The cuisine in South America is in many ways alike, but every country likes to implement its own twist. For this reason, every country has its own unique dishes. Ecuador is no exception and has varied and delicious flavors across its four regions: Costa, Sierra, Amazonia, and Galapagos. Learn about the best dishes of Ecuador with this Ecuadorian Food Guide.
You are hereby introduced to one of the most underrated foods on Earth, the Ecuadorian food.
EACH REGION HAS ITS FLAVOR
To start our Ecuadorian Food Guide, let’s go towards the west of the country. Ecuador has marvelous beaches and lovely ports that border the Pacific Ocean. Like in most coastal regions, seafood is the standard. Some recommendations are: Encebollado, Cazuela de Mariscos, Encocado, Tigrillo, Ceviche de Camaron, or Arroz Marinero; however, there are still many other dishes to discover.
Tigrillo from the Province of El Oro, Coast
Moving into the center of the country, and up a few thousand meters above sea level, you will reach the Sierra or Andes region. Here you will find that different types of meat, grains, and root vegetables (like potatoes) become predominant. Some recommendations from our Ecuadorian Food Guide from the Andes are Locro de Papa, Fritada, Hornado, Llapingachos, Tamal Lojano, Fanesca, and Guinea Pig (at a good place).
Llapingacho from the Province of Tungurahua, Andes
Going even deeper with our Ecuadorian Food Guide, into the inscrutable Amazon jungle, food may become more exotic. Amazon gastronomy usually combines freshwater fish, plants, herbs, fruits and yucca. However, for some of the locals, and the most adventurous travelers, dishes may involve insects and other unusual types of meat such as turtle, snake, or tapir. Some recommendations from the Amazon are Ceviche Volquetero, Ayampaco, Maito, Chicha, and if you are up for eating a worm, Chontacuro.
Maito from the Province of Orellana, Amazon
Last but not least, across hundreds of kilometers of the ocean from the coast of Ecuador, the unique Galapagos Islands can be found. Here, food tends to be organic, as ingredients are locally found and grown. Most dishes are based on a variety of seafood such as fish, crab, shrimp, lobster, octopus, oyster, and more. These are even mixed to create some delicious ceviche options. We can attest that ceviche is Galapagos’ standout dish. Ceviche de Canchalagua is our recommendation in the Ecuadorian Food Guide for the Galapagos region.
Ceviche de Canchalagua from The Galapagos Islands
Ecuadorian gastronomy is very unique. In Ecuador as a whole, rice is eaten almost daily. The same goes for soups. There are a ton of different delicious soups, most are served hot like Locro, and some are served cold (at room temperature) like Ceviche. Ecuadorian soups usually combine flavors and have become an important part of both, daily lunches, and Ecuadorian cuisine.
Fruits are also an important part of our Ecuadorian Food Guide. Ecuador is full of fruits of all sizes, colors, and tastes. Citric, sweet, sour, and even more than you can imagine. Some examples are naranjilla, guanabana, tomate de arbol, coco, yellow and white pineapple, maracuya, granadilla, pitahaya, and a handful of varieties of mango. It is also not uncommon to prepare juices with two or more combinations of fruits. Making a combination of juices is like a laboratory experiment!
For example, this may be a fruit you may have not tasted (yet): the Golden Berry or Uvilla.
Uvillas (Golden Berries)
Traditionally, there is quite a big difference in dishes from the Coast and from the Andean regions, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find coastal food in la Sierra or vice versa. Also, there are dishes that are only prepared in certain festivities such as Fanesca (made with 12 different types of grains) which was consumed in the Pre-Hispanic festivity of Muashuk Nina or ‘New Fire’, which marked the beginning of a new Andean Year, and is now consumed in Holy Week after the Colonization (the 12 types of grains now represent the 12 apostles in Catholicism). Another example of this is Colada Morada, which is only prepared in the month of November due to Día de los Difuntos (Souls’ Day or Day of the Dead).
MAIN DISHES AND TYPICAL ECUADORIAN FOOD
Fritada: Small pork pieces, usually squares, cooked in spiced water, and then fried in their own fat until gold and crusty. Fritada is usually served along with llapingachos, mote, boiled potatoes, corn, sweet fried plantains, avocado, pickled onions, and tomato.
Hornado: Pork marinated for 3 days and then wood oven-cooked until the meat is soft. It is served with similar accompaniments as Fritada.
Ceviche: A typical seafood dish that is popular at the coasts of South America, each country has its unique variations of ceviche. Ceviche can be prepared with seafood such as shrimp, fish, oysters, octopus, and more, marinated in lemon, lime, chopped onions, tomato, salt, and herbs like coriander. It is usually served with garnishes such as thick green plantain chips called patacones, chifles, or salty popcorn. As mentioned before, ceviches are usually made of either fish, shrimps, oysters, however it can also be a mix of seafood.
Encocado de Camaron: Shrimp is one of the specialties of Ecuador. Ecuador exports high volume and high quality of shrimps to the world. Encocado which is originally from the province of Esmeraldas is very popular during the entire year. The shrimps are usually seasoned with citrus and spices, and then cooked in a sauce of cilantro, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and coconut milk, served with rice.
Encocado de Camarón
Churrasco: This is a staple food of the Coast Region, especially Guayaquil. The main ingredient of the Churrasco is grilled steak that is seasoned with chimichurri. It is served with plantains, white rice, French fries, a fried egg, slices of avocado, a salad, and aji.
Cuy: Guinea pig meat is high in protein and low in cholesterol and fat, and is described as being a combination in the taste of rabbit and chicken. The meat of this animal may be served fried, broiled, or roasted. It is served with potatoes, hominy, and salad, and it may be accompanied with peanut sauce as well. Depending on the region and restaurant, cuy may be served whole (head, feet, but no intestines) or sliced (no head or feet).
Mote Pillo: Hominy (mote) sautéed with onions, garlic, achiote, eggs, milk, chives, and coriander or parsley. The dish has a creamy consistency. It is very popular in the city of Cuenca, in the south of Ecuador.
Camarones y Langostinos: Ecuadorian Shrimps and Prawns are world-class quality (they are one of Ecuador’s main exports) and are prepared in a variety of ways, such as with avocado or tangerine. You can find this delicious seafood in a wide variety of dishes, including Ceviche, Encocado, Breaded, and in many other soups and main dishes.
Maito: Maito is a fish, similar to the Tilapia which is wrapped around baijao leaves along with vegetables and fruits such as palmito and peach palm. It is then roasted over an open fire and steam.
ECUADORIAN SOUPS AND STEWS
Encebollado: One of the most loved fish soups in Ecuador and a top recommendation in this Ecuadorian Food Guide. Sometimes it is commonly commented that, if you don’t like encebollado, you are not even Ecuadorian because of how popular this dish is in the country. It is served with boiled cassava and pickled red onions. A dressing of onion is prepared with fresh tomato and spices such as pepper or coriander leaves. The type of fish Encebollado is commonly prepared with is albacore, but it can also be made out of tuna, billfish, or bonito. It may be served with ripe avocado. This dish usually comes with chifles (plantain chips), plantains, and popcorn. It may be garnished with lime juice, aji, or ketchup. It is also the usual Ecuadorian antidote of chuchaqui (hangover), after a night of drinks.
Locro de Papa con Queso: A creamy potato soup garnished with cheese and avocado. It is a popular soup from the Ecuadorian Andes region. Typically, locro is made using a specific kind of potato called “papa chola”, which has a unique taste, gives a specific texture, and is difficult to find outside of its home region. Other optional ingredients may be chochos, some form of meat (usually beef), oregano, garlic, achiote, onions, beans, squash, pumpkin, or chard. Another traditional variant of locro, common in the Andes, is called Yahuarlocro, which comes from the Quichua word Yahuar (blood) and Lukru (soup), meaning Blood Soup. This is so because Yahuarlocro is served with clogged and fried lamb or chicken blood. This soup is considered a archetypal dish of Ecuadorian Gastronomy.
Locro de papa
Fanesca: A soup traditionally prepared and eaten by households and communities in Ecuador during holy week (Semana Santa). The components of fanesca and its method of preparation vary significantly regionally, even from one family to another. It is typically prepared and served only in the week before Easter (Holy Week). It is a dense soup, with the primary ingredients being figleaf gourd (sambo), pumpkin (zapallo), and twelve different kinds of beans and grains including chochos (lupines), habas (fava beans), lentils, peas, corn and others, mixed together with bacalao (salt cod) cooked in milk. Due to the Catholic religious prohibition against red meat during Holy Week, this dish comes with fish instead. It is also generally garnished with hard boiled eggs, fried plantains, herbs, parsley, and even empanadas. You for sure will be full after eating a plate of this delightful dish!
Guatita: Cow stomach (tripa) stew accompanied by potatoes, peanut sauce, and rice.
Seco de Pollo and Seco de Chivo: Chicken or goat stew served with rice, plantains, and salad. Goat stew is a bit more difficult to find because it needs more attention to its preparation as it needs more specific ingredients. The result, however, will be delicious.
Seco de chivo
Sopa de Bolas de Verde: Soup made of plantain dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables and served in a beef broth with corn and yuca.
Caldo de Patas: Soup based on cow’s feet and hominy (mote), a boiled grain typical of Ecuadorian cuisine. The soup is accompanied with herbs and is usually served very hot.
STREET FOOD / FAST FOOD
Humitas: Humita is originally a Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times, and a traditional food in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. It’s made out of corn, slowly steamed or boiled in a pot of water. Humitas are prepared with fresh ground corn with onions, eggs, and spices that vary from region to region, and from family to family tradition. The dough is wrapped in a corn husk that is steamed. Ecuadorian humitas may also contain cheese. This dish is so traditional in Ecuador, that they have developed special pots just for cooking humitas. Ecuadorian humitas can be salty or sweet. A sweet variant of humitas are called Quimbolitos, which also can contain raisins.
Bolones: Bolones de Verde (Green Plantain Balls) are made with green bananas stuffed with cheese, chorizo, chicharrones, or peanut butter. The green plantain is mashed into a dough whose texture varies according to the variety of the banana (barraganete or dominico), and it is filled with the corresponding cheese, pork, peanut, or a combination of ingredients, and molded into round balls that are fried until crispy. Don’t forget to try them with Aji.
Empanadas: Are stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries in Latin Europe and Latin America. Empanadas are made by folding dough or bread with stuffing consisting of a variety of meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, and others. In Ecuador, the most common variants are Empanadas de Morocho (made of a grain called Morocho), Empanadas de Verde (made of green plantains), Empanadas de Viento (filled with cheese and sugar, and also filled with air so they are big and stuffy).
Ceviche de Chochos: A vegetarian ceviche made out of chocho beans (a grain-like seed with a lot of protein), tomato, onion, coriander, salt, lime, optional aji (hot sauce), and chifles (plantain chips). Sometimes, it even can be served with fish, usually tuna.
Ceviche de chochos
Choclo con Queso: Sometimes referred to as Peruvian corn, it is a type of corn with a bigger grain and a slightly different taste. In many places of Ecuador, it is sold as street food in combination with cheese or sweet plantain, or mixed with minced meat (Choclo-mix in the Santo Domingo area).
Pan de Yuca: Is a type of bread made of yuca starch and cheese, with a special texture. It is usually combined with fruit flavored yogurt. You can also find Yuca bakeries with more variants, such as Tortilla de Yuca.
Patacones: Fried green plantains, pounded flat with a hinged utensil. Patacones usually accompany main dishes in the Coast area of Ecuador.
Pinchos: A stick with different kinds of meat, potato, and vegetables on it. It has a steamed taste, and is very popular on busy street corners during the day but especially at night.
Salchipapa: One of the most consumed street fast foods in the country. The name is made from the combination of salchicha (sausage) and papas (French fries). It’s a quick and cheap snack in Ecuador, usually served with lots of sauces such as ketchup, mayonnaise, and sometimes, Aji (hot chili sauce).
DRINKS AND BEVERAGES FROM ECUADOR
Canelazo: A hot beverage often made with fruit juice such as naranjilla, mora (blackberry) or passion fruit, cane sugar, and water boiled with cinnamon. Sugarcane alcohol is frequently added. Canelazo may be drunk all year round, but especially on certain dates such as Fiestas de Quito which are held on December.
Chicha: A fermented or non-fermented beverage usually derived from maize. Chicha can include corn beer, known as chicha de jora, and non-alcoholic beverages, such as chica morada. Chichas can also be made from yuca, grape, apple or various other fruits. Traditionally, Chicha preparation involved chewing and spitting the Yuca into the beverage, although this tradition stands nowadays only in certain communities and rites, and it is not seen in everyday life.
Morocho: A sweet and hearty drink made of morocho (dried, cracked corn kernels), milk, cinnamon, sugar, and raisins.
Rompope / Ponche de Leche: A hot or cold beverage popular during holidays. It is made out of milk, sugar, vanilla, egg yolks, condensed milk, cream, and sugar cane alcohol. Can be served with or without alcohol. Ice cream can also be made from this flavor.
Guayusa: A holly tree in the Ecuadorian rainforest. A herbal tea can be made out of the leaves of the guayusa tree, which has energetic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Colada Morada: It is a purple and thick drink, prepared with typical fruits and spices from Ecuador and purple corn flour. This drink is traditionally consumed in the month of November due to the celebration of Día de los Difuntos (souls’ day or day of the dead). Colada Morada can be prepared with fruits such as naranjilla, pineapple, strawberry, babaco, guava, blackberry or mortiño (wild blueberry from the Andean paramo). It also carries a number of aromatic herbs and barks, such as cinnamon, cloves, ishpingo, sweet pepper, orange leaf, luisa grass, etc.
As you can see in this Ecuadorian Food Guide, even though Ecuador is a small country, its gastronomy is extensive and varied. Make a bucket list of all of the dishes you want to try, most definitely you will discover new flavors and sensations that you have not tasted before!
If you are interested in a day tour where you will learn how to cook some delicious dishes from the varied Ecuadorian cuisine in Quito’s Historical Center, do not hesitate to contact us.
And, as they say in Ecuador: “Barriga llena, corazón contento!” which translates to “Full belly means a happy heart!”
*Images courtesy of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism