Monday, March 30, 2009

Ecuador Foods

Ecuador is known for its many exotic fruits, top quality seafood and fish, and countless varieties of potatoes. It's true that you can find fast food chains in the larger cities, but why would you want to, when such an array of fresh, good food is available?

You'll find a broad spectrum of national and regional dishes, including lemon-marinated shrimp (ceviche), toasted corn, and pastries stuffed with spiced meats. If you're feeling courageous, you can sample the roasted or grilled cuy (pronounced "kwee") or guinea pig, which were an important part of the Andean diet since before the arrival of the Spanish.

Restaurants serving cuy can be hard to find in Ecuador and may require 24 hour notice. It is still common among rural indigenous people, especially in the south, who often raise their own in their home.

One typical and favorite Ecuadorean food is the empanada. Ecuadorean savoury empanadas are made with a little ground beef or chicken, potatoes, rice, onions, cheese and spices in any combination, wrapped in dough and then baked or deep-fried and served with aji (chili pepper sauce).

The dough is made with corn or wheat, or sometimes with quinoa. At the coast, plantain and yuca are used. Small ones are served as an appetizer when you order meals at some restaurants. Regular empanadas are large and hearty, about the size of a sandwich. One is a snack, two are a meal. You can find them at any bakery, and there are bakeries everywhere.

Traveling in Ecuador, you may be startled to see pig carcasses hanging from hooks alongside the road. These are Fritada stands. If you place an order, a slab is cut off, chopped into chunks, and fried up. It's served in a greasy newspaper page, reminiscent of fish and chips in England. You can also order fritada at most Ecuadorian restaurants that serve regional food.

Hornado is a pig (some quite large) that has been roasted whole. Hornado has a deeper, richer flavor than fritada, and is available at some restaurants and at roadside stands on the outskirts of most major cities.

Fritada and Hornado are often served with llapingachos, soft yellowish pancakes made of mashed potatoes and cheese. They're delicious!

Llapingachos and fritada are most popular in the regions to the north of Quito, but you can get them anywhere.

Arroz con Camaron or rice with shrimp, and rice with seafood are other common dishes, as rice is grown in the coastal flatlands. Main course meals are usually served with french fries and rice, and a little salad of chilled poached vegetables, usually carrots, peas, and cauliflower.

Soups are without doubt Ecuador's specialty. Most lunches and dinners are accompanied by a savory soup as the first course. Personally, I've found a bowl of Ecuadorean soup is often a meal in itself. Locro soup, made with cheese, avocado and potato, sounds a bit strange, but is very tasty. Chicken soups are often broths with a few vegetables and a large piece of stewed or poached chicken. Other soups from seafood, quinoa, plantain balls (bolones de verde) and vegetables are served as broths or may be creamed, and all are delicious and nourishing.

With the mouthwatering exotic fruits of Ecuador come delicious fresh fruit juices (jugos), including naranjilla (a cross between an orange and a tomato), tree tomato (tomate de arbol), mora (blackberry), guanabana (a luscious thick aromatic sweet white juice), maracuya (passion fruit), pina (pineapple) and papaya.

Fruit ice creams of Ecuador are pure fruit flavor. Often still made the old way, with copper pots on top of ice and straw and turned by hand, it is really sorbet or fruit ice, since no cream is used, just fruit and sugar. The city of Ibarra is famous for its fruit icecreams.

Quimbolitos are little tamale-like cakes served with tea or coffee, sometimes for breakfast. Not desserts and not a meal, they are a type of light cake with a few raisins in it, wrapped up like a tamale in an achira leaf, and steamed. The achira leaf gives it a kind of mild citrus flavor, and they are more sweet than savory.
Along the roadside, you'll often see the sign for "bizcochos" or biscuits, which are not the traditional biscuit most of us would know. They are a light, savory, crunchy lady-finger shaped pastry, delicious with coffee or tea, or for breakfast.

You don't find a lot of variety here; few imported foods, no fancy vinegars, no fine cheeses. On the other hand, it's about as local as you can get. Nearly everything is fresh, and nothing comes from more than 100 or so miles away; so you can get potatoes and onions and other cool climate foods from the highlands, along with the fresh shrimp and fish, cilantro, melons, bananas and yuca from the coast. No matter where you go, be sure to try the local specialities. Delicious typical meals can be found and enjoyed in every region of Ecuador.