Like our canine companions, we humans are very food motivated. The only difference is that, as superior beings (arguable), we like to add a cultural twist to our culinary explorations. Hence, a blog about Ecuador’s best traditional foods market, traditional dishes, as well as a few tips on where to buy some gourmet food gifts before you leave the country.
Considering Ecuador is made up of three geographic regions, the Amazon, the Andes, and the Pacific coast, you should expect to see a bit of diversity in its traditional food. It really all comes down to what abounds in each region in terms of plant or animal life, as well as the weather.
For instance, on the coast, since it’s warmer and there is fresh fish available, ceviche is an excellent meal choice. In the Andes, the temperature is much colder, so you eat locro de papas and lots of protein to keep warm. Finally, in the Amazon, farming is difficult because of all the insects, so you eat whatever you can get your hands on, including chontacurro (juicy beetle larvae).
Ecuadorian street foods you must try
Street food has a funny way of embodying food culture. I mean, it makes sense. Street food is what the locals eat because it tastes good, it’s convenient and affordable. You’ll be able to find most of these in the traditional foods markets listed in the next section.
As a traveler, it’s important to remember that your intestinal flora is different from that of an Ecuadorians. Street food, as well as food from restaurants, might not sit well at first. To mitigate any… Issues, always try to eat from a clean street food stand offering fresh ingredients. Also, where possible, avoid foods with too much cheese, milk or mayonnaise, since these tend to go bad the quickest, especially when being sold outdoors.
Tortillas de Guaranda – As you walk around Quito Old Town you might see hand-prepared wheat tortillas toasting on a large, traditional-looking ceramic plate. These delicious snacks are known to come from the town of Guaranda and are often eaten with queso fresco, literally fresh (unaged) cheese. Some spots will offer corn-based tortillas as well, if gluten is an issue for you.
Cevichocho – Another filling and nutritious snack is the cevichocho, sold for $1-2 dollars! Its main ingredient is the chocho bean, an Andean super bean high in protein and calcium. This is mixed with a pico-de-gallo style sauce, lime juice, tostado corn nuts, popcorn and chips. On the street, this is usually offered in a small plastic cup. While cevichochos are generally vegetarian, some places may add bits of pork to the cevichocho.
Hornado – Hornado is a favorite among visitors, and a classic to Ecuadorians. It’s available at most markets, fairs and events and its ingredients include tasty strips of roasted pork, potato tortillas, and a fresh salad with lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. Some plates of hornado also come with corn and/or fried plantain. It is not a vegetarian dish, though you can ask for a portion without pork.
Empanada de viento – Once you try an empanada de viento, it’ll be hard not to buy one every time you see them on the street! These are fluffy fried empanadas with a cheese filling and sprinkled with sugar. The combination is addictive, to say the least, and they only go for $0.50 – $1.00 each.
Top 8 traditional food markets in Ecuador
Traditional food markets give you a real sense of local life in Ecuador. These are the markets that your regular Ecuadorian frequents and where you’ll find the freshest local ingredients. It’s also where you’ll likely be able to taste the most authentic traditional dishes, freshly made.
Here are some of our favorite traditional food markets in Ecuador.
Quito Central Market – Located In Quito Old Town between streets Esmeraldas and Manabí
Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, Quito’s Mercado Central is probably the best place to taste Ecuadorian traditional food and is also one of the cheapest places to have lunch. On the lower level of the market, you’ll find a huge selection of delicious local dishes, among which the ceviche de corvina or camarones is a top contender. Each floor of the market sells different products – you can buy fresh fruit, roses ($1/dozen) and much, much more.
Parque de las Tripas (loosely translated to…Guts Park), also known as Parque Genaro Larrea
When I first moved to Quito, this traditional food market looked like the best place to get a stomach bug. Over the years, it has become quite sophisticated! Due to its location outside in a small park, it has a very streetfood feel that attracts hordes of people, especially from Thursday to Saturday. The market is only active in the evenings and you’ll find dishes like guatita (cow stomach stew), blood sausage, empanadas de viento and more. Watch out for the street dogs, they might try to snatch your food while you’re not looking.
Iñaquito Market – Between Iñaquito street and Villalengua street
Iñaquito is one of Quito’s oldest and largest markets and has been around for 30 years. Locally, Iñaquito is known for its selection of traditional Ecuadorian food, lots of spices, as well as hard-to-find Asian ingredients, including fresh tofu. It might very well be the international food market in Quito! As in other markets, you’ll find food ingredients, as well as stalls selling a wide variety of Ecuadorian dishes. If you’re not sure what to get, the hornado at Iñaquito is supposedly one of the best in town.
Santa Clara Market – Between Versalles y Ramirez Davalos Street
This market is located in the central-north area of Quito close to the Universidad Central. There’s one large building where you’ll find fresh produce, butcher stalls, and food stalls. A delicacy of the Santa Clara market is the corvina (a type of white flesh fish) with fries.
Around this main building you’ll find many other shops. In fact, Santa Clara Market is well known for the rustic and affordable furniture sold on its side streets. Many people come here to furnish their apartments or restaurants and you’ll find a variety of lamps, baskets, wooden trunks, shelves and more.
Riobamba Market – In Riobamba
The local market takes place on Saturday and is located within the following streets: España, 5 de Junio, Guayaquil, and Argentinos. There’s really nothing like exploring the cobblestone streets of this picturesque city and, if the weather is clear, you’ll spot Volcano Chimborazo in the distance. At the Saturday market you’ll find fresh fruit, vegetables, handicrafts, flowers and more!
Guamote Market – In Guamote
Every Thursday, the little town of Guamote, home to no more than 5,000 inhabitants, comes to life. At the Guamote Market, you’ll catch a glimpse of true Ecuadorian village life and you’ll find everything from guinea pigs (cuy, a local delicacy) to handmade hats and ponchos. This isn’t a touristic market like Otavalo. Quite the contrary, it’s quite possibly one of the most authentic market experiences you might have during your entire trip, so if you can get a chance to experience the Guamote Market, don’t pass it up!
Mercado 10 De Agosto – In Cuenca
Moving to the South of Ecuador, in Cuenca, you’ll find the traditional foods market 10 de Agosto. Expect to see a similar variety of food as in other market we’ve already covered, like hornado and llapingachos, though if you come across morteruelo conquense or gazpacho pastor, these are dishes specific to the Cuenca area.
During the week, the 10 de Agosto market in Cuenca is bustling and can get overwhelming. This is also not the place to look for souvenirs. However, if you’re looking to buy fresh fruit and produce for homemade meals or a bite to eat during lunch hours, this market has you covered.
Mercado del Río in Guayaquil – Malecón Simón Bolívar in Guayaquil
Diverging a bit from the traditional style food market, the newly opened Mercado del Río, located along the Guayas river on the Malecón Simón Bolivar in Guayaquil, is built to feel like a gastro-bar. Mercado del Río offers over 550 food options ranging from Ecuadorian grandma’s cooking (old school traditional) to Japanese-Ecuadorian fusion to 100% Italian. Prices are also varied and you’ll be pleased to find regular cheap food options as in other traditional food markets.
Best places to buy Gourmet Food Gifts in Ecuador
Dining on traditional Ecuadorian meals is the way to go while traveling through the country and exploring its culture. It’s also a smart idea if you’re on a tight budget, since many of the traditional foods markets listed above offer $2.50 lunches.
However, if you’re thinking about heading home with gourmet food gifts, you’re not going to find them in those markets. For that purpose, here are a few local stores that specialize in gourmet food in Quito.
- Yuniq – A speciality grocery store in Cumbayá (30 mins from Quito), Yuniq is one of the few places where you can buy items in bulk like granola, nuts and beans. They’re a one-stop shop for powdered, natural food supplements like Guayusa Powder, as well as many types of dehydrated fruit.
- Superfoods – With two locations, one in Quito and the other in Cumbaya, Superfoods is a restaurant / speciality store, offering many healthy and locally-produced food items. This is also one of the few stores where you can buy completely organic products and hard to find items like nutritional yeast and fresh plant milk. Though not a large store, their products have been carefully selected and you’ll be sure to find something to take home.
- Pacari Store and Hoja Verde Chocolate – You can’t leave Ecuador without stocking on organic, fair trade, dark Ecuadorian chocolate made by world-acclaimed brands Pacari and Hoja Verde. Conveniently, they can both be found on Julio Zaldumbide Street in la Floresta and you can choose from their full range of delectable chocolate flavors.
- Bhumi – Bhumi is another health food store focused more on healthy living. Their location, Casa Bhumi, combines restaurant with store, much like that of Superfoods. Among their selection of products are spices, detox juices and ayurvedic health products.
While the information above is, by no means, comprehensive, it should give you enough to begin exploring Ecuador’s traditional food markets, some popular street food, as well as a few spots to buy last-minute gourmet food gifts.
Feel free to ask more specific questions in the comments section – we’ll do our best to provide answers!