Ever since I left Ecuador for college, I have been asked this question many times: what do you miss most about your country?
Even though it’s a hard question to answer, I always say what I miss the most is the food. Ecuador has four regions: the Amazon, the highlands, the coast and the Galapagos islands. Each region has its own variety of traditional dishes with variations in the north and south. It is hard to pick which one is my favorite, which is why for your next trip to Ecuador, I want to give you a rundown of a few of the unmissable ones.
I believe Ecuadorian food is special because of the way we season it. Two infallible ingredients in cooking most Ecuadorian dishes are adobo, which is a green paste made with a variety of blended vegetables and achiote, a red paste that comes from the seeds of the achiote tree; it gives color and flavor to meats and vegetables.
Locro de papa
Our culinary tour begins with Locro, which comes from the word luqru in Quechua and it is essentially a creamy potato soup. It is usually accompanied by small cubes of queso fresco (cheese) and avocado. You can find this dish in the northern part of the Sierra (highlands) region and it’s a delicious starter to a culinary journey through the country.
This dish consists mainly of fried pork. A whole plate of fritada can contain yuca or cassava, fried plantains, llapingacho (the potato cakes filled with cheese in the picture), mote (a type of white grain), encebollado (a mixture of tomato and onions pickled in lemon juice) and chicharrón (small fried pieces of pork). You can find fritada all along the Sierra region, even though the best one is found in the province of Imbabura. If you’re in Quito, look for a restaurant called El Palacio de la Fritada, it’s one of the oldest and best places to try it!
If you feel adventurous during your time in Ecuador, eating cuy (guineapig) is an experience altogether. The dish has the same sides as fritada, except you’ll get a whole roasted guineapig on your plate. Seeing a full animal on your plate can be quite shocking, but most people like this one, trust me.
Always served cold, ceviche in Ecuador has more “broth” than its Peruvian counterpart. Ceviche is a traditional dish in the coast of Ecuador and in some parts of the Amazon. It can be made with white fish, shrimp, shellfish or palm heart; the main ingredient is always accompanied by bits of tomato, onion, green and red pepper and lots of lemon juice. The best way to accompany ceviche is with patacones, or fried plantain slices.
All things plantain
Plantains, like potatoes, are an incredibly versatile fruit. In Ecuador, we have two types of plantains: green and yellow, both which allow you to cook different types of side dishes. The most famous one in the country is the bolón de verde (ball of green plantain), which can be filled with cheese or pork and is then fried for a crispy outer texture. Another variation of the bolón is corviche: it is essentially the same but it can be filled with fish or shrimp bathed in a peanut sauce. Corviche is mostly eaten in the province of Manabí in the coast, where one of the most used ingredients in their dishes are peanuts. You can also try plantain chips, fried yellow plantains and as described before, patacones. We also use plantains to make empanadas, commonly known as empanadas de verde filled with cheese.
Humitas are our version of cornbread, except ours are wrapped in maize leaves! They are traditional in the highlands and personally, I think the best ones are found in the southern province of Loja.
Fruit, fruit and more fruit
Fruits are obviously a must in Ecuador. Every meal is accompanied by fruit juice and fruits can easily be served as dessert. The country has an incredible variety of fruits and we make juice out of most of them. We have fruits that are less known around the world, like naranjilla, babaco (called baboon in English), uvilla (golden berry), granadilla and chirimoya. Amongst the less rare types, we have mangoes, coconuts, watermelon, and lots of bananas!
Helado de paila
This ice cream is made in a paila, or a large flat pot that is placed on top of ice where you pour fresh fruit juice. To make the ice cream, you twist the pot while mixing the juice. After a few minutes, the juice starts turning into ice cream. If you’re vegan, this is your kind of dessert!
Pan de Yuca
This one is a personal favorite from this list and the simplest one of all, yuca bread. If you’ve been to Brazil you may have tried cheese bread, well, pan de yuca is very similar except it’s also made with yuca, or cassava. We usually eat it with yogurt and you can find it all around the country!
Colada Morada and Guaguas de Pan
If you’re lucky enough to be in Ecuador in November, you will experience the traditional feasting of the day of the dead. On November 2nd, people gather around their loved one’s graves and eat with them, as is done in Mexico. The food commonly served is known as colada morada, a thick, dark purple drink made of blue or black corn flour, blackberries, strawberries, pineapple and other optional fruits. It’s often served hot with guaguas de pan. Guagua in Quechua means baby or child, a guagua de pan is a sweet bread made in the shape of a baby. This is served all throughout the month and it’s one of my favorite traditions, for it reminds me of decorating the bread with my grandmother ever since I was a child.
I could go on and on telling you about Ecuadorian food but people have written entire books on it! These are just some of the basic dishes you should try while in Ecuador but once you get here, you will discover so much more!