Ecuador’s food culture evolved before the Spanish invasion when the Inca and other hunter-gatherer tribes farmed the land. Potatoes, yucca, and grains from the highlands, fish and fruit from the coast, and wild game from the jungle were all part of regional diets-and are still today a part of the traditional dishes of the four regions of Ecuador. Keep reading for a look at the common foods of Ecuador and their influence on the modern-day food scene around the country.
“Taste is not globalized. It is a local experience. Land, culture, and flavors have long been interconnected…This special fusion of geographical and cultural factors makes the act of eating and drinking one of the greatest pleasures.”-sensecuador
With the arrival and extended stay of the Spanish came new plants and animals-cattle, chickens, goats, tomatoes, avocados, oranges, bananas and a slew of spices paved the way for dishes based on European recipes. The Spanish also brought people from Africa to work as slaves-who added their own influence to the cooking and culture of the coast and the Andes.
Today there is a culinary renaissance taking place in the major cities of Ecuador, sparking a new interest in local cuisine and using it as inspiration for innovative Ecuadorian fusion food.
The options aren’t limited to the Ecuadorian cuisine-there are international restaurants of all flavors and sizes that use locally sourced ingredients to tempt the taste buds of even the most refined of palates.
The foundations of Ecuadorian food are soups and stews. Enconcado- a fish chowder simmered in coconut found on the coast, over 200 kinds of locro soups-potato based soups from the Andes, and zarapatoca– a turtle meat soup that comes from the jungle date back centuries.
In the Andes region, you can find llapingachos –small cheese and potato pancakes served with eggs and sausage, cuy, or roast guinea pig found all over the country, and whole roasted pigs which round out the staples of traditional Ecuadorian food.
The coast’s ceviche is a favorite among Ecuadorians, it is made with fresh fish or shellfish and marinated in citrus juices like lemon and tomato sauce. It is extremely popular, especially after a night of partying and drinking.
Today there are several Ecuadorian brands that sell a variety of flavors of chocolate flavored with ingredients like lemongrass, fruit, and chili. One of the most labor intensive and refined chocolate bars in the world is made here in Ecuador, using a strain of pure bean that was thought to be extinct for centuries.
As with the people of the past that incorporated new ingredients and techniques with the arrival of the Spanish, chefs today use traditional recipes and locally sourced ingredients to create a new fusion of flavors. Here are a few places to sharpen your appetite.
URKO in Quito is one of the city’s top restaurants-serving creative dishes from different regions. Their 14-course tasting menu is divided by the specialties of the providences of Ecuador, using regional ingredients and new pairings to create mouth-watering plates.
Chef Daniel Maldonado and his team create inspiring courses that bring out the depth of Ecuadorian food. Fish done four ways-cured with agave, Amazon lemon, and wild cacao, accompanied by wild vegetables, and fried yucca is paired with test tubes of coffee from different regions of the country.
Other courses from URKO’s revolving menu include cured pork and potato-a deconstructed take on an Ecuadorian tradition. Slices of pork come on a thin, dehydrated and fried potato chip. Another favorite is a lamb chop with apples, barley, yucca, and garden greens harvested from the rooftop vegetable patch
The menu and the explanations of each dish take guests into the food culture of Ecuador. Each course comes with a new take on traditional beverages of the country. Chicha from the jungle, a purple corn drink from the Andes, and coffee from different regions of the country are fun touches to the meal.
URKO’s chic appearance and great food means it fills up quickly. The tasting menu is offered three times a night between Thursdays and Saturdays. The dining room holds 18 people and reservations are accepted.
In the same spirit, Zazu, one of Quito’s first restaurants to bring international cuisine to the limelight, offers a tasting menu using locally sourced ingredients including fresh fish from small villages on the coast, and vegetables grown on the restaurant’s farm.
Confit guinea pig empanadas, stone crab ceviche, lobster touched with passion fruit & tangerine, duck confit, seafood risotto and encocado sit beside steak, ossobuco, and an Uruguayan bone-in rib eye on the well-crafted menu.
Zazu is one of the few places in Ecuador on the coveted Relais & Chateaux list of quality establishments around the world and boasts one of the best wine cellars in the country.
In Cuenca, Anima Cocina de Autor is run by three friends who are taking the dining scene to new levels. One of the chefs was trained in Spain and uses fresh Ecuadorian ingredients to make innovative dishes served creatively. Courses come in boxes, vials, on plates, in bird cages, and on driftwood. Black clams, quality cuts of beef, wild boar, and fresh fish are some of the entrees served in the past. The menu changes every five months to a new theme that captures the spirit and culture of the different regions of the country.
In Guayaquil, La Pizarra is a chic tapas restaurant that uses traditional Ecuadorian recipes to create above the bar fusion food served in courses on small plates. Octopus with plantain couscous, the llapingachín, a mini-llapingacho, with chorizo powder, sweet peanut sauce and candied egg yolk, and the encocado blanco-a rice empanada filled with shrimp and fused with coconut milk are a few of the house specialties.
In the Galapagos Islands, the food is a mix of the different cultures of Ecuador-as many people from the mainland moved to the islands over the last century. The Hauser’s Restaurant in the highlands of Isabela is a family run place that serves a variety of farm to table food family style. It’s a low-key spot that requires reservations.
In a country whose culinary diversity matches that of its geography, enjoying the local delicacies of each region is an adventure in eating. If you are looking for expert advice on where to eat in Ecuador, look no further. We can give you professional travel tips for foodies and we can also help you prepare your ideal trip to this incredible country.
“Some of the best cooks that I’ve cooked with, whether it’s in New York or Chicago or even here in Philadelphia, are actually Ecuadorians. And there’s something about their palates that really just inspires me, and has a really deep sense of flavor.”-Chef Jose Garces, author of The Latin Road Home
By Jon Jared