According to most of my fellow travelers, one of the main reasons to roam the world is to expand culinary horizons. Fortunately, Ecuador’s amazing diversity is also reflected in its cuisine, so it’s the perfect destination for food lovers.
Keep reading to discover my list of recommendations on food in Ecuador … but please don’t blame me if you start drooling!
Why would you love Ecuadorian food?
Fresh food made in a traditional way! That is definitely the secret behind Ecuadorian cuisine.
The blessedly rich soil of Ecuador can grow pretty much everything you can imagine, from the sweetest and most delicious fruits – welcome to the banana capital of the world! – to an amazing variety of vegetables (some of which you may never have seen before). Besides this, the Pacific Ocean provides an endless selection of seafood all year round.
For a better insight into what to expect, you need to understand the basic ingredients of each region’s cuisine. Food on the coast of Ecuador (Galapagos included) is mainly based on fish, plantain, peanuts, and coconuts. In the highlands, the staples are potatoes, beans and many different kinds of Andean corn. The regional meat specialty is guinea pig. In the jungle, most meals contain cassava, plantain, freshwater fish, and some other interesting animal species such as grubs.
These are only the basic ingredients; a mix of condiments and herbs are also an important part of Ecuadorian cuisine. Just one thing to keep in mind: let people know in advance if you’re not a big fan of coriander/cilantro because Ecuadorians tend to top every main dish with this herb – sometimes tons of it!
Traditional food you can’t miss
Since each of Ecuador’s “worlds” has its unique cuisine, here are my recommendations on food, listed by region.
Coast and Galápagos
Patacones: Fried smashed pieces of plantain. Usually served with fresh cheese.
Ceviche: A combination of any kind of seafood marinated in lime juice and mixed with chopped tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, green pepper. Served with patacones and rice.
Encebollado: Ecuadorians claim this soup – made of tuna fish, cassava, spices, and pickled red onions – is the best cure for a hangover! In fact, this is the #1 dish in Ecuador, usually served with fried plantains.
Cangrejada: Cangrejo, or crab, is a specialty of Guayaquil, where the locals cook them with beer, herbs, and spices. Of course, the best accompaniment to this meal is more beer!
Biche: This thick soup contains seafood, plantain, cassava, and salty peanut butter.
Tonga: Nothing is more traditional than this dish, consisting of rice topped with chicken stew and peanut sauce, wrapped in plantain leaves, and cooked in a clay oven underground.
Bollo: A dough made of plantain and peanut butter, filled with pork or fish, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an oven.
Corviches: A kind of crunchy fried bread made of plantain, peanut butter, and condiments, filled with fish or shrimp. A cheese version can be made for vegetarians.
Bolón de verde: A ball made of fried plantain, butter, and cheese. Most Ecuadorians prefer the version that includes “chicharrón” (small pieces of pork).
Tigrillo: A typical Ecuadorian breakfast consisting of mashed plantain, onions, bacon, and cheese, cooked in milk, and topped with two fried eggs.
Seco: This traditional meat stew combines chicken, lamb, or beef with a sauce made of tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, and condiments, slowly cooked with beer. It’s usually topped with lots of coriander and served with rice and fried sweet plantains.
Menestra: Beans or lentils, cooked with herbs and sometimes chunks of cheese. Menestras are normally a side dish to accompany grilled meats and rice.
Encocado: In this traditional Afro-Ecuadorian stew, seafood is cooked with coconut milk, garlic, herbs, and spices.
Cazuela: This thick stew contains seafood cooked with ground plantain and peanut butter. Of course, it’s topped with coriander!
Sopa de bolas de verde: This soup is made with cassava, corn, plantain dumplings filled with meat or fish, all cooked with a peanut sauce.
Fritada: Chunks of pork slowly cooked in its own fat, served with mote (a type of corn), sweet plantain, salad, and avocado.
Hornado: A whole roasted pig (head included), served with salad, potatoes, and mote.
Locro de papas: This hearty traditional soup contains potatoes, cheese and corn. It’s served with slices of avocado.
Humitas: A corn dough filled with cheese, wrapped in corn leaves, and steamed.
Llapingachos: Flat balls of mashed potatoes filled with cheese, served with sausages, salad, mote, avocado, and a peanut sauce.
Mote pillo: Hominy corn cooked with eggs, scallions, and onions.
Fanesca: The traditional Easter meal in Ecuador, this soup contains 12 different kinds of grains, pumpkin, and dried fish. Once cooked, it’s topped with slices of boiled egg.
Empanadas de viento: Traditional empanadas filled with fresh cheese and deep-fried.
Ceviche de chochos: A type of Andean grain substitutes for seafood in this ceviche.
Morocho: A hot beverage made of corn, milk, cinnamon, sweet pepper and raisins.
Cuy asado: Finally, the country’s most famous specialty! Roasted guinea pig accompanied by salad, mote, and potatoes.
Chicha: This the traditional Amazonian beverage! It consists of cooked cassava that is chewed and spat out, so that bacteria in the saliva causes it to ferment. The longer it is left to ferment, the stronger it is!
Maito: Maito means “wrapped.” So this is basically fish or chicken wrapped and cooked in plantain leaves, usually served with rice, salad, and patacones.
Chontacuro: A kind of worm that grows inside a palm tree. It’s usually grilled before eating (bus sometimes not), and contains a lot of protein.
Té de guayusa: Guayusa is a plant, whose leaves are boiled to make tea. This beverage provides energy throughout the day.
Restaurants and venues recommended by destination
As well as my recommendations on food, I can also point you in the direction of some excellent restaurants to enjoy national cuisine.
In general, my advice is to avoid the food chains – except El Cafe de Tere in Guayaquil – and go to the smaller, family-owned places full of locals! Of course, make sure the place is clean and hygienic.
These are some of the best restaurants in Ecuador.
Salnes Gastro-Picantería – Quito
Chulpi Piqueos Urbanos – Quito
Achiote Ecuador – Quito
Casa Julian – Guayaquil
Mercado del Río – Guayaquil
El Pez Volador – Guayaquil
La Guarida – Cuenca
Raíces Cocina Ecuatoriana – Cuenca
Kichua Restaurant – Baños
Hierba Buena – Montañita
El Paso – Ayampe
Wanderbus connects you to the most beautiful places in Ecuador. We also know the importance of experiencing new food, which is why our tours include stops for typical breakfasts and lunches.
Do you still have questions about Ecuadorian food and culture? No worries, our tour guides are ready to answer all your questions and will be happy to provide any recommendations on food and restaurants. You are in good hands with Wanderbus!