By Libby Herz
The coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuador is the only connection to the Galapagos Islands. It is known as “the Pearl of the Pacific,” and its tropical climate and vibrant city life make it the perfect travel destination. The city sings with life, and its people are known for their warmth and hospitality. But what many tourists find most surprising about the colorful island, is its high-quality kosher restaurant, Kosher Pita Grill.
“People are surprised to find a kosher restaurant here,” says Shahar Matza, owner and chef of the modern, two-floor establishment. Tourists and regulars sit on the balcony overlooking the charming city, enjoying cocktails and the tastes of Ecuador, Israel, and America.
With a special Shabbos menu that includes homemade chicken soup, challah, and babka, Kosher Pita Grill’s tantalizing weekday menu includes spicy shawarma, falafel, juicy rib-eye steak, hamburgers, lamb burgers, chicken wings, and vegetarian options. Or, savor a plate of lamb chops and a schnitzel sandwich with a side of hummus.
Tourists traveling on cruises to the Galapagos are offered delicious, ready-to-eat kosher meals that will feed body and soul. “If it’s a big group,” Matza says, “we send a chef and mashgiach on board.” Additional mashgichim are available for extra-large groups. Deliveries are made to boats and hotels, and a pick-up option is offered, as well.
“When I send food,” Matza says, “People tell me the non-Jewish people are jealous of the food they have on the boat.” For travelers to the Galapagos or the jungle, Matza shock-freezes flavorful dishes, and double wraps them in aluminum covered with plastic foil. Then, the Mashgiach attaches a kashrus sticker to the package.
The kosher supervision is provided by Rabbi Mendy Fried, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Ecuador together with his wife Mrs. Menucha Rochel Fried. “The restaurant is a very big asset for the local community,” he tells COLlive.com.
Kosher Pita Grill is the only kosher restaurant in all of Ecuador and is located just a few blocks from the Jewish community which includes a kosher supermarket that carries meat, chicken, wine, and more. It is an essential part of the community, catering weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, and community events.
Matza creates all of the recipes and teaches his chefs how to make them just right. All food is made on-premises, including baked goods such as pita bread, challah, and desserts.
“Fantastic and Real Hummus. Not that fake stuff. But made real every day,” Lawrence Lipman wrote in a Google review. “Plus the rest of the menu is perfect. Great hamburgers and amazing salads. Proper food at a fair price. Order the flatbread thing that’s covered with meats along with two hummus dishes and you’re done for the day. The rest you’ll end up taking home.”
Years ago, Matza owned a different restaurant in Ecuador; but when he became Shomer Shabbos, he decided to live near the Jewish community in Guayaquil. That’s when he realized the need for a kosher restaurant. He opened Kosher Pita Grill in 2016.
The restaurant attracts tourists from all walks of life, including many non-Jewish patrons. “They like the experience of kosher, Israeli food,” Matza says, “Plus, it’s all really healthy.”
Outstanding customer service has morphed Kosher Pita Grill into an essential community hub and the official meeting place for tourists and locals.
“Israeli backpackers tell me they haven’t eaten a proper meal in months,” Rabbi Fried says. “They’ve been living off of canned tuna.” For these travelers, Kosher Pita Grill is a haven.
“We pay attention to all the people,” says Matza.“They come for you, they come for the food, they come for the service,” he says. Staff is eager to recommend travel destinations, tours, guides, and agencies. What’s more, diners go to the restaurant to find out about Shabbos davening and Jewish life in Ecuador.
“Before the restaurant opened, we needed to bring kosher food in from Miami,” Rabbi Fried says. “For any function, we would kasher a hall, look for a chef, and have kosher ingredients shipped in. It was a big production. People from cities much larger than Guayaquil tell me they wish they had a restaurant half the size of Kosher Pita Grill.”
For Jews going on vacation, finding kosher food is one of the most important factors. Now, no matter where you travel in Ecuador, you can find delicious, ready-to-eat kosher food thanks to Kosher Pita Grill. Now that’s a taste worth traveling for.
VIDEO: How Shakshuka is done in Ecuador
Pita Grill (in the Plaza Comercial Urdesa)
Av. Víctor Emilio Estrada 504, Guayaquil 090511, Ecuador
Email: [email protected]
Kosher: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Fried – Chabad of Guayaquil / Shechitas Lubavitch