The Food of Ecuador

To read more about my trip to Ecuador, check out these posts:  One, Two, and Three.

The amazing food we ate in Ecuador deserves its own post… so here it is.

We began our edible adventures on a day trip from Quito to Ibarra. Fittingly, breakfast was first. I didn’t get any pictures of the biscocho cookies that we dunked in dulce de leche. But here you can see queso de hoja, fresh stringy cheese that’s pulled apart and eaten with your fingers. It’s saltier, tangier, and much more flavorful than the Polly-O sticks I loved as a kid.

After a long morning of navigating winding mountain roads, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant further north. This was my introduction to fritadas. Fritadas are chunks of pork that are boiled, then deep-fried. They are incredibly delicious and decadent beyond belief. The outside of the pork, crispy from frying, yields to a tender interior that melts in your mouth. While fritadas are boiled with onions and spices, intense porkiness is the only flavor you’ll notice or need.

We also sampled choclo. I grew up in South Jersey and spent my summers eating farm-fresh corn on the cob. If you have a similar background, choclo will be familiar. The corn, a large-kerneled Andean variety, is boiled and eaten off the cob with fresh cheese. It’s milder than North American versions, and not quite as sweet, but unmistakably still corn.

Fritadas getting tender
The table: choclo, cerveza, fritada
Open kitchen
Other diners seemed surprised that I was photographing here, and my camera drew many curious glances. Fritadas, usually served casually like fast food, isn’t particularly noteworthy for most Ecuadorians.
Here’s a billboard that we passed after we left our first taste of fritadas behind. Can you identify the meat that La Josefina is serving? The one in the top right corner of the billboard? Here’s a hint: you might have shared your home with one.
That is cuy, or as it is known to most people in the US, guinea pig. It’s served roasted and whole, but if you’re looking for a description of how it tastes, you’re out of luck. You’ll note that instead of a photograph of cuy on my plate, I’m just showing you a photo of the billboard. Despite my adventurous palate, we didn’t eat any cuy on my trip. When I asked, my hosts were less than enthusiastic about taking me to find it… and since I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about trying it, I didn’t press the issue. Maybe next time!
Once we reached Ibarra, we stopped for empanadas. Empanadas in Ecuador are like falafel in Israel or pizza slices in New York; every offering tastes just a little bit different and is special for its own reasons. This version of empanada was stuffed with assorted vegetables and served with spicy onion-laced aji sauce.

Our next stop was for more fritadas, this time in Ibarra. We devoured more fritadas, tiny whole boiled potatoes, and a concoction called llapingacho that might have been my favorite bite of the whole day. Mashed potatoes are formed into patties around fresh cheese, then cooked on the griddle. If you like cheese fries, you’d love llapingacho.

Potato, fritada, fried choclo
Llapingacho

We were stuffed close to bursting at this point, but we stopped for ice cream anyway, because there’s always room for ice cream. Especially when that ice cream is helado de paila, a specialty not just of Ecuador but the city of Ibarra.

You can see my cone below: a mix of moro and coco, or blackberry and coconut. Stealing bites from other people’s cones, I tried guanabana, leche, frutilla, tamarindo, and taxo flavors. Everything was unfamiliar, fruity, and wonderful.

The ice cream was more like a sorbet in texture than the ice cream that I’m used to. Thanks to Google, I figured out why. In the photo below, you can see wooden bowls. They are filled with ice and a copper bowl is placed on top. Inside the copper bowl goes sugar and fruit pulp. Your friendly Ibarran ice cream maker will use a spatula to stir as he or she spins the bowls atop the ice, adding beaten egg whites after everything starts to freeze. The result has a creamy texture and rich flavor, but is light and refreshing without dairy.
Pailas
All of the exciting eating took its toll. That was Sunday. On Monday morning, at approximately six A.M., I woke up and was sicker than I’ve ever been in my entire life. It was pretty terrible, and I can only hope that the experience served to fortify my interior armor so that I don’t get sick on our next trip.
Let’s jump to Thursday, when we went on a zip-lining excursion to the jungles of Mindo. En route, we stopped for lunch. According to my hosts, the restaurant’s specialties were their meat and fish platters. Always happy to follow local advice, I ordered the trucha, or trout. Here, there was a misunderstanding with our group: someone thought that I wanted something else for lunch, and let’s just say that trucha can sound like another word in Spanish, a word that’s a very crude reference to a certain part of a lady’s anatomy. While I’m a proponent of consenting adults engaging in any behaviors they see fit, it was delightful to receive a plate containing a family-friendly entree. Not that I was expecting the restaurant to provide me with a hooker or something.

Anyway. Fried trout! French fries! An ensalada of the freshest, juiciest tomatoes! Rice! And to squeeze over everything, lime that wasn’t pale green inside, but golden orange. It was a delicious lunch. I ate so much that I could only try a few bites of Xavier’s food, the other specialty of the restaurant. Beef pounded thin, breaded, and fried, it tasted like an Ecuadorian response to wienerschnitzel. Times like these make me wish we really were what we eat. Like a cow, I’d love to have four stomachs to hold as many lunches.

On Saturday, we headed to Super Maxi, which seems to be the hot grocery store in Ecuador. The goal was to purchase lots of fruits so I could try flavors that we can’t get at home in the US. There were so many different kinds that I have no hope of remembering everything without having written it down. But I did take photos of the colorful fruit.

Our last big meal in Ecuador was ceviche. We had driven past this place nearly every day that we’d been staying in Cumbaya, so I was excited to finally try it. Plus, seafood is my absolute favorite food, so that was a bonus.

It was a beautiful day to sit outside and feast. Our appetizer arrived first: a plate of assorted fried things: fish chunks, shrimp, and calamari. For dipping was a sweet and spicy aioli-type sauce served in a hollowed-out tomato. Cute and delicious.

The ceviches were pretty good as well. We ordered cangrejo, or crab, and camaron, also known as shrimp. I’d always thought that ceviche was raw fish in lime juice. But Ecuadorian ceviches are usually made with pre-cooked seafood. Because they don’t rely on acidic ingredients to “cook” the shrimp, these varieties are tomato-based and sweet. The briny, tender crab was a hands-down favorite, although the shrimp was great too.

Now that we’re home, I have plenty of ideas for bringing Ecuadorian food into our Atlanta kitchen. Keep your eyes peeled for locro, or potato-cheese soup, coming your way soon.

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3 thoughts on “The Food of Ecuador

  1. catae

    Poor Julie! I'm so picky with food and looking at the place where u ate the day you got sick makes me feel sick! I promise if you ever come to Colombia with us to take care of u by taking u to good places! Haha next time go to "astrid & gaston" the best Peruvian restaurant in south America. I love Peruvian ceviche 10x more than ecuadorian. Colombian ceviche is not that great so I'm not going to recommend it. I loved helados de Paila but I rather not think about the water that they r using. I wasnt impressed with ecuadorian food. I love the pizza And other things that we had but the typical food not so much. I don't think I even like typical Colombian food which according to andre is better than ecuadorian! I'm glad that the food poisoning didn't stop you from trying new things!! 🙂

    Reply
  2. J.K.

    Hahah, I didn't post photos of the open kitchen at one place, where we said "if anyone dies, it will be because of this food, so let's document it for the doctors." The 'kitchen' was a dirty shelf on the dining room wall with a single tiny sink. Not gonna lie, the food tasted great there!I will take you up on your recommendations next time, and hopefully we will get to go to Colombia together at some point! Now that we're racking up miles, haha. I have had decent Peruvian ceviche, maybe not the best, but enough to get an idea of it. I love it too! Man, now I'm hungry for ceviche and it's 9:49 am…

    Reply
  3. catae

    hahaha! it's 11:24 pm and I want ceviche!!! I can't cook and I can make ceviche! I'm sure that you could make a very good one! you are welcome to come with us to Colombia next time and stay w my parents if we go to Cali 🙂 and add a few more miles to your account! I don't know when… I think that 2012 is going to be a stay at home year – after our trip next month – because of my work!! long story but i need to get my utilization rate up and the only thing I can control is my PTO… as u can imagine im not happy about it 😦

    Reply

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