Upon searching for dishes I should expect to encounter along my journey to the Galapagos in the spring of 2018, I never expected to find something so close to home. Although, I am new to the humitas platter, I cannot help but think of one of my grandmother’s signature Puerto Rican dishes: pasteles. It just so happens that humitas and pasteles are within the same family as they are both similar in content and abundant in the Hispanic culture. Of course, just like a cake, pasteles and humitas can be made with different ingredients, yielding an array of delicious results. Typically, though, the contents of humitas always include freshly ground corn with the occasional onion, egg, and spices that vary from region to region and, of course, family tradition. This forms a dough that is then wrapped in corn husks and steamed or boiled until perfection.
Humitas first came into existence when the indigenous people of the Andes gathered the most basic of ingredients – corn, peppers, onions, and salt – forming a dish that is shared across Latin America in different forms. The most renowned language of the Andes was Quechua. This language is still spoken today in Ecuador, southern Columbia, the highlands of Peru and Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, and northern Chile. The name “humita” actually derived from the word jumint’a in Quechua. Unfortunately, Quechua is in danger of becoming extinct as it is growing less prominent. The few things that do remain from the natives who originated from the Andes, however, are the most popular humitas. Humitas are just one of the few things in the Latin American culture that tie back to roots in the Andes. A cultural tradition among the Spanish when it comes to anything dough related is to get creative with the contents of the dish, whether that be adding different herbs or making a variety of dough using different kinds of corn. Humitas are extremely versatile; this may have to do with its popularity among Latin America as it seamlessly adapts, forming to any craving.
In the Andes there are as many large cities with CEOs as there are small towns with modest farmers, but this social barrier does not hinder the people from coming together with a single serving of humitas. Vendors may travel across the corn fields until they reach civilization where the humitas sell in seconds. It is more likely, however, that many of the farmers in the Andes ship their variety of savory and sweet corn to restaurants that prepare the humitas for the locals to enjoy. Although humitas primarily consist of corn, it is not the most abundant crop in the Andes, especially in Ecuador. Ecuador’s developing economy is highly dependent on agriculture as it is a major exporter of bananas, flowers, and cocoa. However, as the number of tourists continues to steadily increase, the deliciousness of humitas may be at an even higher demand, causing for greater supply of corn.
Corn, better known as maize, is a staple crop that grows extremely well in many of the Andes climates. Other successful crops include beans and potatoes, which are no stranger to the humitas dish as some do choose to incorporate them as additional ingredients. In the Andes, during late January, the maize is ripe and ready to be transformed into the humitas everyone has long been craving for. When the maize reaches a milk stage after having been cut from the cob and ground, the semi-liquid consistency is placed back into the corn husks from which they derived and bound tightly with a string. Once the humitas are hardened upon being boiled or steamed, they are typically stacked into coolers where vendors will sell them on the streets of Ecuador until not a speck is left.
It is amazing how food embodies love within a family and authenticity of a family’s traditions. I suppose, of all dishes in the Galapagos, I hope to come in contact with humitas more than any other dish because it will remind me most of home despite being away. It is almost as if the purpose of a humita is to bring people together, whether it is gathering a group to prepare the dish or being so versatile among the Hispanic nations that it connects slightly varying cultures into one. An amazing journey awaits!