Ecuador Food Culture: 7 Local Dishes You Must Try

Ecuador food culture Quito
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From the mountain caps of the Andes to the Amazon forests and the Pacific coast, Ecuadorian cuisine is rich and diverse. The country’s menu is a mix of traditional dishes dating back to the Inca times and regional varieties of flavors drawn from Spanish arrivals. What’s more, as you travel around the country you will find different versions of national delicacies composed from ingredients typical of the region.

Ecuadorian cuisine has been influenced by the Incan heritage and colonial rule. You will find many dishes that resemble other South American menus and a variety of fresh ingredients like plantains, yucca, tomatoes, onions, corn, and fruit. Foods tend to be rich in carbs such as potatoes and rice, too. On the coast, there are plenty of meals with fresh fish and seafood.

We’ve gathered a list of seven local dishes that sum up Ecuador’s food culture. If you want to find out what to eat when traveling in this amazing part of the world, read on.

Cuy – probably the best-known dish of Ecuador food culture

Cuy Ecuador

Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash

Brace yourselves – cuy is a Guinea pig. The same Guinea pig that many of us kept as pets when we were younger. Yes, the mini rodent of the cavia family is one of the main dishes of Ecuadorian cuisine. Also called cobayo or conejillo de indias in different places throughout the region, it’s one of the most common national meals you’ll find on offer in this South American nation.

The history of cuy actually dates all the way back to the Incas. That mighty empire first cooked the rodents, and the meat is still considered a delicacy up and down the Andes and in neighboring Peru, the former center of the Inca peoples.

It’s usually made by marinating the full body of the animal in a mash of garlic and chili, then cooking over an open flame on a skewer for several hours. Other restaurants will serve their cuy deep-fried in hot oil with a patting of cumin. The hardest part of the cooking process is usually the preparation stage, which involves removing every bit of hair from the animal from top to bottom.

These days, cuy is mainly considered as a meal for special occasions in Ecuador. However, it’s also become a bit of a challenge for adventurous eaters, so don’t be surprised to see travelers like yourself tucking into a Guinea pig in places like Quito, Guayaquil, Montanita, and other tourist towns

Locro de papa soup

Locro de papa
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The main ingredients in locro the papa, as the name might suggest, are potatoes. They’re made into a delicious thick stew with rinds and cheese thrown in on top. This hearty Ecuadorian delicacy is one of the nation’s favorites, and its popularity doesn’t come as a surprise considering the love for potatoes in these parts – over half a million tons of them are consumed in Ecuador every year.

The soup is traditionally made with an Ecuadorian variety of potatoes, that, some locals say, you can’t find anywhere else. Other ingredients include milk, garlic, onions, cumin, and achiote (a coloring spice common in the tropical parts of the Americas). It’s usually served with soft cheese and avocado as a garnish. Meat isn’t an essential ingredient, either, so the soup is often vegetarian.

The name of the soup comes from a mix of Quechuan words for stew and a Spanish word for potatoes. If you’re visiting Ecuador, you should make sure that you try this delicious dish. You can find it all over the country, especially in the highlands, in most restaurants serving traditional Ecuadorian food.

Ceviche

Ceviche
Photo by on Jercyz Pixabay

Ceviche isn’t only popular in Ecuador. It’s also a major part of the food culture up and down the coast of South America, in Peru and Chile in particular. Basically, anywhere close to the Pacific Ocean tends to do this dish well, because it’s based on raw seafood with herbs, citrus, and a few spices, although ceviche varies considerably from place to place.

The Ecuadorian version of the dish is typically based on fish cuts and sometimes octopus and shrimp. It’s served with cilantro and garlic and loads of lime juice, along with a dousing of virgin olive oil and chopped red onion. There’s no cooking involved. Instead, ceviche making relies purely on maceration, which is the ability of acidic liquids to break down proteins and absorb them into certain food types (fish included) to enhance the flavor.

If you’re planning a trip around more than one country in South America and Latin America, then be ready to hear some conflicting stories about where ceviche comes from. The Peruvians claim it for their own, saying it was once a mainstay of the ancient Incan diet. The Mexicans also have a version, only theirs is a lot spicier, making use of powerful jalapeno and habanero peppers in the mix.

Llapingachos

Andean valley Ecuador
Photo by Andrés Medina on Unsplash

Another traditional Ecuadorian dish loved by tourists and locals alike is llapingachos. The reason why is that these are fried cheese and potato pancakes. Yummy. They are usually griddled on a hot pan until crispy and brown, and then bathed in a tasty peanut sauce with fried egg and avocados.

These small potato patties are most popular in the mountainous parts of the country but can also be found in the coastal provinces. The dish originates from the city of Ambato located in the central Andean valley. You will also often find them as a side to hornado, a roasted pig.

People often have llapingachos as a snack, and the locals will say they go with pretty much anything. Sometimes, llapingachos are cooked with mashed, cooked cassava root instead of potato. 

Encocado de Pescado

Encocado de Pescado
Photo by SuanSteinberg1987 on Pixabay

Encocado de pescado, otherwise known as fish in coconut sauce, is an exotic coastal dish that traditionally consists of lemony fish with herbs, coriander sauce, onions, bell peppers, and coconut milk. It’s usually made with corvina fish but can also be made with other types of fish or shrimp, clams, crab, or even squid.

The recipe actually originates from Africa. It was brought by the African settlers to the northwestern shores of the Esmeraldas province in colonial times. Now, however, it’s considered as one of the traditional coastal dishes of Ecuador food culture.

The fish is marinated in lime juice, coriander, garlic, and spices before being cooked in a coconut sauce. It’s usually served as a main dish with rice or salad or plantain chips. You will mainly find it in restaurants in the seaside regions throughout the country.

Encebollado soup

Encebollado soup
Photo by SuanSteinberg1987 on Pixabay

Citrusy, lively, and packed with seafood, encebollado soup is the exact sort of thing you’d expect of a coastal country in Latin America. From salty tuna steak to hearty yuca carbs and fresh coriander with pickled onions and chilies, this traditional broth is one of the trademark flavors of Ecuadorian cuisine. It’s also said to be a favorite hangover cure, so consider choosing this if you’ve been on the Pisco sours!

Encebollado is made by broiling tuna with spices like cumin and pepper in a big pot. Once the fish is done, you remove it and use the same water to cook the yucca root. That adds a saltiness throughout the dish that’s distinctly Pacific-influenced. The lime-doused salsas and pickled veg are then added on top before serving for extra punch and flavor.

The best place to eat encebollado is in the coastal areas of Ecuador. It is made inland and up in the Andes, but the fish doesn’t tend to be quite as fresh there. It’s served throughout the whole day, for both breakfast and brunch and dinner later on. Historically, the dish has been linked to Spanish seafood broths that were probably brought over with the conquistadors in the 16th century. It’s now considered one of Ecuador’s national staples.

Empanadas

Empanadas Ecuador
Photo by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay

Empanadas are popular in many places, not only in Ecuador. They’re often associated with Spanish and Mexican cuisine more than Ecuador food culture. Essentially fried pastries shaped like a dumpling with different kinds of fillings ranging from meat to cheese and veggies, they are filling and pretty fantastic.

The Ecuadorian version of empanadas is deep-fried and packed with cheese and seasoned with onions. What makes them different from the other types is a special ingredient: Sugar. That’s added as soon as the pastries are taken out of the hot oil. Empanadas are a popular snack rather than a main dish. You can buy them at street stalls throughout the country.

Although they are a very popular snack in Ecuador, empanadas actually originate from Galicia in Spain. They date back to a 16th-century cookbook that mentioned empanadas filled with seafood.

What is the most famous food in Ecuador?

The dish that gained the most popularity in the country is cuy, or roast guinea pig. Although it isn’t usually present on the everyday menu, it’s considered a delicacy for special occasions. For tourists, tasting cuy is an unforgettable part of Ecuador’s food culture.

What is a typical breakfast in Ecuador?

The typical breakfast in Ecuador is usually pretty simple and quick. People like to have a small bite with a coffee rather than an elaborate meal. But some people prefer the more complex breakfast, which often starts with fruit and is followed by some kind of protein such as scrambled or fried eggs with plantains or avocados.

What makes the food in Ecuador unique?

Ecuadorian cuisine consists of unusual ingredients like yucca, plantains, and even guinea pig, things not often present on a typical menu in most parts of the world. As you travel around the country, you will experience different flavors in different regions, so the food in Ecuador is also very rich and diverse.

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