Food from Ecuador
Ecuador is a land of plenty when it comes to food, and it is easy to eat well for little. As a fertile country comprising three distinct geographical regions, it can produce a startling array of foods, including dozens of exotic fruits, and three different regional styles of cooking.
That said, there's surprisingly little variation between restaurant menus in these areas, with either fish (usually trucha or corvina, trout or sea bass), chicken or beef served with rice, chips or patacones (fried plantain), topped off with a smidgeon of salad.
Though the fish or chicken may be fried, boiled or breaded, it is easy to get tired with the overall monotony of the cuisine, though occasionally you'll find more exciting comidas típicas (especially in sierran areas), the traditional food of each region, cropping up on menus, or you can resort to western fast-food outlets, such as Burger King, opening in Quito or the pizza and pasta parlors which are springing up in many Ecuadorian towns.
Markets are among the cheapest sources of food, not only because of the range of nutritious fruits and produce on offer, but also from the makeshift restaurants and stalls that dole out fried meats, potatoes and other snacks; although they may not be overly scrupulous on the hygiene front, food prepared and cooked in front of you should be fine.
Street vendors also supply snacks such as corn-on-the-cob or salchipapas, a popular fast food comprising a bag of chips propping up a sausage, all doused in ketchup. Vendors often carry their wares onto buses and parade the aisles to tempt passengers.
Comidas Típicas (Typical Meals)
In the highlands, a typical meal might start off with a locro, a delicious soup of potato, cheese and corn with half an avocado tossed in for good measure. This is great for vegetarians, who'll want to steer well clear of its relative, yaguarlocro, which swaps the avocado for a sausage of sheep's blood, tripe and giblets. Other soups might be caldo de patas, cattle hoof soup; caldo de gallina, chicken soup; or even caldo de manguera, which literally means "hose pipe soup", a polite name for bull's penis soup. A number of different grains, such as morocho, similar to rice, and quinoa, a small circular grain, are also thrown into soups, along with whatever meat and vegetables are available. Other possible starters, or snacks in their own right, include empanadas, corn pasties filled with vegetables, cheese or meat.
For a main course you might go for llapingachos, cheesy potato cakes - cheese, corn and potatoes are big in the highlands - often served with chorizo (sausage), lomo (steak) or pollo (chicken) and fried eggs. The famous cuy, guinea pig roasted whole, has remained for centuries a speciality of the indigenous highlanders, and is rather good, if a bit expensive. Another traditional dish is seco de chivo, a stew not made of goat as the name suggests, but mutton. The unappetizing-looking guatita, usually tripe smothered in peanut sauce, is actually much better than it sounds.
Mote, a hard corn that is peeled with calcium carbonate solution, and then boiled in salt water, is frequently served as accompaniment to main courses, particularly fritada, seasoned pork deep-fried in lard, and hornado, pork slow-roasted in the oven. Motepillo is a Cuenca speciality, in which the mote is mixed with eggs to make corn-filled scrambled eggs. Another common side dish is tostado, toasted maize, or canguil, popcorn that often comes with soups and ceviches.
If you still have space left then there's morocho de leche, similar to rice pudding flavored with cinnamon and often served cold; quesadillas, baked cheese doughballs brushed with sweet syrup; or humitas, ground corn mixed with cheese, sugar, butter and vanilla, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Higos con queso, figs with cheese, is another common highland dessert.
Coastal delicacies, unsurprisingly, center on seafood. The classic ceviche is prepared by marinating raw seafood in lime juice and chill, and serving with raw onion. It can be dangerous to eat uncooked seafood, so it is worth knowing that shrimps ( camarones ) and king prawns ( langostinos ) are usually boiled for ten minutes before they are marinated. If a cevichería ( ceviche restaurant) looks unhygienic, you should probably give it a miss. On the north coast, encocados are fantastic fish dishes with a Caribbean flavor, cooked in a sauce of coconut milk, tomato and garlic and often served with a huge mound of rice. Bananas and plantain often replace the potato, appearing in many different forms on the side of your plate. Patacones are thick-cut plantains fried up in oil and served with plenty of salt, while chifles are thinly cut plantains cooked the same way. Bolón de verde is a rather stodgy ball of mashed baked plantain, cheese and coriander traditionally served as a snack with coffee.
The Oriente, being originally composed of many disparate indigenous groups, has rather less well-defined specialities, but you can count on yuca (a manioc similar to yam) making an appearance, alongside rice, bananas, and fish (including the scrawny piranha) caught in the rivers. As a guest of a forest community, you may eat game such as wild pig or guanta, a large rodent not that different to cuy.
Source: TravelNow Destination Guides