Loja's on-the-go hand-held food, the empanada

air empanadas of Loja Ecuador, photo by Nathaly Poma Photography
Loja's air empanadas, photo by Nathaly Poma

Imagine a delicious dish - could be sweet or savory - inside an edible "pocket" that can be carried in the hand and consumed while getting from one place to another. That is an empanada. Sort of the Spanish equivalent of a hot sandwich.

Food (again, sweet or savory) wrapped in a dough which is then fried or baked is a common snack, or even a main dish, in many countries around the world. In 1968 in the United States, McDonald's restaurants began offering an "Americanized" version of a sweet empanada. It had apple pie filling inside a deep-fried dough. They advertised it as an "apple pie" but referred to it as a "hand pie" inside the business. People in the U.S. during the 1970s and '80s were eating empanadas without knowing it!

While it is true that empanadas may contain a sweet filling which is great for a snack or dessert, it is more common to find them stuffed with meats, cheeses, vegetables, or some combination of all these. Loja's special version is called an "air empanada" (empanadas de viento).

For these a bit of cheese (and maybe a little onion) is wrapped in dough, then deep-fried to a crispy texture, and served with a dusting of sugar. When done correctly, they puff up in the fryer and come out like tasty inflated pillows. They can be tricky to make, however, because if the dough is not sealed well or there is too much cheese filling then the cheese may leak out while frying.

When in Loja, get your hands on an air empanada and enjoy this treat of our city.


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