felt herself back in Ecuador while eating that food. These migrants are attempting to be kept sensorially connected with their past in Ecuador as eating known food ‘occasion[s] a habitual, corporeal experience of continuity. [Food] provide[s] a means by which “original” home place and “new” home place are linked: via the continuing life of the habitual body that has and continues to experience home objects’ (Warin and Dennis, 2005: 168).

28Younger Ecuadorian migrants in Santander use Ecuadorian food in the special occasions they cook and eat it to re-produce a human bond in the new environment. Through the sharing of familiar food with those regarded as most equals, these migrants are re-membering in destination (in opposition to the older migrants who have opted to remember instead). Food has for this group the ability to act as a trigger for re-membering, to cause people to group and become significant to one another.

29As seen in the case of Santander, Ecuadorian migrants have developed two different approaches to the consumption of food. The first strategy is based on the remembering of past experiences through the intimate act of cooking and eating food from home. This kind of food can be considered a special type of comfort food due to being sensorily highly charged. This strategy also involves the (usually unconscious) resistance to acknowledge discontinuity by keeping on eating familiar food on a daily basis. The second strategy opts for re-membering in destination. This re-membering implies the gathering with other migrants to share food, in an attempt to feel again the sense of belonging to a whole, trying to become members again.

Final notes

30Talking about food in contexts of migration is a label too broad. It needs to be 'localized' as each migration scenario allows, and encourages or hinders specific foodscape's development. My intention in sketching the three vignettes regarding food practices of Ecuadorian migrants in three different places of residency is to highlight how migrants and their families are constraint by structural variables over which they have no control. Their legal status is probably the one with the  most serious consequences. Presence of well established transnational networks is another one. However migrants and their families are active agents. They develop strategic food-related behaviours to bypass or better adapt to those structural constraints imposed onto them by features in their places of origin and current residency. The role of non-migrants is essential for the establishment of a transnational field (in this case in relation with food practices), so they should be considered in any research dealing with transnational practices. As shown by the case of Santander, even in the less encouraging environment in terms of food availability, migrants develop meaningful relationships with food.

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1  This research has been funded by a Basque Country Government doctoral grant. Research on Santander was funded by a postgrad grant by Fundación Caja Madrid.

2  Several recent conferences and publications support this statement: the cross-cluster session on Food and Migration in the context of the 2008 annual conference of the European Network of Excellence IMISCOE (International Migration and Social Cohesion in Europe), the two-day workshop on 'Food and Migration' organized by SOAS in London on February 2009, or this special edited volume of Anthropology of Food.

3 In the province of Azuay fieldwork was carried out in the parish of Xarbán with 1,793 inhabitantsaccording to the 2001 Census (INEC, 2001). In the province of Loja the selected village was Quisanga with 2,440 inhabitants. For ethical reasons I have changed both parish names. Villagers in Xarbán almost solely migrate to the US, while migrants from Quisanga show a wider range of destinations with clear preference for Spain.

4 The three regional cuisines (Costa-Coast, Sierra-Highlands and Oriente-Jungle) are the consequence of marked altitude and climate differences. The coastal cuisine relies on tropical crops such as plantain, and a great variety of fruits, as well as fish. In the Highlands (the Andean region) diet is based on corn, potatoes, broad beans and cereals such as oat. Fish is not an usual highland staple and protein intake comes from porn, chicken and guinea pig (cuy) meat. The Oriente cuisine is largely unknown to me, with only secondary references (mostly pejorative) from my informants. Rice is a staple in all three regions. Within Ecuador other regional culinary expressions are regarded, at best, as strange.

5 Data from my fieldwork in Ecuador also supports this heavy spatial concentration: 56% of all the migrants I registered in Xarbán live in Queens.

6 In few cases changes in occupation take place over time, however most migrants work in the construction/demolition sector, with six-day a week jobs.

7 In Xarbán I was shown a picture by the mother of one of the few female villager migrants in New York where her daughter and some other relatives stand by a hornado (a roasted whole pork) in a  small backyard.

8 An important change has taken place in Ecuador's foodscape since the 70s when Weismantel carried out her ethnographic work. She found that in the indigenous world rice was heavily associated with 'whiteness' while some cereals like barley were considered to be indigenous and as such inferior (Weismantel, 1988: 101). Nowadays, rice is the most common staple in Ecuador and, although some cereals and preparations have not completely lost their 'indigenousness', rice has definitively been stripped off of such strong racial connotations.

9 The irregular status of virtually all migrants from Xarbán in the US, the high cost (around $15,000 at the time of my stay in Xarbán) and serious risks associated to the journey from Ecuador to the US, force families to live apart for long years.

10 Throughout the Andes cuys play a prominent culturally role (Archetti, 1997).

11 La yoni is the way Xarbán villagers commonly refer to New York from the tourist stick I♥NY.

12 Some data from my fieldwork suggest that migrants with regular status in Spain are leaving for London as a result of the acute economic crisis in Spain.

13 From Google maps, accessed on 04-12-09.

14  According to the latest available statistics at September 2009, there are 2,228 Ecuadorians with residence permit in the whole province of Cantabria, 0.5% of the Ecuadorians legally residing in Spain (OPI, 2009: 57). At 2008, 1,550 of those Ecuadorians live in the province's capital, Santander. (INE, 2008). There is again a slight imbalance, with 55% of those 1,550 Ecuadorians being females.

15 Data for this section comes for 38 long-questionnaires and a small number of informal interviews carried out in the summer of 2007.

16 Ecuadorian women in Santander have a detailed knowledge of Spanish cuisine as most of them have worked as domestic workers where they were expected to learn how to properly cook Spanish food for the families they were working for.

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Electronic reference

Diana Mata Codesal, “Eating abroad, remembering (at) home”Anthropology of food [Online], 7 | December 2010, Online since 25 December 2010, connection on 20 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Diana Mata Codesal

Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex,

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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