Ecuadorian Food, Traditional Dishes & Recipes

In the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, there are many beautiful things to explore – the scenery, the people, and the culture passed down for generations from the Incas times.

You will also find a comfort-food galore with hearty stews and soups that will surprise you. 

Ecuador offers colorful traditional dishes from beautiful geographic regions: the Amazon, the mountainous Andes to the pacific coast. From carb-rich ingredients like potatoes, corn, and rice that make up most of the “side serves” to popular street foods: roasted guinea pig, goat, beef, chicken, and pork.

Ecuadorian food is diverse and underrated. The country’s three geographical regions feature an array of local delicacies.

This guide will explore three unmissable Ecuadorian traditional dishes that you must try on your trip to Ecuador. Here are some of my favorites!

Ecuador Food Culture: History

There are three central regions in Ecuador – coastal, highlands, and rainforest. Traditional dishes vary depending on where you are, but popular local specialties include; rice, corn pancakes, eggs, soups, and stews.  

No matter where you go, tubers such as potatoes, plantains, and yuca make general accompaniments in most plates.

In the highlands, cuy (guinea pig) is a famous delicacy but may only be for the most adventurous stomachs.  

Other typical dishes include seafood, chicken, beef, and pork. Encebollado – a fish soup, has also gained popularity as a national dish.

Conversely, the humid tropical climate and fertile soils are excellent conditions for producing a stunning variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The most notable of these fruits and veggies include guavas, melons, bananas, passion fruits, ocotillo, star fruit, to name a few.

Ecuador is famous for its fresh produce. The fruits are amazing, hence the production of amazing fresh juices. The treats you’ll find in Ecuador are in three varieties; Corn-based, banana-based, or potato-based. Kids will love them!

If you’re curious about what food you must try in Ecuador, like this article, this video recommends the best:

Let’s dive in and find out more about the rich, historical cuisines.

Traditional Ecuadorian Dishes

Fritada de Chancho Ecuadorian Dish
Fritada de Chancho Ecuadorian Dish

When you visit Ecuador the first time, you will see many new dishes.

If you have an adventurous spirit, whether you go to the Andean, Amazonian, or the coastal region, you’re guaranteed a phenomenal feast.

Most importantly, the food culture across all regions revolves around the meat of some kind.

But if you’re a vegetarian, you will also enjoy vegan cuisines with fresh farm produce and grains, especially in Banos.

Ecuador’s cuisine is diverse and abundant and includes soups, main dishes, and desserts.

Let’s sample some popular traditional dishes you will come across when you visit Ecuador. 

  • Cuy Asado – this is a delicious meal that comprises guinea pig mainly consumed in the Andean regions. It comes with an accompaniment of potatoes, a hot sauce. Although foreigners may feel wary of trying out this dish, it’s delicious and doesn’t disappoint.
  • Llpingachos – these are fried tortillas that include boiled potatoes filled with cheese. The meal comprises an accompaniment of peanut sauce, fried egg, chorizo, salad, and avocado. Travelers and foreigners enjoy this meal most, and we recommend you can also try it when you visit Ecuador.
  • Mote Pillo – mote is cooked mature corn. This traditional dish is a delicacy in Azuay and Cañar provinces. It includes mote and eggs.
  • Ceviche – This is a raw shrimp cocktail famous in the coastal regions of Ecuador. Ceviche can also include a variety of other seafood, such as fish, conch, etc. It’s a light dish which you can eat in the morning or any time of the day.
  • Bolones de Verde – are stuffed green plantain dumplings cooked and mashed until they form a dough. Bolones de Verde can be chilled, baked, or fried and eaten for breakfast or served as a side dish with other meals. 
  • Encebollado is a fish-based albacore broth containing yucca, tomato, onion, chili, and other fresh ingredients. The main accompaniments that go with this meal include fried green plantain, bread, and Tostado. You don’t want to miss this traditional dish in your stay in Ecuador.
  • Churrasco Ecuatoriano – this is Ecuadorian fried meat, regarded as a national dish in various festivities. The main accompaniments include; rice, French fries, fried eggs, salad, and avocado.
  • Chugchucaras – is a local delicacy popular in surrounding regions in the country. The meal contains deep-fried pork, potatoes, fried plantains, pork rinds, and empanadas. The main accompaniments include aji, a spicy sauce made of hot pepper, cilantro, tomatoes, and onions.
  • Fritada de Chancho – this is a dish you will encounter in almost every street corner. Fritada is a piece of pork shoulder boiled and fried, served with a spicy red sauce. It also comes with potatoes, fava beans, corn, and hominy as side dishes. It’s a brunch staple and a popular weekend family meal.
  • Bizcochos de Cayambe – this is a meal you find throughout Cayambe, which are light, flaky biscuits that date back to the Spanish colonization period. 
  • Bizcochos – a flattened dough divided into sticks, is a buttery wafer served with cheese or caramel Dulce de leche dipping sauce. It’s sweet and savory, making it a popular brunch in Ecuador. 
  • Humita is an authentic traditional food that includes tamales, steamed masa, and corn in banana leaf. The dish can contain onions, cheese, or eggs and is also incredibly affordable.  
  • Fanseca is the traditional Ecuadorian Easter soup eaten during holy week. Made with twelve different kinds of beans and grains, symbolizing the twelve apostles and bacalao symbolizing Jesus himself.

Although hotly contested battles range between Peruvian people and Ecuadorians who invented some of these traditional dishes, one thing remains for sure – Ecuadorian cuisine may be similar to neighboring countries.

But it’s unique and integrates local ingredients to reflect cultural differences.

Let’s look at the diverse historical Ecuadorian cuisines in the country’s three regions for curious travelers who have a passion for food.

Coastal Regions 

Pitaya, Ecuadorian Fruit
Pitaya, Ecuadorian Fruit

Beef, chicken, and seafood is the most common dish along the coastal regions of Ecuador.

Accompaniments that come with these dishes include; plantain, rice, pasta, and a wide variety of fresh fruits such as pitaya and naranjilla.

Seafood is also abundant along the Pacific shores making up popular traditional soups and stews.

Ceviche and shrimp ceviche is just one of the many conventional kinds of seafood that you can make or enjoy in Ecuadorian restaurants.

You can eat ceviche at the beach in Montana’s surf town or one of Guayaquil’s many restaurants.

Other typical ingredients that makeup seafood include white fish, clams, crabs, and squid.

No food goes without spicy seasoning with aji, a hot chile pepper sauce.

Coastal dishes are always fresh and replete with handpicked local ingredients.

Mountainous Regions  

Grilled Alpaca Meat
Grilled Alpaca Meat

The mountainous region of Ecuador is geographically isolated from the other areas.

Therefore, people living in this area eat traditional food plants, including diets rich in potatoes and corn.

The food tends to be wholesome, with lots of fresh produce and grain from the farms. The dishes resemble what ancient Incas people prepared hundreds of years ago.

The source of meat in this region comes from indigenous animals like guinea pigs and alpacas.

Trout is also widespread in this area, which is a freshwater fish raised in fisheries.

There’s also a variety of herbs and vegetables that grow in the area that make part of unique dishes.

A variety of meats like goat, pork, beef, and cuy (guinea pig) are popular foods in Ecuador’s mountainous regions.

In the streets of Hornado, you will find roasted pig with potatoes served with plantain, salads, or the tasty traditional fried potato cakes. 

Unless you’re a vegan, cuy is a must-try dish given its historical significance dating back to Inca’s ancient times. You can find this food in large events, family gatherings, food markets, and restaurants.  

The Amazon Rainforest Region

Yuca, Cassava Root
Yuca, Cassava Root

If you are traveling and happen to visit indigenous villages in the Amazon region, you’ll likely be offered chicha as a breakfast option.

In the morning, communities in the rainforest consume large cups of chicha, fermented, and mildly acidic yuca.

The beverage is prepared early in the morning and is a meaningful symbolic gesture to visitors on behalf of the community – make sure you drink so that you don’t offend your hosts!

The dietary staple in this region is yuca (cassava), a peeled, boiled, and fried starchy root served with various other dishes.

A variety of meats or fish, including piranha, are the main accompaniments of this meal. Yuca also makes bread consumed alongside yogurt.

There’s a wide variety of fresh fruits that grow in the Amazon’s rainforest area, including banana, tree tomato, tree-grapes, and peach palms.

For the most part, traditional meals in Ecuador include various meats, a starch-like potato, yucca, rice, and bread. They also have non-alcoholic beverages like colada-morada, pinol, and machicha.  

Most foods are in soup or stew form with a side dish as an accompaniment. The meals are spicy, but you’ll always get a side serve of aji sauce mixed with red onions and tomatoes. 

Now that you have an overview of Ecuadorian cuisine, it’s time to explore three foods that you should never miss when you’re in Ecuador.

One of the best ways to enjoy local food is to ask for “menu del dia,” which is the day’s menu.

Most local eateries in Ecuador advertise menu del dia, which is always fresh and delicious. It includes a three-course meal which consists of a soup, a main course, and a dessert with fresh fruits stewed in a jam.

Must Try Ecuadorian Dishes

Ecuador is home to many tasty and unique foods. These three are arguably the most popular Ecuadorian dishes.

Ceviche

Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche
Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche

Ecuadorian ceviche is a popular dish in Ecuador that includes tasty fish or shrimp marinated in lime juice, chili, and onions.

The best way to serve ceviche is in a bowl so that it’s eaten like soup accompanied by a traditional spicy sauce from the region.

The shell is included to enhance the flavor and comes with a portion of fried green plantain slices or popcorn. 

Since the lime juice’s acidity partly cooks the raw fish, the result is a mouth-watering semi-cooked carpaccio.

The food takes less than one hour to make and is full of bold, zesty flavors. Here is a way to incorporate the seafood into your Ecuadorian diet:

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: one hour 

Servings: six people

Ingredients

  • Two pounds of raw shrimp 
  • Eight oranges for making juice
  • Five tomatoes 
  • Ten limes for juice
  • One teaspoon of mild mustard
  • A small bunch of finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • One cup of corn or popcorn (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Two cups of green plantain chips 
  • One tablespoon of canola or sunflower oil

Other ingredients:

  • Short stock for cooking the shrimp
  • One whole fresh red chili
  • One bay leaf
  • Two tablespoons salt
  • Two ounces of lemon juice 
  • Two garlic cloves 
  • Four tomatoes 
  • One red onion, quartered, and two red onions thinly sliced.
  • One tablespoon black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cut the shrimp into ¼ inch pieces and put into a large mixing bowl. 
  2. Bring eight cups of water to boil and add the garlic, cilantro, bay leaf, quartered onion, chili, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.
  3. Cook the shrimp for 5 minutes. 
  4. Remove the shrimp and put it in cold water with ice to stop the cooking process. Preserve the broth.
  5. Put the onion slices in lime juice to soak for five minutes, rinse and drain.
  6. Cut four tomatoes and into small cubes, add the red onion, lime, lemon, and orange juice on the shrimp. 
  7. Add salt to taste and toss the mixture to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes until shrimp turns pink and opaque.
  8. Serve with green plantain chips for scooping the ceviche like a spoon. You can also add toasted corn or popcorn for added saltiness and texture.

To eat ceviche like a local, add a couple of drops of a hot sauce. Ceviche is served as a light meal or an appetizer, making it a perfect dish for the day.

If you order this meal in a restaurant, it can be on the pricey side, but a homemade version will cost you a fraction of the price and is easy to make. So if you’re traveling to Puerto Lopez, you know what to order.

Tips for Shrimp Ceviche Variations 

It’s easy to customize the flavors of a shrimp ceviche to suit your taste. You can substitute the shrimp with fresh cuts of white firm fish, sliced octopus, or bay scallops.

You can include a variety of vegetables like red bell pepper and green onions.

Shrimp ceviche also pairs well with tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, but you need to omit the tomato if you choose to use fruits.

If you’re preparing your ceviche in advance, ensure that you omit the avocado and stir it at the last minute. Avocado can easily break down and turn brown with extended storage.

Encebollado

Encebollado Traditional Ecuadorian Soup
Encebollado Traditional Ecuadorian Soup

Encebollado is a traditional Ecuadorian fish soup made with fresh tuna, yuca, onions, cilantro, tomato, cumin, hot pepper topped up with pickled onions. The meal is the true symbolism of a nationalist in this country. 

While buying yuca, it’s necessary to check for any signs of brown lines or spots.

Fresh yuca is entirely white, and if you’re lucky to find one when you’re not in Ecuador, be careful to peel it properly since the thin exterior layer is toxic.

Encebollado derives its name from pickled marinated onions and is a popular meal in Ecuador’s coastal regions and a national dish.

Its possible origins come from indigenous Basques people. 

You can serve this versatile meal as breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Most restaurants in Ecuador serve encebollado early in the morning. Plantains, banana chips, and bread are the main accompaniments when serving this dish. 

If you happen to stop by Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, you will find this food in almost every street corner and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I love how tasty this traditional dish can be and how easy it is to make.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: one hour 

Servings: six people

Ingredients

  • One pound fresh tuna
  • Two medium-sized onions
  • One potato skinned and cubed
  • A handful of cilantro 
  • two medium-sized tomatoes finely chopped
  • One ear of corn, shucked, cut into small pieces
  • Four cups of water
  • One teaspoon cayenne powder
  • Two teaspoons ground cumin
  • One teaspoon paprika 
  • Two tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients for the onion and tomato relish topping:

  • One red onion thinly sliced 
  • Two medium-sized tomatoes, finely chopped
  • A handful of cilantro, finely chopped 
  • Salt to taste
  • One tablespoon olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place a large stockpot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the chopped onions and stir for two minutes. 
  2. When you smell the onion fragrant, add the diced tomatoes and any residual tomato liquid and stir for two more minutes.
  3. Add the cayenne, cilantro, cumin, paprika, and the four cups of water. Stir the ingredients and allow to simmer for five minutes to create a base for the broth
  4. Add the fresh tuna in the broth and check if it’s fully submerged and cover the stockpot for at least ten minutes.
  5. After ten minutes, take the tuna out the pot and set aside on a plate.
  6. Now that the tuna is poached, cook the remaining ingredients of the encebollados in the broth. 
  7. Bring the broth to a boil in high heat.
  8. Add potato and corn on the boiling broth. Over medium heat, cover the stockpot for fifteen minutes until the potato softens. 
  9. Meanwhile, if you’re making the topping, this would be a good time to do so. Mix the onions and the tomato in a small bowl. 
  10. Drizzle lemon juice and olive on the mixture. 
  11. Add cilantro and salt to taste in the mixture and stir well. Allow it to sit for a while until serving time.
  12. Uncover the stockpot and reduce the heat to simmer for a minute, and it’s ready to serve.
  13. Take the tuna and shred it into small pieces in the potato and corn mixture.

You can now serve the encebollado and accompany it with plantain chips, avocado slices, and extra lime slices if desired. 

Note: You can make encebollado with different types of fish or seafood. Although cilantro is the main herb in this dish, you can use a variety of other herbs. 

Cuy Asado

Cuy, Traditional Ecuadorian Guinea Pig Dish
Cuy, Traditional Ecuadorian Guinea Pig Dish

Cuy is a traditional culinary staple in Ecuador and plays a crucial role in indigenous Andean people’s folk culture, especially as a food source.

It also plays a vital role as a folk medicine in community religious ceremonies. 

However, in other parts of the world, guinea pigs are seen as pets. They also feature films and television programs, playing a minor role in the plot.

Although foreigners may feel wary of trying out this dish, it’s delicious and doesn’t disappoint.

Unlike traditional livestock that takes space and time to breed, guinea pigs are easy to keep as they require less room and are more profitable since they have a high reproduction rate.

They are also socially acceptable for consumption, particularly in Sierra and Colombia.  

Cuy is high in protein and low in cholesterol. It can be fried, boiled, or roasted, and in urban Ecuador restaurants, it is served in a casserole. Guinea pig mainly consumed in the Andean regions comes with an accompaniment of potatoes, a hot sauce.

There are many guinea pig festivals held in the provinces of Tungurahua and Cotopaxi in central Ecuador.

For instance, in Corpus Christi celebrations, which are part of Ensayo, guinea pigs are served as a community meal. In the festival, hanging several cuys on erected greased poles is anticipated.  

Cuy is baked, roasted, or barbequed and served whole. It tastes sweet and juicy and is said to be similar to that of a rabbit. The meat is a bit oily but delicious and a delicacy that eager travelers want to try.  

Since cuy is not a very meaty animal, you will find locals eating it whole, including the tiny paws. Delicious potatoes, tomatoes, avocado, and peanut sauce make the main accompaniment to this traditional dish. 

Cuys are available in local markets, skinned and clean. Since they’re small, one cuy makes a meal for one person unless it is into smaller portions. Here is how you can make a traditional cuy recipe at home. 

Preparation time: 2 hours – The process of preparing cuy can take a couple of hours. Once slaughtered, the guinea pig is de-furred, gutted, spit, cooked, then placed on a platter on the table. When locals grill the cuy over the fire, they slowly avoid burning or undercooking this delicate meat, which can be a long process.

Cooking time: one hour 

Servings: four people

Ingredients

  • Four guinea pigs 
  • 1.7 ounces (48.2 grams) of cornmeal 
  • Eight cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Six hot red or yellow peppers
  • Four pounds of sweet potatoes or potatoes cut in slices 
  • Salt and cumin to taste
  • One or two red onion
  • 1-ounce (28.3 grams) aji panca
  • A teaspoon of oregano
  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ cup of water

Instructions 

  1. Prepare the seasoning by combining garlic, cumin, pepper, and salt to taste. 
  2. Marinate the guinea pig in the mixture and leave it for two hours.
  3. Place the cuy in fire (you can skewer over a barbeque, grill, or bake it for an hour). If you place it in the grill, make sure that the delicate meat cooks slowly and thoroughly. 
  4. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in water with a little salt and add a teaspoon of oregano. Let it cook for ten minutes and remove it from heat when ready.
  5. Serve the potato broth alongside the roasted cuy. 

To prepare the sauce:

  1. In a frying pan, mash the fresh red and yellow peppers. 
  2. Add the aji panca, garlic, cornmeal, and a little oil. 
  3. If it dries too much, add a bit of broth.

If you’re frying the guinea pig, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Cover the cuy with cornmeal.
  2. Heat three cups of oil in a pan and fry the guinea pig on both sides for ten minutes until it’s crispy.
  3. Brown the onion over medium heat for about five minutes. Add the aji panca and allow it to cook for another five minutes.
  4. Serve the fried guinea pig pieces alongside hot pepper sauce, potatoes, and a salad.

Whatever way you choose to prepare your guinea pig, you can be sure that you will immensely enjoy this local Ecuadorian delicacy.

Conclusion 

Bizcochos de Cayambe
Bizcochos de Cayambe

No matter where you go, tubers such as potatoes, plantains, and yuca make general accompaniments in most plates.

In the highlands, cuy (guinea pig) and trout are famous delicacies but may only be for the most adventurous stomachs. 

In the rainforest, the staple dietary is yuca, a peeled, boiled, and fried starchy root served with various other dishes and accompanied by multiple types of meat or fish, including piranha.

There’s also a wide range of fresh fruits to savor.

As you travel down to the coastal regions, you will see that seafood is abundant along the Pacific shores making up popular legendary soups and stews.

Ceviche and shrimp ceviche is just one of the many traditional kinds of seafood you don’t want to miss.

We’ve covered many of Ecuador’s delicious savory dishes, but don’t forget to try their sweet ones too!

Sources 

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