Digging into the local cuisine of our destination is one of our favorite elements of international travel. You can’t truly comprehend a place or its culture until you comprehend its cuisine. We’d been to the Andes before (in neighboring Peru), so we assumed we’d be familiar with the cuisine in Ecuador. We were mistaken. Ecuadorian cuisine is comparable to that of its neighbor but also distinct, combining local ingredients with cultural variations. From our two-week schedule, here are some of our favorite Ecuadorian food dishes and a handful of drinks.
Bolon de Verde
Ecuador’s national food is the bolon de verde, or “The Ball.” This grapefruit- or baseball-sized ball is incredibly tasty. Green plantains are mashed and rolled into balls with a meat (typically pig) or cheese filling. After that, the entire ball of delight is pan fried and served hot. Bolon de verde is traditionally eaten as part of an Ecuadorian breakfast or late brunch. The bolon is quite filling and aids employees in getting through the day. It also tastes fantastic!
Visitors to the Andes Mountains have all heard stories about locals eating cuy (or, as we know it, guinea pig). Cuy is an indigenous food item that has been consumed in Ecuador since before the Spanish brought domestic animals (namely cattle).
We first came across cuy while visiting Cusco, Peru, several years ago. Cuy meat is inherently oily and black. We weren’t really impressed at the moment, but we assumed it had something to do with the place where we dined.
Fritada de Chancho
The fritada de chancho (often abbreviated to fritada) is one of Ecuador’s most popular dishes. From the Avenue of the Volcanoes to the Galapagos, we came across this dish.
The fritada is a chunk of pork (usually pig shoulder) that is boiled until the water evaporates, then fried, and finished with a hot red sauce. The fritada is then served with hominy, fava beans, maize, or potatoes – or all of the above – as a side dish. This is a classic weekend dish and a brunch favorite for most Ecuadorians.
Because they’re easy and delicious, llapingachos are one of Ecuador’s most popular foods. Crispy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside, these potato patties are packed with cheese then pan fried till golden. They’re sometimes made with yuca instead of potatoes, but the flavor and texture are comparable. Llapingachos are frequently served with pork, a fried egg, avocado, and salad, and they’re almost always accompanied by peanut sauce. It’s fantastic!
Empanada de Viento
Empanadas de viento (roughly translated as “air” or “wind” empanadas) are huge pastries largely filled with air and a small amount of gooey fried cheese. These Ecuadorian empanadas are big enough to fill a plate! These delectable morsels are available all day and are best served with a dusting of sugar or dipped in aji spicy sauce–or both! This may be our favorite Ecuadorian dish out of all the ones we’ve tried.
Ecuadorian Aji Hot Sauce
When it comes to Ecuadorian cuisine, there is only one sure. There will be aji on the table no matter where you are, what you are eating, or who is at your table with you. It will be there, whether it is fresh in a bowl with a spoon or in a store-bought bottle.
What exactly is aji? It is Ecuador’s most popular hot sauce. Aji is a condiment that combines salsa and ketchup. Aji is made from the fruit of the tomato tree (tomate de arbol in Spanish). Tree tomatoes are new to me, but they have a mild, tomato-like flavor. Aji is then seasoned with a pinch of Aji pepper. Although you will come across a few variations of aji sauce that will knock your shorts off, most aji sauce in Ecuador is medium spicy at best (mainly just tasty, but not particularly hot).
Bizcochos de Cayambe
We discovered bizcochos in Cayambe. The road is lined on both sides with cafés and shops proudly stating they offer bizcochos across the entire town of Cayambe (between Quito and our visit to the Otavalo market). It’s unusual to see a business that doesn’t sell Ecuadorian pastries. With good reason: these light, flaky biscuits have been a local tradition since the town’s Spanish occupation.