Ecuador’s cuisine relies heavily on the rainbow of potato varieties that grow in its chilly highlands. Typical for an Andean country, Ecuador boasts hundreds of varieties of native potatoes, including spuds that come in rich shades of blue and purple. In the mountainous regions of Ecuador, food typically reflects the rugged climate, and revolves around meat and thick stews. On the coast, lighter dishes of seafood and coconut define the native palette.
The culture of the Ecuadorian people has been skillfully crafted into their cuisine. The largest meal of the day in Ecuador is lunch, typically followed by a relaxing siesta. Breakfast is usually simple, and comes with many options familiar to Americans. Soup often accompanies most meals, and there are several popular varieties. Caldos can be creamy or not, and dense locros have potatoes and cheese.
Usually, lunch and dinner will come with one or more of the following: fried or baked plantains, rice, yucca, and quinoa. Corn, beans, mild cheese, and hominy are also common accompaniments to a meal. Ají peppers usually take the form of a bottled sauce. Ecuadorians like to put it on everything. It goes with almost any meal besides breakfast.
Food is very affordable in Ecuador, so eat up!
Ecuador has the perfect climate for growing pineapple, mango, and banana. It’s also an ideal place to grow lots of fruits you’ve probably never tried.
Traveler’s tip — remember not to wash your fruit in tap water. Bring bottled water with you to the market, or buy a commercial fruit scrub.
Taxo is a long, orange fruit, filled with globules of orange flesh clinging to black seeds. It is typically used to make juice (with the seeds strained), or used to top ice cream. It has a tart, citrus flavor.
Ecuadorians use the same preparations for naranjilla, a small fruit that resembles a yellow tomato, with green innards. It has a flavor often described as a cross between an orange and a tomato.
You’ve probably heard of passion fruit. In Ecuador, you’ll find more than one variety. What you may know as passion fruit they refer to as maracuya. A variety of sweet treats in the passion fruit family grow in Ecuador, including the popular, purple granadilla.
Guanábana combines the flavor of a variety of fruits you already know. It is said to evoke strawberry, kiwi, and banana all at once. You’ll also find it quite sweet, with an unusual, spongy texture.
Mora is translated as either mulberry or blackberry. It has dark flesh and a very sweet flavor, and is a popular flavor of ice cream.
Tuna is the Spanish word for prickly pear, a squishy and sweet bulb that grows from a cactus.
You may have seen uvilla in some parts of the U.S., although you rarely find them in American supermarkets. In the U.S. they’re called ground cherries. Uvillas have papery leaves that close around a small globe of sweet, yellow fruit.
Tomate de arbol, or “tree tomato” in English, tastes like a sweet tomato, without the acidity.
If you don’t want to bother with peeling and slicing the fruits yourself, sample a selection of Ecuadorian fruits in a cocktail called a rosero quiteño. This cocktail is made with a blend of papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, strawberries, peaches, and whatever else the bartender feels like adding.
You might also visit your local ice cream shop, known as a heladería in Spanish. When you find yourself at the Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza Grande) in the heart of historic Quito, stop by the San Augustin Heladería. Opened in 1858, this shop makes ice cream according to tradition — in a large, copper bowl called a paila. Their ice creams are all made with fresh local fruit, and have a light, sorbet-like texture.
In Ecuador, it’s important to avoid drinking tap water. Make sure you purchase purified, bottled water before you set out on your explorations. And when you’re looking for some refreshment, there are plenty of drinks available here that you won’t find at home.
Naturally, fresh fruit juices are common. You’ll find them sold in stands along the road and in outdoor markets.
Although known for its coffee, the best of Ecuador’s coffee is exported. At most coffee stands in Ecuador you’ll be served tinto, the Ecuadorian term for coffee made from inferior beans or instant Nescafé.
Maize grows in abundance in South America. Chicha, a beer made from fermented corn, is popular throughout the Andes. It has a strong flavor, so you may want to have a chaser nearby. This drink dates back at least to the Inca, but we don’t know for sure which bygone civilization came up with the revered recipe.
In the highlands, hardworking mountain people sip on trago de caña, also known as aguardiente. This liquor is made from fermented sugar cane. It is known for the warming, perhaps even fiery, sensation it produces. It is popularly served warm with lemon, sugar, and cinnamon in a cocktail known as canelazo. This drink is extremely potent, and said to lessen the effects of altitude sickness. Because of its high alcohol content, it is well known for producing another form of discomfort. Go easy with these, especially if you have a lot planned for the next day.
There’s good reason to give these drinks a try — Ecuador doesn’t have much of a reputation for wine or beer, and you will probably find the imported beers cost more in Ecuador than they do at home.
Make sure to try some popular potato dishes when you dine out. Llapingachos are fried potato-and-cheese cakes, often served with meat, avocado, and a fried egg. Salchipapas is a dish of fried sausages or hot dog served with potatoes.
Visit a roadside stand for a meaty snack on a skewer. Sometimes these savory offerings will include cuy, the Quechua word for guinea pig. Guinea pigs are considered a treat in Ecuador, but have become a valuable source of protein for some families, since they take up much less space than cattle. Newlyweds frequently receive a pair as a wedding present. They are usually served whole, paws and all.
Ecuadorians love their meat, and beef especially. Try some of the local product at a parrillada, an Ecuadorian steakhouse. For a casual meal on the go, try tallarines – an Ecuadorian take on noodles, and one of the few meals you can find for vegetarians. In the larger cities you’ll find take-out venues serving chaulafan, the Ecuadorian version of Chinese fried rice.
Fresh seafood from Ecuador’s coast makes its way into several signature dishes. Encocadas embodies many of the flavors of the coast, a dish of white fish cooked in coconut milk, usually with peppers. There’s another popular marriage of fish and fruit on the coast - bollos de pescado, a filet of fish steamed with peanuts inside a banana leaf. Banana leaves impart a delicate flavor that’s difficult to describe, and even harder to replicate. Besides these classic dishes, try the many different versions of seafood curries and chowders that are available up and down the coast.
Ceviche is a popular dish in Ecuador. You may encounter some new variations here — it’s not unheard of to find a ceviche prepared with citrus and tomato sauce, much like a gazpacho. Ecuador’s ceviches usually include white fish and shrimp, and have usually marinated in citrus juice for long enough for the fish to feel completely cooked.
From the beginning of Lent through Easter, you’ll see a seafood chowder called fanesca on menus throughout Ecuador. It’s made with fish, vegetables, squash, beans, and hominy. Typical garnishes include avocado and hard-boiled egg. This nourishing stew gets Ecuadorians through the long days when Catholic tradition dictates believers should avoid meat.
On November 2nd, Ecuadorians observe All Soul’s Day, a day to pray for the dead. They also enjoy a sweet treat called t’anta wawa. T’anta wawa is a Quechua term that translates to “bread baby.” This sweet roll vaguely resembles a swaddled infant – an oblong shape topped with a round ball of a head. According to legend, these rolls represented the children who passed on, and consuming the sweet bread honors their memory. It is served alongside a chilled glass of colada morada, a fuchsia fruit juice made from corn, fruit, and berries.
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