The Food & Cuisine of Ecuador
Ecuador’s typical cuisine bursts with natural and organic flavors grown and raised locally in the various tropical ecological zones, making for a rich national gastronomy. The country’s geography extends from the tropical rainforest in the east, into the alpine grasslands of the Andes, and rolls down to the humid coastal lowlands, each region home to unique specialties. The diet in Ecuador generally consists of a main protein, like pork, chicken, beef, or freshly caught fish, a soup, and a starch, like rice or potatoes, accompanied by a glass of juice or coffee.
Ceviche – This is a popular appetizer served in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, and each country has their own distinct ingredients and preparation style. In Ecuador, the most common preparation of ceviche is seasoned and boiled shrimp served in a lime juice with chopped onions, tomatoes, and cilantro.
Encebollado – Considered the number one cure for the hangover, this popular Sunday morning stew combines spices, onions, peppers, and chunks of yucca around fish (typically tuna or albacore).
Seafood – With a Pacific coast more than 2,000 km long, the varieties of fish, crab, shellfish, and other seafood that can be found is exhaustive. Fishermen wake long before dawn to cast their nets, and by noon the coastal towns are full of freshly caught fish. The provinces of Manabi, Esmeraldas, and Guayas are known for their great variety of seafood.
Seco de Pollo & other poultry dishes – It seems that every family in Ecuador has their own secret recipes for mouthwatering chicken dishes, but one of the most common plates is seco de pollo, bathed in a finger-licking marinade of cumin, garlic, cilantro, and other spices.
Llapingacho – This is a dish unique to Ecuador, featuring potato pancakes covered with a fried egg and a peanut butter sauce, typically served with sausage, avocado, and rice.
Trout – Raised in the brisk rivers and fisheries of the central Andean highlands, you can count on some of the best trout in South America.
Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice) – This dish is popular in many countries around the Pacific, and Ecuador is no exception. The rice is mixed with a tinted vegetable oil, shredded chicken, and various vegetables like peas, carrots, and raisins, and served with ketchup or mayonnaise.
Sango – This is a blended peanut sauce-based soup that features fish and a variety of spices.
Cuy (guinea pig) – Although this is more popular in Peru, it is still common in the Ecuadorian highlands to see many street vendors roasting these small rodents on spits. They have a tough texture and a distinct flavor.
Beef – Most of the beef in Ecuador is served as tender, marinated flank steak, but it is possible to find other cuts at higher end restaurants and hotels.
Pork – There are many ways Ecuadorians prepare their pork, including slow-roasted ribs, marinated and fried in small cubes (fritada), or prepared in a similar baste to the seco de pollo.
Rice – It’s said that in Ecuador, no meal is complete without rice. No matter what the main plate is, you can expect that it will likely be accompanied by a generous portion of locally grown white or grain rice.
Tubers (Yucca, Camote, & Potatoes, oh my!) – Whether mashed, whipped, blended, chopped, or formed into pancakes (tortillas), Ecuador’s selection of tubers will definitely keep your taste buds guessing as you experience delightful variations on a classic side.
Plantains – In Ecuador, plantains are a staple part of the diet and are prepared in many different ways. While the plantains are green (“verde” as they are called), they are used to make chifles and patacones, two variations of deep fried plantain chips. Once they are more mature (“maduro”) plantains have a sweeter taste and are sliced and fried or sauteed. Plantains are also mashed and mixed with cheese or pork then formed into balls to create a popular breakfast dish called “bolon.”
Fruits & Vegetables
Bananas are one of the chief exports of Ecuador, supporting a large part of the economy, in conjunction with the two other primary industries (petroleum & tourism). However, with the fertile soils of Ecuador’s coast lend themselves to the harvest of a medley of other delicious tropical fruits and veggies, including: Mango, Oranges & Limes, Plums, Melons, Pineapples, Guava, and Passion fruit, plus excellent large kernel corn (choclo) and delicious avocados.
Ecuador also has some truly exotic fruits, like the spiky, red achotillo which has an interior of succulent juicy flesh that surrounds a hard seed; the granadilla, which has an awkward slimy texture surrounding its small and edible seeds but a delicious citrusy flavor; the naranjilla - an orange-like citrus fruit with a distinct flavor; and the tomatillo (tamarillo), which is a relative of the tomato that makes for a deliciously sweet juice.