Following the Billy Belly and danger to Greek food in Ecuador

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By Billy Cotsis*

In my life, I’ve seen plenty. I’ve had guns, rifles and water pistols pulled on me and others. I’ve been in an earthquake, rescued from a sinking houseboat, car jacked… We actually parted as friends, hugs and my rental car back, though I suspect the car was breaking down and they didn’t want to fix it and then the car broke down!

So when a myriad of people told me implicitly in six languages, including Klingon, not to visit the most dangerous part of Ecuador due to gang violence, I listened. Then I accidentally took the plane to Guayaquil, which is in Ecuador.

It was cheaper to continue to said destination in order to get to Colombia despite cutting back on days and besides, I had a friend to visit. I never let people down unless I’m carrying them and their weight is too heavy.

As my Billy Belly will tell you, all roads lead to Greek food and that was the case in Ecuador. For this Griego, soy no Gringo!, I always need my Greek fix.

Like many small Latina nations, local Greek populations are small but usually littered with charismatic Greek people promoting Greece/Cyprus and delicious Greek food. Someone like George Poullos in Guayaquil for example can certainly act as a beacon for lost Hellenes like me. The usual friendly and engaging manner of someone like George is reminiscent of every Greek eatery I visit in the Americas. Sometimes these visits become like some sort of long lost reunion.

In Ecuador, Greeks have been visiting since the 1800s, consistent with Greek ships and seamen leaving their mark at many ports.

There are between 50-100 Greeks in Ecuador, mostly in Guayaquil like George, as it has a port.

ecuador greeks

Having eaten saganaki and Griego en salada with a friend at the hotel, safe place to be as soldiers were still patrolling the streets as a precautionary measure, I decided I really needed a taste of Greece. Sure, call me a snob but I needed my Griego fix.

I was excited to learn that there are Greek gyradika! I got into an Uber and lo and behold he found the place… Someone’s casa. I don’t think they were impressed when I tried to Billysplain that they have a gyradiko! Google, you got it wrong again.

ecuador greeks
The gyradiko that was boarded up.

I quickly jumped back into the Uber and we visited the Buena Vista Plaza at trendy Samborondon. After explaining in Spanglish that I was keen to meat and meet the owner, I was told he wasn’t around. Thankfully, quick thinking staff realised I was a Greek Buddha and found the owner. No they didn’t rub my belly.

George sat down with me and explained his experiences of Ecuador, his extensive beer collection and confirmed that the Greek presence is small.

He arrived here in 2005 from Cyprus, originally from the village of Deftera, near Leukosia.

His kids, Giorgakis and Melinaki have grown up in Ecuador, adding to the small Greek/Cypriot community. At best there are probably 20 Greek language speakers in the city.

Georgios Mediterranean Grill emerged three years ago during the pandemic. The small but new shopping mall was essentially trying to grow and needed tenants, and George with an eye for culinary delights, even though he is slim and tall unlike his chubby interviewer, took a chance. The restaurant soon become a beacon. He has met many lost Hellenes, like this writer, passing through, as well as Ecuadorians who have Greek ancestry dating back seven generations.

“It becomes like a social club at times,” he explained, as one of his friends and a regular came to join us, Santiago Ortega. A local who also worked on the shop and ended up driving me back to the hotel. Possibly to learn some more Greek words, though he was kind enough to show me some of the historical buildings of the city as curfew approached.

The venue serves as a destination for many on 25 March and 28 October, as well as ensuring there is monthly beer tasting sessions.

Speaking of tasting, the food was undoubtedly the best I had to this point of my trip to the Americas. George has ensured that flavours are to the standards of Greece and Cyprus and my Billy Belly certainly agreed.

ecuador greeks

As we continued chatting, it turns out that George is set to take a step further in promoting Greek food as he has launched a Greek gastronomy tour for Greece. How I wish I was on that tour now!

For those in need of Greek Orthodox sermons as I do to absolve me of my travelling addictions, there is no Griego Church. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church is the closest for the small Greek community.

Ecuador is a place that has little by way of Hellenic treats but as I find in any Latina nation, it’s fun, it’s developing and there’s always someone who can provide Greek and Cypriot food and a chat in Griego!

*Billy Cotsis is the author of The Aegean Seven Take Back The Stolen Marbles

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