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10 Ecuadorian Food Dishes Not To Miss

Cuy roasting on a spit in Ecuador.

One of our favorite aspects of foreign travel is digging into the local cuisine of our destination. You can’t really understand a place or its culture if you don’t understand its food. We’d been to the Andes before (visiting neighboring Peru in 2010), so we thought we knew what we’d find in the food of Ecuador. We were wrong. Ecuadorian cuisine is similar to its neighbor but also unique – integrating local ingredients, while reflecting cultural differences. Here are our 10 favorite Ecuadorian food dishes from our two-week itinerary!

Corn, beans and potatoes are traditional accompaniments and side dishes in Ecuadorian food.

Corn, beans and potatoes are traditional accompaniments and side dishes

Bolon de Verde: The Bolon de Verde or “The Ball” is one of the national dishes in Ecuador. This baseball or grapefruit sized ball is absolutely delicious. Green plantains are mashed and made into ball around a filling of meat (usually pork) or sometimes cheese. The whole ball of goodness is then pan fried and served hot. Traditionally it’s served for breakfast or a late brunch. The bolon is very filling and helps workers get through their day. And it tastes amazing!

The Bolon de Verde with chicken was one of our Ecuadorian food dishes.

Cuy: Travelers to the Andes Mountains have all heard tales of local residents eating cuy (or as we know it – guinea pig). Cuy is an indigenous food source and common to the diet in Ecuador, dating back to the times before domestic animals (namely cattle) were introduced by the Spanish. We first encountered cuy during our time in Cusco, Peru, several years ago. We weren’t particularly impressed at the time, but we thought it might have had something to do with the establishment where we ate. So, on this trip to Ecuador, we sought out the freshest cuy possible at a local roadside food stall in the area they call Paradero la Quinchenita. Cuy has a naturally greasy, dark meat. Once roasted over an open fire, the skin gets crispy and delicious. I’ll admit to enjoying this second try of cuy. So, if you’re traveling to Ecuador, this is one food you have to sample!

The cuy (or guinea pig) is an iconic dish in Ecuadorian cuisine.  The greasy meat can be extremely delicious if cooked properly.

Read: Horseback Ride in the Avenue of the Volcanoes

Empanada de Viento: The Empanadas de Viento (roughly translated as air or wind empanadas) are very large pastries filled mostly with air and a tiny little bit of gooey fried cheese. These empanadas can fill the entire plate! These delicious bites are served all day long and typically enjoyed with a sprinkling of sugar or dipped into aji hot sauce – or both!

The massive Empanada de Viento (or air empanadas) are filled with a tiny bit of gooey fried cheese.  They taste great with a little sugar or aji hot sauce.

Bizcochos de Cayambe: In the town of Cayambe, we discovered bizcochos. Throughout the entire town of Cayambe (between Otavalo and Quito), the road is lined on both sides with cafes and shops all proudly proclaiming they serve bizcochos. It’s an oddity to see a business not selling them. And with good reason: these light, flaky biscuits are a tradition dating back to the Spanish colonization of the town. The dough is flattened and divided into sticks, which are served a half-dozen at a time in brown paper bags. There is a ritual to eating bizcochos. First, you try a bite of the buttery biscuit all on its own and ensure it is perfectly cooked. Then you take a bite of the biscuit along with string cheese (called queso de hoja) and caramel dulce de leche dipping sauce. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of dulce de leche and I was skeptical how the cheese, sauce, and bizcochos biscuit would taste together, but it’s quite good. You’d never expect the flavors to blend, but the sweet and savory really work together. There’s a reason bizcochos are one of the more popular foods in Ecuador!

The Bizcochos de Cayambe with string cheese and being dipped into the dulce de leche caramel sauce.

See: What to Pack for Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Humita: The humita is one of the most authentic Ecuadorian foods available. Humitas are essentially tamales – steamed masa and corn in a banana leaf. In Ecuador, humitas are either salty or sweet (we only encountered the salty variety on our trip) and can also contain onions, cheese or eggs. The indigenous Native Americans were making humitas long before the Spanish arrived in the Andes, making this one of the most authentic foods in the region. Humitas are also incredibly cheap – just pennies to buy from the local lady with a push cart!

The humita - steamed masa and corn - is a pre-colonial dish in Ecuadorian cuisine.

Shrimp Ceviche: When it comes to food wars, the hotly contested battle of who invented ceviche is one of great rivalries. While most historians have sided with Peru, Ecuador now stakes its claim that it has the better ceviche. While this is certainly a value judgement, we’re going to side with Ecuador here. The main difference between ceviche in Peru versus ceviche in Ecuador is that Ecuadorian ceviche is served in the citrus marinating juices and not drained, resulting in a kind of soupy broth. The fish and seafood retain more of their flavor this way. Ecuadorian ceviche is usually garnished with tostado (a corn nut) and plantain chips. Shrimp is probably the most popular kind of ceviche in Ecuador, and for good reason since the country is one of the leading producers of farm-raised shrimp. Also, for those who are worried about the quality of their seafood (like me), Ecuadorian shrimp rank very well in independent international quality and sustainability studies.

In Ecuadorian ceviche, the fish and seafood sit in a soupy broth.  Shrimp ceviche is the most common for ceviche in Ecuador.

Fritada de Chancho: The fritada de chancho (usually just shorted to fritada) is one of the most common and popular foods in Ecuador. We encountered this dish everywhere from the Avenue of the Volcanoes to the Galapagos. The fritada is a piece of pork (often pork shoulder) which is boiled in water until the water evaporates, then fried, and finally finished in a somewhat spicy red sauce. The fritada is then served with sides of hominy or fava beans or corn or potatoes – or all of the above. This is a very popular dish on the weekends and a brunch staple for most Ecuadorians.

The Fritada de Cancho (or fried pork) is one of the common Ecuadorian food dishes.  While the accompaniments and side dishes may different, the pork preparation is the same.

Ecuadorian Aji Hot Sauce: There is only one certainty when it comes to Ecuadorian food. Wherever you are, whatever you are eating, and whoever is at your table with you: there will be aji somewhere on that table. It might be fresh in a bowl with a spoon or in a bottle from the store, but it will be there. What is aji? It is the ubiquitous hot sauce of Ecuador. It’s a cross between salsa and a condiment like ketchup. The base of aji is the fruit of the tree tomato (tomate de arbol in Spanish). I’d never heard of a tree tomato before, but it has a mild tomato-like flavor. Aji is then spiced with a small amount of Aji pepper. Most aji sauce in Ecuador is medium spicy at best (mostly just flavorful, but not really hot), although you will encounter a few varieties of aji that will knock your shorts off!

Chirimoya Fruit: The sweet, fleshy cherimoya fruit is a staple of Ecuadorian cuisine. The greenish fruit reminds me of an artichoke from the outside, but inside, the fragrant white pulp is a delicious treat, which is also high in antioxidants. Chirimoya also makes a great juice, which we had with breakfast several times. Driving between Otavalo and Quito, we discovered numerous pop-up stands by the side of the road selling Chirimoya to passing cars.

The white, fleshy Chirimoya fruit in Ecuador.

Enjoy: Seeing the Colorful Otavalo Market

Canelazo: Canelazo is a hot, spiced, alcoholic beverage served in the Ecuadorian highlands. Produced from sugar cane alcohol, the brew is spiced, usually with cinnamon or cloves, and served warm. It is traditionally associated with the holidays/Christmas time, but Ecuadorians have begun drinking it year round – especially as an aperitif.

The hot spiced Canelazo is a popular winter drink in the Ecuadorian highlands and is also common as a pre-dinner aperitif.

And a beverage bonus:

Club: We always enjoy trying the local brew on our trips and discovered the local beer in Ecuador: Club (pronounced like “kloob”). It’s a lager-style beer from Guayaquil and very refreshing on a hot day!

The Club beer in Ecuador - refreshing on a hot day.

And a few more photos:

Lance eating cuy (guinea pig)

Lance eating cuy (guinea pig)

The bizcochos baking in Cayambe, Ecuador.

The bizcochos baking






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What do you think about 10 Ecuadorian Food Dishes Not To Miss?

  1. Federico June 29, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    From Ecuador I liked those menus you find all over the place at around 1.5-2.5 USD that include two dishes and often a fresh blackberry juice! Unbeatable!
    Federico recently posted…Visiting the Walled City of Morella (Spain): What to See and Things to DoMy Profile

  2. Diana Edelman June 30, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Lots of meat! Since I’m veg, not much here I could eat, but the fruit and that drink?!? YES PLEASE.
    Diana Edelman recently posted…Living it Up at Sofitel St. JamesMy Profile

  3. Leah July 1, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    Of all the countries I visited in South America, I found Ecuadorean dishes among my least favorite (beat out only by Bolivia). Looks like you guys found more variety than I did…and maybe if I ate seafood I’d be into the ceviche!
    Leah recently posted…Month in Review: June 2015My Profile

    • Laura Longwell July 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

      That’s too bad, Leah. We were really pleased and pleasantly surprised by the variety. The empanadas and bolon were definitely my favorites. Your comment makes me excited to travel more in South America, though, if the food is even better in other places 🙂

  4. Camels & Chocolate July 4, 2015 at 12:53 am #

    Oh man, I only made it to the Galapagos when I was there where the food wasn’t super awesome (because, hello, secluded islands) but I think I need a redo on the mainland. Love me some quality South American cuisine!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted…How to Be the Best Airbnb Host You Can BeMy Profile

    • Lance Longwell July 4, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

      Thanks Kristin. The food in Ecuador was a highlight (even in the Galapagos for us). Hope you make it back there.

  5. Ira August 1, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    Food porn is RIGHT! Cuy…I really want to try this. Looks like a BBQ pork bun. I like finding odd similarities in cuisines, such as that. The rest of it looks lovely, as well.

  6. Jane November 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    Great article. Covered most of the typical dishes. Sure brought back memories to me.

    Only one thing. I believe you meant Fritada de CHancho (pig) not Cancho (which is a sport field). Usually just called Fritada for short anyway.

    I have enjoyed reading all your articles on Ecuador.

    • Lance Longwell November 19, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks for pointing that out Jane! I corrected it.

      • Ashley March 27, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

        I’ve been searching far and wide for the name of the cheese sitting atop the picture of the corn, beans and potatoes. Does anyone know it’s name??

        • Lance Longwell March 27, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

          It’s a kind of Queso Blanco – heavy, dense and doesn’t melt particularly well. If you were looking to substitute for it in a recipe, we’d recommend a Queso Blanco (or a Queso Fresco, which is more crumbly). In Ecuador, it’s called simply “queso.” No differentiation was made on kind or type. The Ecuadorian version is slightly more pungent than the American.

          • Ashley March 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

            Thanks Lance! I was hoping it had a name! I remember it well. Squeaky when you chew it, stinky smelling, pungent taste and smell – maybe like wine. I can’t seem to find it in the states – and I’ve shopped in Latino / Ecuadorian shops! I miss it!

          • Lance Longwell March 27, 2017 at 8:43 pm #

            There’s a Queso Blanco sold by Wegman’s (regional grocery in the Eastern part of the U.S.) that is a quite nice substitute.

  7. Andres September 6, 2016 at 5:18 pm #

    I totally agrre with you although you have forgotten to mention some -must try- dishes like Hornado with agrio (roated pork with a kinf of sweetened aji) or Pristiños(an absolutely delicious dessert with a certain type of honey).

    Oh, and the most known beer is Pilsener.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. When You're HERE You Must Eat THIS - MarocMama - December 23, 2015

    […] country, perhaps even every town does it their own way. Lance of Travel Addicts suggests trying empanada de viento in Ecuador. They are giant, cheese stuffed empanadas – hard to get it […]

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