Located on and named after the Equator line, Ecuador is a blend of terrains, including the Andes mountains, the Avenue of the Volcanoes, Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon rainforest. To make things even more interesting, this South American country also has access to beaches in the Pacific. All this biodiversity has played a role in shaping Ecuadorian food into the unique and delicious experience it is today.
The scenic sites you’ll visit have vendors selling traditional items from the cuisine of Ecuador. Grabbing a bite while exploring the places that Charles Darwin walked through is an experience for you to savor. So, read on as we share some of the most amazing dishes in Ecuador you can try on your next trip.
What’s Special About Ecuadorian Food?
The mixture of unique landscapes and the influence of many different cultures has taken the cuisine of Ecuador to another level. Due to its prime location along the Pacific, Ecuador has access to a wide range of seafood items. Locals love to serve seafood in citrusy raw dishes or grill them on a barbeque.
One cool thing in Ecuadorian food is the earthy notes that come from potatoes, yuca (cassava), and various Andean tubers. In addition, locals cook some dishes in clay ovens and pots like in old times, which is an experience not just for the taste buds but also for the eyes.
The spices are also distinct. Heavy use of aji peppers gives the dishes a unique spicy kick and smoky flavor. Other coastal and Amazonian ingredients like herbs and tropical fruits make for a well-rounded Ecuadorian cuisine.
Andean grains like quinoa, amaranth, and corn also feature in the country’s traditional dishes. Locals usually pair these grains with something acidic to cut through their dense, starchy flavor.
Most Famous Dish In Ecuadorian Food
Ceviche (Citrus-Marinated Seafood)
Ceviche is a refreshing and zesty seafood dish that Ecuadorians typically make with shrimp or fish. However, some locals use other seafood items like squid, clam, and even octopus. It is like a seafood salad with vegetables and a tangy, citrusy dressing.
The acidity from either lime or bitter orange juice, along with finely chopped red onions and tomatoes, complements the seafood. Some locals also add cilantro, bell peppers, and a hint of hot chili pepper to enhance the flavor and aroma of the dish.
Toasted corn kernels (cancha), fried plantain (patacones) or plantain chips (chifles), or a side of rice can be served as accompaniments. You can have ceviche as an appetizer before your meal or as a snack on its own. Locals often have it with a cold beer.
Breakfast Items In The Cuisine Of Ecuador
Bolon De Verde (Plantain Dumplings)
Bolon is perhaps the most popular plantain dish in Ecuadorian cuisine. The most common type of bolon is the bolon de verde. It is made by mashing green plantains and filling them with cheese, chicharrónes (fried pork belly or pork cracklings), or sometimes a combination of both.
These are different from regular steamed dumplings, as they are deep fried or pan fried, which adds an irresistible crunch. Locals typically enjoy these plantain dumplings with a cup of coffee and a fried egg.
Tigrillo (Mashed Green Plantains)
The main ingredients in tigrillo include mashed green plantains mixed with eggs, cheese, and a variety of seasonings. This can include achiote (annatto), onions, garlic, and sometimes chicharrónes (fried pork belly).
It is then cooked in a pan until the eggs get firm and the plantains are thoroughly cooked. It is a popular Ecuadorian breakfast, similar to scrambled eggs.
Humitas (Steamed Corn Cakes)
Humitas are very similar to tamales. Locals make this traditional Ecuadorian food from a mixture of ground corn mixed with other fillings.
Then a portion of the corn paste mixture is spooned onto a corn husk. This is then folded and tied to create a small package. These little packets are then steamed or boiled until the dough becomes firm and fully cooked.
The soft and moist humitas are enjoyed as savory snacks or breakfast food. They pair well with coffee and aji sauce. When drizzled with arrope de mora (blackberry syrup), they can even be eaten as a dessert.
Colada De Avena (Oatmeal Drink)
If you’re looking for a breakfast drink to give you a burst of energy, colada de avena is for you. It is an oatmeal drink that Ecuadorians make with Quaker oats. For this reason, the beverage is also known simply as quaker.
Look out for the hint of cinnamon and naranjilla (lulo) when having a glass of this super creamy drink. It is sweetened with panela, which is cane sugar. You can drink it hot or cold.
Llapingachos (Potato Pancakes)
Llapingachos, or tortillas de papa, are not the same as the flatbreads used in Mexican cuisine. Rather, they are similar to mashed potato pancakes or stuffed croquettes. The filling is cheese and the seasoning includes onion and achiote (annatto).
The cheese melts and provides a delicious contrast to the crunchy exterior. These potato pancakes go well with salsa de mani, encurtido, or aji sauce. Llapingachos is a common Ecuadorian breakfast item and appetizer, and can even be a full meal when served with chorizo (sausages), fried egg, avocados, and vegetables.
Meat Dishes In The Cuisine Of Ecuador
Hornado (Slow-Roasted Pork)
Hornado is a traditional Ecuadorian food featuring slow-roasted pork that has been left to soak up the flavors of a traditional marinade. The marinade includes a mixture of various spices, including cumin, garlic, and lime juice.
The slow-roasting process ensures that the meat becomes tender and develops a crispy, flavorful skin. It can take days to cook this dish, but if you go to the local markets, you’ll most likely find a hornado displayed for everyone to salivate over.
Locals serve it with side dishes, such as hominy corn and llapingachos. Don’t forget some spicy aji sauce to give your meal a little extra kick.
Seco De Chivo (Goat Stew)
Seco de chivo is a traditional stew made with goat meat. It is particularly famous in Ecuador during festivals and special ocassions when the locals make it in huge batches.
The goat meat is marinated and then simmered with a variety of seasonings and vegetables, like onions, garlic, cumin, achiote (annatto), chilies, potatoes, yuca (cassava), and carrots. Enjoy it with yellow rice and plantain to balance the spiciness of the stew and make it more palatable.
Lomo Saltado (Stir-Fried Beef)
Lomo saltado is a traditional Ecuadorian food that gives you a hint of Chinese flavors. It is a beef stir-fry served with a side of rice and fries. The key components are meat, tomatoes, onions, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and aji amarillo.
The Chinese influence is evident in the stir-fry technique and the use of soy sauce. While the classic version of lomo saltado features beef, there are also variations that use chicken (pollo saltado) or seafood (mariscos saltado).
Cuy Asado (Roasted Guinea Pig)
The primary ingredient in cuy asado is guinea pig, a small rodent native to the Andes and often considered a delicacy in Ecuador. The guinea pig is marinated with seasonings and herbs for several hours, or even overnight. It is then roasted whole, often over an open flame or in an outdoor oven.
Cuy asado has a savory barbeque taste from the marinade. But, the meat has a unique flavor, almost like duck or rabbit meat. It is typically served with rice, avocado, potatoes, and other veggies and sauces.
Encebollado De Pescado (Fish Soup)
Encebollado de pescado is a traditional Ecuadorian seafood soup known for its bold and savory flavors. It typically features a white fish such as tuna or albacore (white tuna). Other essential ingredients include onions, tomatoes, yuca (cassava), cilantro, and spices to make it rich and tasty.
Yuca is typically cooked separately until tender and then added to the soup. If you happen to have your soup with pickled onions, you’ll find the acidity balanced the hearty flavors of this soup.
Vegetarian/Vegan Dishes In The Cuisine Of Ecuador
Locro De Papa (Potato And Cheese Soup)
Among all the vegetarian dishes in Ecuador, locro de papa is a local favorite. The main ingredient in locro de papa is potatoes, specifically the large, red-skinned papa chola which has creamy yellow flesh.
Milk and cheese are added to enhance the creaminess and flavor of the soup. Locals season it with cumin and achiote (annatto) for an earthy and slightly spicy taste. Some avocadoes and aji hot sauce are added for an extra kick of flavor.
Menestra De Lentejas (Lentil Stew)
Menestra de Lentejas is a lentil stew that’s a staple in Ecuadorian cuisine. Central to the flavor of this hearty, nourishing dish are onions, tomatoes, garlic, and cumin, creating a rich base.
Often, it includes plantains or potatoes, which adds a unique, subtle sweetness. The comforting stew has a thick consistency and rich taste from the blend of ingredients. Sofrito can also be added for more flavor.
In Ecuador, it’s commonly served with rice, fresh sliced avocado, and grilled meat, especially churrasco-style beef. Menestra’s simplicity and nutritional value make it a popular choice in households across the country.
Ensalada De Palmitos (Hearts Of Palm Salad)
The main ingredient in ensalada de palmito is hearts of palm, which are the tender, inner cores of certain palm trees. They have a delicate and slightly sweet flavor.
Hearts of palm are sliced and combined with other vegetables and ingredients in a bowl. The dressing, typically a simple vinaigrette, is then drizzled over the salad.
It is kept in the fridge and served cold. Something about the cooler temperature make the hearts of palm taste really nice.
Morocho (Spiced Hominy Corn)
Morocho is a traditional Ecuadorian food made from hominy corn and milk. The kernels are soaked and then simmered until they become soft and tender. You can also taste spices, such as cinnamon and cloves. Some locals like to add vanilla.
Milk is added to the corn, along with sugar and other desired seasonings. The mixture is slowly cooked until it thickens to a creamy consistency. The sweet and spiced flavor of the corn pudding develops as it simmers.
While it tastes great on its own, some locals also enjoy it with a side of cheese empanada or bread to balance the sweetness of the dish.
Dips And Sauces In The Cuisine Of Ecuador
Aji Sauce (Spicy Chili Sauce)
If you’re a spice lover, we wholeheartedly recommend aji sauce. It is a vibrant and inviting sauce with a bright orange color that immediately catches your eye. It has a perfect consistency—not too thick or too runny—which makes it smooth and appetizing. Sprinkle some of it on your favorite Ecuadorian food for the perfect burst of flavor.
Aji sauce is spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, with a balanced blend of heat and tang. The aji peppers provide a pleasant burn, while the herbs and garlic offer a zesty, earthy undertone. As you have seen, it’s versatile and pairs wonderfully with grilled meats, seafood, or even as a dipping sauce for fried foods.
Salsa De Maní (Peanut Sauce)
Salsa de maní features chopped roasted peanuts or peanut butter for that rich, nutty base and aroma. To this is added onions, tomatoes, and annatto oil or powder. Along with the creamy peanuts, annotto oil infuses a mild earthy flavor and bright yellow or orange sheen to the dish that makes it look super delish.
The authentic Ecudorian taste, however, is provided by cilantro. Some recipes also include cumin to bring out a brighter flavor.
Locals enjoy it as a dipping sauce for various dishes. It’s most commonly associated with llapingachos (potato or yucca patties), pork, chicken, veggies, and salads.
Encurtido (Pickled Onion And Tomato Salsa)
Encurtido consists of pickled onions and tomato. It can also include an array of pickled vegetables, which typically include carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers. The vegetables absorb the pickling liquid, rendering them pleasantly tangy.
The carrots and bell peppers add a subtle sweetness to balance the acidity of the lemon or vinegar, while the onions contribute a mild earthiness. It’s a popular topping for hot dogs and sandwiches.
Desserts In The Cuisine Of Ecuador
Espumilla (Fruity Meringue Cream)
Ecuadorian desserts feature local fruits like nowhere else and this dessert is the perfect example of that. Espumilla is a sweet and airy confection made primarily from egg whites, sugar, and fruit purée, most commonly guava and blackberry.
Espumilla has a light and creamy texture that melts in your mouth. It has a sweet taste without being overly sugary. The addition of tropical fruit flavors can provide a lovely contrast and a slightly tangy note.
This meringue cream is a popular street food in Ecuador. It is usually served in ice cream cones and topped with colorful sprinkles or blackberry syrup called arrope de mora.
Plátanos Calados (Caramelized Plantains)
Plátanos calados feature very ripe plantains that are simmered in a sweet, aromatic syrup until they become soft and take on a rich, caramelized color. The ripe plantains are soft, tender, and naturally sweet. The syrup the plantains were cooked in added a sugary richness and a hint of spiciness.
You can enjoy the dish as is or drizzle fresh cream on top or serve with a side of ice cream. It is usually eaten as an appetizer, a side dish, or a snack.
Pastel De Tres Leches (Three Milk Cake)
Pastel de tres leches is a cake that’s soaked in a luscious mixture of three types of milk: condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. They add a sweet richness to the delightful sponge cake.
The whipped cream or meringue on top adds a light, airy sweetness, creating a perfect contrast with the moist cake. Ecuadorians often enjoy it at special celebrations, such as birthdays and weddings, where it takes center stage on the dessert table.
Dulce De Higos (Fig Preserve)
Dulce de higos features figs which are simmered in a thick, brown-colored syrup. The figs are soft and yielding. The syrup is slightly sticky and flavored by spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
In Ecuador, locals have it as a traditional treat during the Holy Week. The sweetness of the carmelized figs pairs well with queso fresco or quesillo.
Bizcochos (Ecuadorian Crispy Cookies)
Ecuadorian bizcochos are typically small elongated cookies with a golden-brown, crisp exterior. They often have a dry flaky appearance and a crunchy, buttery taste. Recipes can vary but typically consist of wheat flour, salt, water, egg yolk, butter, lard, and anise.
Locals often pair the biscuits with a local cheese called queso de hoja or a manjar de leche spread. They are equally delicious with Ecuadorian coffee, Ecuadorian chocolate drinks, or tea.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering Traditional Ecuadorian Food In Ecuador
Ecuador’s share of the Amazon rainforest in addition to the coast is a significant factor in shaping the local cuisine. Dishes like the famous Ecuadorian ceviche showcase the use of these tropical items along with seafood.
One of the most interesting facts about Ecuador is that Darwinism started here. Charles Darwin’s exploration of the Galapagos Islands and work on different local animals helped him formulate his theories on evolution.
Also, visiting landmarks in Ecuador like Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) will make your trip all the more memorable. What’s even better still is visiting these places with some local food in your hand.
You can take Ecuador’s famous traditional crafts, such as Panama hats, as souvenirs on your way back. But, we also suggest taking some to-go Ecuadorian food items to bring the entire essence of your trip back home.