Food and Drink in Ecuador
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: A Land of fruits
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.
What To Drink in Ecuador
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.
Seafood From Ecuador’s Coast
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.
Frequently asked questions
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- Is the Food the Same Everywhere in Ecuador?
The food in Ecuador varies with the different climates. No matter where you go, you’ll have access to a wider variety of fruit than you’ll find anywhere in North America. There are almost as many varieties of ice cream, Ecuador’s dessert of choice. Ice cream is often made with fruit, much like a sorbet, or topped with fresh fruit.Throughout the Andes, hardworking farmers withstand the chilly mountain air with the help of hot soups and stews, laden with potatoes and cheese. In the Oriente jungle, locals take advantage of whatever food they can hunt or gather. This often includes large jungle rodents, or fish from the river. For vegetables, the Oriente people sometimes eat hearts of palm, called palmitos. A dense, fibrous vegetable known as yucca makes a good side dish, steamed or fried. Plantains and bananas are readily available.
On the coast, seafood is much more common. Many dishes also feature coconut, or coconut milk. Food is often cooked over a fire, wrapped in banana leaves. Ceviche, a dish of citrus-marinated fish, is one of the most ubiquitous menu items.
- What is Ecuadorian Food Like?
Unlike much of Latin American cuisine, Ecuadorian food is not known for its spiciness. Instead, Ecuadorian palettes relish sweet local fruits and savory grilled meats. But you can always add spicy ají hot sauce to your dish; a condiment available almost everywhere in Ecuador.For breakfast, Ecuadorians typically eat something simple, like bread and butter. The largest meal of the day is lunch, and necessitates a short nap to recover. Street food is extremely popular, and the smell of skewered meat and deep-fried plantains waft from roadside stands.
Most main dishes include meat and potatoes. Slices of avocado or a fried egg will add some color to the meal. It’s not always easy to find food for vegetarians, or for someone who prefers to eat lightly.
Ecuador serves up a variety of soups and stews, such as locro, chupe, sopa, mazamorra, and sopa seca. Caldo is usually made with a clear broth, simmered with meat, grains, and vegetables. Each of these dishes varies according to the cook. Sometimes soups will contain ingredients not usually seen in North America, like blood or organs.
If you’re on the coast, try some of the local seafood. Fish stews and soups are quite common. You’ll also find fish fried in dense fritters, called corviche.
Ecuadorians typically eat a diet rich in carbohydrates. In addition to potatoes, Ecuadorian cooks serve meals with quinoa, barley, and hominy. Some varieties of corn here have large kernels, and these often round out simple, rustic meals.
- What is Dessert Like in Ecuador?
Ecuador’s most famous dessert is a traditional, fruity ice cream, made in an iced copper bowl called a paila. It is often referred to as helado, the Ecuadorian word for ice cream, although it typically contains no dairy. You’ll also see plenty of bread pudding, flan, and dulce de leche — desserts that are popular all over Latin America.At festivals and marketplaces vendors sell heaps of homemade candy. Try espumillas, a meringue shaped like an ice cream, and served in an ice cream cone. Panela, a type of unrefined cane sugar, is a common ingredient in Ecuadorian sweets. Melcochas are sticky candies made from panela sugar, cooked with honey or molasses.
Local produce is the main ingredient in a number of popular Ecuadorian desserts. Cocados are coconut candies, sweetened with caramel. You should also try bien me sabe, a fluffy coconut cake. Its name translates to “seems good to me” in English. Dulce de guayaba is a type of candy made from guava. Morocho is a warm pudding made from corn, cooked with raisins, cinnamon, and milk. It goes perfectly with a chilly evening in the Andes.
- Is There Vegetarian Food in Ecuador?
Vegetarian food is available in Ecuador. In popular destinations, there will usually be a couple vegetarian restaurants. At small, local restaurants, vegetarians can eat staples like rice, plantains, yucca, and potatoes. In the highlands, be on the lookout for llapingachos, a traditional dish made of cheesy potato cakes. Chinese restaurants, known as chifas, are also widespread in Ecuador and typically offer fried rice, noodles, and vegetables.
- What Kinds of Alcohol Are Available in Ecuador?
Local beers, including Club and Pilsner, are found throughout Ecuador. Microbreweries are beginning to appear, but it will be a while before their beer is widely available. Ecuadorian wine tends to be of poor quality; your best bet is a Chilean wine. Beer and wine imports are also available but tend to be much more expensive.Chicha is homemade beer made from fermented corn. Trago de caña (also known as aguardiente) is a liquor made from fermented sugar cane that is popular in rural Ecuador. It is often served warm with lemon, sugar, and cinnamon, a drink which is known as a canelazo.
- How Much Do I Tip Drivers and Other Service Workers in Ecuador?
Tipping is a personal decision and depends on the service provided. If the person has been helpful, feel free to tip them. If they have been less than helpful (or flat out unfriendly), don't feel obligated to tip.For most most services (including porters and hairdressers), tipping $1 is sufficient. For guided tours, a tip is expected, and should be around $5-$10. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip.
Do note that upscale restaurants may automatically include a tip on the bill.
- Does Ecuador Have Good Seafood?
Ecuador is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, ensuring a steady supply of fresh seafood. Ceviche is an especially popular dish in Ecuador. This usually includes white fish and shrimp that are marinated in citrus juice.Encocadas is a dish of white fish cooked in coconut milk, and bollas de pescado is a filet of fish steamed with peanuts inside a banana leaf. Seafood curries and chowder are also widely available along the coast. Camarones al ajillo, shrimp with garlic sauce, is tasty and available throughout much of Ecuador.
- How Much Should I Tip After a Meal in Ecuador?
Tips are not required, but are still a nice way to put a little money into the pockets of local Ecuadorians. Nice restaurants will add a 10 percent service tax and 12 percent value-added tax to your bill. At cheaper restaurants, try to tip 5 to 10 percent.