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Food and Drink in Ecuador

While Ecuador isn't very internationally known for its cuisine, the small country does have a few delectable dishes you must try during your stay.

Typical Ecuadorian Cuisine
Usually each lunch and dinner will begin with a traditional Ecuadorian soup, all of which are highly nutritious. The main course will consist of a meat dish, with rice and raw vegetables. Corn is also a main crop in Ecuador, and comes to your plate in many different forms. Choclo is the most well-known variety of cultivated corn. You'll undoubtedly top your meal with ajĂ­, the Ecuadorian hot sauce, at some point during your trip, if not during every meal.

Food in the Andes
The main staples in the Andes are rice, potatoes, corn and meat (chicken, beef and pork). Your dish will most likely include a simple salad or lentils. Locals in the Andes also prepare quinua, a native, high-protein grain. Also, the famous cuy (guinea pig) is roasted in the Sierra, as Ecuadorians think of the furry companion as a prime delicacy.

Food in the Amazon
In remote areas of the Amazon you'll find hunter-gatherer type methods of collecting and eating food, so you'll be sampling exotic endemic fruits, fish and meats eaten only in the jungle.

Food on the Coast
Seafood is a popular and plentiful food choice in Ecuador, not only along the coast but also in the highlands. Lobster (langosta) dinners can be enjoyed in major coastal cities, at low prices. Plate varieties of camarones (shrimp) are also widely popular. The coast has tons of fish (pescado) to feast on, including corvina (white sea bass) and trucha (trout). Crab and some other seafood have vedas (bans), seasons when fishing is prohibited. Much shrimp is farmed, which is damaging to mangroves; consider ecological implications of that before ordering.

In Esmeraldas, on the northern coast, try the signature seafood specialty encocados, an elegant mix of seafood prepared in coconut milk. In ManabĂ­ province, seafood is presented with a spicy peanut sauce. Encebollado is a cooked, spicy soup made with tuna, tomatoes, onion and yucca.

Another popular seafood choice in Ecuador is ceviche, a cold soup of raw seafood marinated in a broth of lime juice, onions and tomatoes. Ceviche is often accompanied with popcorn or chifles, thin slices of fried plantains. Ceviche can be made with fish, shrimp, concha (shellfish), calamar (squid) or all of the above. Exercise caution, however, as improperly prepared ceviche has become one of the primary culprits of cholera and other nasty bacteria. Most restaurants are aware of this and act accordingly, but choose your dining establishment wisely.

Food in Galápagos
Because migrants to the Galápagos come from all three regions of the mainland, the islands’ culinary fare is a blend of those cuisines, using whatever ingredients that is available. Only certain foods are grown on the islands, and much needs to be imported to fill tourist demand. Fish, of course, is a staple. Galápagos beef is succulent and flavorful.

International Food
If after your share of guinea pig you find yourself hankering for a familiar burger, burrito or pizza, don't panic. Major cities feature (for better or worse) U.S. fast food chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, McDonalds and KFC as well as some higher-quality chains like TGI Fridays, Applebee's and Tony Roma's. As an up-and-coming cosmopolitan city, Quito also offers a good selection of international cuisine. If you fancy Argentine steak, Italian pasta, Japanese sushi or French fondue, you won't be disappointed. Expect prices lower than those in the United States or Europe but higher than local cuisine. Chinese, Mexican, Cuban, Arabic, Indian and vegetarian meals are available in Quito at reasonable prices. However, if you're looking for Thai cuisine, you'll be hard pressed to find any decent options around.

Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Vegetarians traveling in Ecuador will be pleasantly surprised by the wide selection of vegetarian and vegan food options in popular tourist destinations like Quito and Baños. In smaller towns, however, you will often be stuck eating some combination of rice, oily salads and eggs. Strict vegans will have a tough time finding acceptable food in Ecuador and should plan on doing a lot of grocery shopping, as restaurants in Ecuador don't really understand the concept of a meal without some sort of animal product. Most vegetarian options include milk, eggs or cheese. Packets of locally produced, pure peanut butter (pasta de maní) are available at most grocery stores.


Fruit Drinks
With the mouthwatering selection of exotic fruits, Ecuador has many delicious (and cheap) fruit juices, or jugos. Popular fruits native to Ecuador include naranjilla, a tangy, orange-colored fruit; tomate de árbol, a fruity tree-grown tomato with a kick; mora (blackberry); guanabana (soursop), an almost milky, sweet, white fruit; and tangy maracuya (passion fruit). If you're staying in a home with an Ecuadorian family, chances are good you'll be treated to a fresh jugo with breakfast every day. Most restaurants offer a variety of juices as well; be sure to ask for what's fresh. Jugo naturales are straight-up fruit juice, while batidos are fruit smoothies mixed with yogurt and / or milk.

Coffee, Tea and Soda
Bottled and canned fizzy drinks (including Coca Cola, Sprite and Fanta) are widely available throughout the country. The Peruvian sodas Kola Real (KR) and Big Cola are also bottled in Ecuador.

Ecuador produces good coffee, but surprisingly, most Ecuadorians seem to prefer instant over brewed coffee. Café pasado is a super-concentrated coffee brew served in a small cruet; add this to the cup of hot water or milk you are served. If you are willing to pay slightly more, you can usually find a well-brewed cappuccino in the bigger cities and most popular tourist haunts. Tea and herbal tea are also popular and widely available; most restaurants serve tea of some sort.

Andean Specialty Drinks
Chicha is a traditional concoction found throughout the Andes, made from fermented corn, rice or yucca. In some rural parts of Ecuador the fermentation process is augmented by human saliva. Chicha-makers (traditionally women) chew the ingredients before putting them back in the pot to brew! Not to be missed is the Andean specialty drink canelazo (or canelito), a popular fiesta drink similar to a hot toddy made of boiled water, sugar cane alcohol, lemon or orange, sugar and cinnamon.

Alcoholic Beverages
Most Ecuadorian wine is sweet and made from grape, apple, peach or other fruit. Some good, dry wines are now being locally produced. Wine from Chile and Argentina is widely available. The cheapest way to enjoy it is from a cartĂłn (yes, a box) from the local supermarket. Clos is a good brand. If your palate is a bit more finicky, fine wines from Chile, France, Spain and Italy are also available. Most bars in Ecuador serve local beers of average quality and very good value. The most popular brand is Pilsener, which generally comes in a large bottle. Local rum is quite cheap and good. Imbibing too much of this liquor, though, might leave you with a mighty case of chuchaqui (hangover) the next morning.

Note: Remember that tap water is frequently used in ice, so request your beverages sin hielo (without ice) in restaurants. GĂĽitig is a trustworthy national brand of bottled water.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: Fanesca, Traditional Ecuadorian Food, Bizcochos, Ecuadorian Soup and El Quetzal de Mindo Chocolate Tour.

22 Aug 2012

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