What to eat and drink in Ecuador

The cuisine of Ecuador varies widely depending on where you are in the country. Along the coast, seafood reigns supreme, while the Andean highlands offer potatoes, corn, pork and other earthy ingredients.

The Amazon (Oriente region) also has its specialties, including river fish simmered in an inventive way. Wherever you go, tradition plays a profound role in the cuisine, with some recipes predating the arrival of the Spanish colonizers. This guide to dishes and the best places to try them can help you choose the perfect Ecuadorian meal.

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Guayaquil is the perfect place to try encebollado (fish stew) © Fotos593 / Shutterstock

Treat yourself to the seafood of Guayaquil

The lowland city of Guayaquil on Ecuador’s southwest coast has its own culinary hits, including cangrejo (crab), ceviche (more soup-like than its Peruvian cousin), and various combinations of rice and seafood. However, the city’s most famous dish is encebollado (fish stew). It is eaten at any time of the day (even in the morning to cure a hangover) and usually consists of tuna or albacore, tomato, coriander and cassava leaves. It can also be garnished with rings of pickled red onions, ripe avocado, banana chips or bread, plantain and popcorn.

Where to try it: The high end Los Cangrejos by Pepe Loza is an excellent choice for a seafood feast. Many locals consider The Casa del Encebollado best serve encebollado in town – as you would expect for a place named after the dish.

regale chugchucara in Latacunga

The central mountain town of Latacunga attracts travelers who come to visit the national park surrounding the Cotopaxi Volcano or explore the indigenous villages along the Quilotoa Loop. Yet the central highland town is also famous for its chugchucaraa tasty plate of fritada (fried pieces of pork, served with grain – hominy), chicharron (fried pork skin), potatoes, tostada (grilled corn) and other accompaniments. The hearty, high-calorie meal makes for the perfect end to a day of hiking.

Where to try it: Latacunga’s main market (the mercado cerrado) has food stalls handing out searing portions of chugchucara. There is also the famous Chugchucaras La Mamá Negra, an atmospheric restaurant where the meal is cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Coconut prawn stew (encocado), served in an earthenware dish, with rice and fried plantains
The food culture on Ecuador’s north coast means more seafood dishes than pork © Ecuadorpostales / Shutterstock

Listen to the waves crashing on the beach while enjoying Afro-Ecuadorian cuisine

The province of Esmeraldas, on the north coast of Ecuador, serves up some of the best seafood in the country. With around 70% of the population here of African descent, the cuisine and culture is quite different from other parts of Ecuador. Rather than pork and potatoes, seafood plays a starring role in dishes like encocadoa tasty fish or seafood stew cooked in coconut milk with spices.

Where to try it: In the seaside town of Sua, the simple, open Anita’s Restaurant serves exceptional encocado as well as other seafood dishes.

Dine on the typical dish of Ecuador’s highlands

One of the most traditional foods of the Ecuadorian highlands is cuy, or roast guinea pig, which is sometimes served on a spit and whole. While some visitors may be reluctant to eat cuy, it has been a staple of the highlands for centuries. (If you’re in Quito, check out the Last Supper painting in the Catedral Metropolitana, where Jesus and his disciples gather around a plate of cuy.) Those who’ve tried it know it’s delicious, with a taste somewhere between chicken and duck. It is also a sustainable and environmentally friendly source of animal protein.

Where to try it: You will find cuy sold by market vendors in the highlands. For a more upscale experience, book a table at the stylish Guajibamba in Cuenca.

Discover Amazonian specialties

The Oriente, the easternmost region of Ecuador, is home to the Amazon jungle and forest-fringed towns where restaurants serve up unique tropical flavors. A dish to look for is Maitoa fillet of river fish wrapped in bijao, banana or palm leaves and then cooked over a wood fire or charcoal. Maitos can be found in most cities, usually steamed with plantains or yuca, making it a healthy and deliciously hearty meal. You can also try the chontacuroa fatty, protein-rich worm that grows in the heart of the chonta palm.

Where to try it: In El Bijao, in the riverside town of Misahuallí, you can order a Maito or a grilled skewer contacts while watching playful monkeys in the central plaza.

A steamed cake wrapped in achira leaf
Great desserts are easy to find in Ecuador | © Edgar Daniel Yanchapaxi/Shutterstock

Sweeten your day with an Ecuadorian dessert

No matter where you wander in Ecuador, you’re never far from sweet temptation. Bakeries, street vendors, and restaurants are all good places to look for a rich dessert. Typically found on the coast, pina flan (pineapple flan) is sometimes made with coconut or other fruit. It has a creme brulee consistency similar to custard and is flavored with vanilla and rum.

Also popular is the ubiquitous tres leches pastel (three-milk cake), a sponge cake made with evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. It can be garnished with cream, syrup or fruit.

Quimbolitos are the nation’s sweet tamales, made with corn flour, butter, eggs, cheese, and raisins, then cooked wrapped in banana leaves or achira leaves.

Where to try them: Overlooking Plaza Grande in the historic center of Quito, Dulcería Colonial serves up classic Ecuadorian desserts as well as some of the best coffee in town.

There are not many choices for vegetarians and vegans

Ecuador is a tough place for vegetarian and vegan diners. Get ready for a diet of corn, potatoes and beans. You will find maiz (corn) in several forms and flavors: humitas are lightly sweetened corn dumplings, steamed and served in corn husks. Tostadas (grilled corn) makes a fancy snack and is sometimes served as an appetizer in casual restaurants. In the streets you can also find vendors selling corn tortillas (thin corn cakes) and chocolate (grilled corn).

The Andes are the birthplace of the potato and enjoy a respect they rarely receive elsewhere. Dishes like llapingachos (fried potato pancakes and cheese) and Daddy’s Locro (a creamy sweet potato soup with avocado and cheese) highlights the versatile tuber, but you’ll also find it served as a side to many non-vegetarian dishes.

Besides these traditional dishes, Ecuador has a growing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. You’ll find the best choices in Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca.

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