By Mara Precoma
Eating your way through a country’s specialties is one of the best ways to experience its culture. Ecuadorian cuisine is as diverse as the natural world which yields it. Some dishes can be found in different versions all over Latin America, others are closely tied to specific regions.
Breakfast can be small and quick, or it can mean a cooked, savory meal. Bolón de verde is a typical breakfast or brunch dish made of mashed green plantains which are shaped into a ball, filled with cheese or pork and then fried. Ecuadorians typically eat a bigger almuerzo, a lunch or “menu of the day” which is relatively cheap and consists of three courses. It begins with a hearty soup followed by a second dish which includes a protein and rice or pasta, and ends with dessert (often cake or fruit salad) and coffee. Dinner is usually lighter, and might just be a coffee or herbal tea with bread.
In the coastal region, beef, chicken and seafood served with rice, lentils, pasta or plantain are popular. Shrimp ceviche is a very common coastal dish. Ceviche is traditionally made of raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice. Other well-known coastal dishes include encebollado (a fish-based broth) or encocado de pescado (fish with coconut sauce).
In the mountain area, typical dishes include pork, chicken, beef or guinea pig (cuy) served with rice, corn or potatoes. A popular street food or family gathering dish is hornado, a pig roasted whole. A popular vegetarian highland dish is locro de papas (potato stew served with avocado). The southern mountain area features typical Loja food such as repe (green banana soup), cecina (roasted pork) or miel con quesillo (a cheese desert).
In the rainforest region, a dietary staple is yuca, a starchy root. Across the nation, yuca is processed into a bread called pan de yuca, which is often consumed with fruit-flavored yogurt drinks for breakfast or as a snack. The rainforest also produces a lot of fruits such as bananas, tree-grapes or peach-palms.
Some dishes that are generally popular include patacones (fried mashed plantains), llapingachos (pan-seared potato balls filled with cheese, often served with peanut sauce), seco de chivo (stew made from goat), fritada de chancho(pork in a red sauce), empanadas de viento (large pastries filled with air and cheese), and humitas (steamed corn dough wrapped in a corn husk). Wherever and whatever you eat, you will probably find aji (a condiment based on tree tomatoes) on the table.
A traditional non-alcoholic drink is pinol, a beverage made from machica (toasted barley flour), panela (unrefined sugar), spices and liquid (usually milk). Another popular non-alcoholic beverage is colada morada, a purple liquid which is prepared with corn flour, fruit and spices. In the Andean highlands, people like to drink a hot, spiced, alcoholic beverage called canelazo.
Several dishes are served on special occasions. Leading up to Easter, fanesca, a rich soup made with twelve kinds of beans and grains is usually eaten. During the week before All Soul’s Day, colada morada and t’anta wawa (stuffed bread shaped like children) are consumed.
When talking about food, an important factor to consider is a country’s (mal)nutrition profile. Ecuador performs relatively well against other “developing” countries, but it still experiences a malnutrition burden. Obesity and diabetes amongst children and adults are particularly worrisome. In 2014, the national prevalence of under-five overweight was 8%. 8.5% of adult women and 7.5% of adult men had diabetes. Meanwhile, 14.9% of adult men and 24.7% of adult women were obese. Compared to the global average, Ecuadorians consume more saturated fat and trans fat as well as less vegetables. On the positive side, undernourishment levels have gone down from 18.8% to 7.9% between 2001 and 2017. Ecuador’s food and nutrition situation reflects its’ socio-economic reality and its capacity to produce, transport and commercialize nutritious foods. National policies and nutrition plans (such as sugar-sweetened beverage tax) exist, but more needs to be done, especially with regard to rural areas’ food supply, and nutrition education generally.
Two Rivers Reserve is well aware of nutrition-related problems in its community and hopes to help eliminate community health issues related to nutrition by encouraging intern volunteer projects which include the construction of greenhouses, planting of food or knowledge sharing. At the same time, Two Rivers Reserve wants to make sure that visitors experience the country and the community through delicious local food, prepared with love and according to tourists’ needs.
Barciela, Maria. “8 Traditional Ecuadorian Food You Must Try on Your Trip to Ecuador.” Across Southamerica, 5 Dec. 2019, www.across-southamerica.com/ecuadorian-food/.
“Ecuador.” Global Nutrition Report, 2019, globalnutritionreport.org/resources/nutrition-profiles/latin-america-and-caribbean/south-america/ecuador/.
“Ecuadorian Food: The Most Typical Dishes.” Novo-Monde, 22 Aug. 2019, www.novo-monde.com/en/ecuadorian-food/.
Longwell, Lance. “15 Ecuadorian Food Dishes Not to Miss.” Travel Addicts, 29 May 2020, traveladdicts.net/10-ecuadorian-food-dishes-not-to-miss/.
“Traditional Food of Ecuador – 9 Dishes You Must Try on Your Trip.” Quito Tour Bus, 2 Sept. 2019, quitotourbus.com/en/traditional-foods-of-ecuador-9-dishes-you-must-try-on-your-trip/blog.
This page is happy to have many authors! From some of the Two Rivers' staff to our lovely volunteer interns. WE hope we can see Ecuador in as many perspectives as there are trees in the Amazon.