Ecuador: The Food
We didn’t spend as much time in Ecuador as we would have liked – two days in Quito, four days in the jungle, and two days in Otavalo, a smaller town about two hours north of the city – but we were coming to the end of our trip, and knew we’d want and need time to get across the expanse of Colombia before heading home (especially because we had a plane to catch up on the Caribbean Coast on our last day in South America). And considering our four days in the jungle weren’t particularly notable in terms of food and eating, we really didn’t have a lot of experience with the cuisine of Ecuador. But we did what we could with the time we had, and between Quito and Otavalo we spent significant amounts of time at public markets, which gave us great insight into the diets and cuisine of the people in those areas.
My thoughts, recognizing they represent a very small inland section of the country:
- The major thing we noticed about food in Ecuador is that it took a turn slightly northward, beginning to incorporate the items from Central America and the tropics that we’d been hoping for the whole trip: tropical fruits, beans, plantains, rice, etc. Chicken or fish, rice, beans, and fried plantains became a more common meal, and was as a rule pretty delicious.
- BEANS! We’d been waiting for beans for over a month, and not very patiently. Beans certainly weren’t everywhere in Ecuador, but we finally began to see more of them.
- Ecuador is also a fan of the set menu. Lunch is their major meal of the day, and was always massive. A big bowl of soup (usually some tasty mix of chicken and vegetables), then whatever else you order (usually chicken, pork, or beef with rice and plantains).
- Tropical fruits started showing up at markets, mainly in juice or smoothie form. Mango, papaya, coconut, pineapple, and dozen or so very commonly used ones that we’d never heard of. They were sold on the street and in the markets, whether whole, cut up and put into cups, or blended into juices and smoothies. Blended with ice, they became frothy and cold and absolutely perfect. I will absolutely be playing with recipes when we get back.
- Guabo pods were sold on almost every street corner – huge, baseball bat-sized green pods full of large, smooth, river stone-like black seeds covered with an incredibly white, incredibly furry edible coating that you’d suck off. They were more bizarre to eat than they even were to look at, but at less than a dollar for a huge bunch of them they made a pretty common snack.
- Pork became more common here, usually fried or slow-roasted. Chicharron and boiled corn – those big, starchy kernels of Peru, but boiled until they burst – was available everywhere, in restaurants and from street carts and from people sitting on street corners with plastic buckets full of it.
- Fish was, surprisingly, mostly sea bass. It was delicious and a great treat, since it’s usually so expensive at home.
- Potatoes were still around, but more typically mashed, mixed with cheese, shaped into cakes, and fried. We had these a few times, most notably one day for lunch with chorizo, fried eggs, and avocado – a delicious and fat-packed meal.
- Oatmeal “juice” or “smoothies” were very common, available both fresh and packaged on the shelf (and even powdered to mix with water). The one we had was fresh, made with apple and naranjilla (a tart and tangy fruit that isn’t really comparable to anything else – maybe like a combination of pineapple, passion fruit, and gooseberry), was strangely delicious, like a smooth and creamy juice with a definite oatmeal aftertaste.
- Wine was ridiculously expensive, so we drank beer and rum. The beer was, unsurprisingly, basically the same as other countries. It was certainly getting tedious by this point, but a cold beer on a hot day can’t really be denied, so we continued to drink it.
- The markets were amazing things to witness – an amazing selection of fruits and vegetables, a huge array of meats and fishes, and spices and herbs and other ingredients both common and totally strange. A platter of fried pig heads next to the man selling beef suet, next to a woman with baskets of freshly picked blackberries. A young girl surrounded by canvas sacks of grains, a mother and her toddler son shucking fava beans, a bustling stand selling freshly fried whole fish. In Otavalo we also checked out the animal market, bustling with people selling everything from cows and horses to guinea pigs and puppies. I loved these days more than anything else we did in Ecuador, and have about 300 photos to show for it.
When we took our jungle tour, we spent an afternoon at the home of a local family and learned to make traditional yuca bread, made from nothing but grated and squeezed yuca. It was a basic, starchy thing, but amazing what can happen with yuca alone and a great vehicle for picking up salad or other food items.
And, finally, I can’t let this pass by without a note – on our jungle tour we ate these grubs (yes, really), which live in these coconut-like fruits. I certainly wouldn’t have eaten more than one (actually, Brett and I shared one), but it was amazing how much they tasted like coconut.