Ecuadorian cuisine gets a little less love in the press than some of its neighbors, such as Brazil and Peru or far more south in Argentina. But while it may receive less attention, the food in this small country offers a surprising amount of variety, from exceptional seafood on the coast to meat-focused stews in the interior. Ecuador infuses its own twist on ceviche, serves up Instagram-worthy plates with guinea pig and offers an excellent selection of hearty comfort food, ideal for chilly nights after a day of volcano-trekking.
Llapingachos are fried patties stuffed with cheese, sometimes made with potato, sometimes with yuca (a starchy root vegetable also known as cassava). Patties are served with a peanut sauce. It’s a cheap and filling snack or side dish that is particularly common in the Andean region, but it’s available across most of the country.
This is spit roasted pig—served whole. It’s a frequent accompaniment to large family gatherings like weddings and anniversaries. After proudly displaying the beast, the meat is carved up and served with fried plantain, salad and llapingachos (the ubiquitous potato patties detailed above).
The basics of ceviche are to marinate seafood in lime and salt until it cures, or cooks, the fish and shellfish. In Ecuador, the seafood– generally sea bass, clack clams and/or shrimp (or a mix)—is cooked first, then marinated. The process yields a slightly soupy version. It’s served with toasted corn, onion, cilantro and plantain chips. Street vendors dish it up in simple cups, but if you order it in as a full meal sit-down restaurant, it often comes with a side of fried green plantains.
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Corviche is the ultimate snack. It’s an oblong fritter made with mashed green plantain, peanut butter and fish. The inside is soft, the outside crunchy, and its served with a spicy onion mayonnaise sauce. The flavor of the plantain, peanut butter and fish might sound odd, but its flavorful and ridiculously moreish.
Locro de papa
This stew is a thick mix of beans, corn and potatoes, plus a bit of cheese or avocado. It’s extremely popular in the high Sierras. It’s often a hearty vegetarian dish, but some versions include bits of beef or a dried meat like chorizo
Quimbilotos are a lot like a Mexican tamale, but they can be made with ground corn or quinoa. The corn or quinoa meal is mixed with meat, peppers and/or egg, wrapped in palm leaves and steamed. Sweet versions made with raisins and are a popular dessert.
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
Even if you are not familiar with the its name, Cuy, you’ve probably seen the photos. It’s most common in the Andean regions in general, including, Peru and Bolivia. Cuy is guinea pig, barbequed on a grill or on thick skewer that goes right through the animal’s center and comes out of the mouth. It’s served whole—head, teeth, ears, paws and all. If you’re familiar with guinea pigs in North America, the Ecuadorian version is far bigger, more akin to the size of a large rabbit. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and be prepared to spend a lot of time picking the meat off the bones. It’s often doused with garlic and salt, generally eaten with the hands and served with a side of potato and corn.
This Amazonian dish is an everything goes in type of stew made with fish or meat (whatever the fisherman or hunter caught today), and generally includes animal intestines and kidneys—nothing is wasted here.
This fish soup is usually found in Ecuador’s coastal areas and includes local fish (generally tuna), pickled onions, tomato, pepper, cilantro and yucca (cassava). It’s a popular breakfast dish and commonly known to be a hangover cure.
This is another common fish soup, but tastes quite different from Encebollado. It’s generally a whitefish cooked with citrus, coconut milk, cilantro, onions, tomatoes and peppers and served with rice and fried plantains.