Eating and drinking

Food

Ecuadoreans take their meals pretty seriously, not only for nutrition but also as a social experience. In all but the largest cities, most families still gather around the lunch table at home to eat and discuss the day's events. Sharing food is also a very important part of traditional celebrations and hospitality. A poor family, who generally must get by on a very basic diet, might prepare a feast for a baptism, wedding or high school graduation.

In many Ecuadorean homes,
desayuno
(breakfast) is fresh fruit juice, coffee, bread, margarine, and perhaps a little jam or white cheese. On the coast, a mid-morning
ceviche
may be enjoyed with a cold drink.
Almuerzo
(lunch) is by far the most important meal of the day. It may begin with a small appetizer, such as an
empanada
, followed by soup - compulsory and often the most filling course. Then comes a large serving of white rice, accompanied by modest quantities of meat, chicken or fish and some cooked vegetables or salad. Dessert, if served at all, might be a small portion of fruit or sweets. Lunch is also accompanied by fruit juice or a soft drink.
Merienda
or
cena
(supper) is either a smaller repetition of lunch or a warm drink with bread, cheese, perhaps cold cuts,
humitas
or
quimbolitos
.


In the highlands

Locro de papas
is a potato and cheese soup.
Mote
(white hominy) is a staple in the region around Cuenca, but used in a variety of dishes throughout the Sierra.
Caldo de patas
is cow heel soup with
mote
.
Llapingachos
(fried potato and cheese patties) and
empanadas de morocho
(a ground corn shell filled with meat) are popular side dishes and snacks.
Morocho
, on the other hand, is a thick drink or porridge made from the same white corn, milk, sugar and cinnamon.
Sancocho de yuca
is a meat and vegetable soup with manioc root. The more adventurous may want to try the delicious roast
cuy
(guinea pig), most typical of highland dishes. Also good is
fritada
(fried pork) and
hornado
(roast pork). Vegetarians can partake of such typically Andean specialities as
chochos
(lupins) and
quinua
(quinoa).
Humitas
are made of tender ground corn steamed in corn leaves, and similar are
quimbolitos
, which are sweet and prepared with white cornflour and steamed in achira leaves.


On the coast

Seafood is excellent and popular everywhere.
Ceviche
is marinated fish or seafood which is usually served with popcorn,
tostado
(roasted maize) or
chifles
(plantain chips). Only
ceviche de pescado
(fish) and
ceviche de concha
(clams), which are marinated raw, potentially pose a health hazard. The other varieties of
ceviche
such as
camarón
(shrimp/prawn), and
langostino
(jumbo shrimp/king prawn) all of which are cooked before being marinated, are generally safe delicacies, though you should always check the cleanliness of the establishment.
Langosta
(lobster) is an increasingly endangered
species but continues to be illegally fished; so please be conscientious. Other coastal dishes include
empanadas de verde
which are fried snacks: a ground plantain shell filled with cheese, meat or shrimp.
Sopa de bola de verde
is plantain dumpling soup.
Encocadas
are dishes prepared with coconut milk and fish or seafood, which are very popular in the province of Esmeraldas.
Cocadas
, on the other hand, are sweets made with coconut.
Viche
is fish or seafood soup made with ground peanuts and the ubiquitous
patacones
are thick fried plantain slices served as a side dish.


In the Oriente

Many dishes are prepared with
yuca
(manioc or cassava root) and a wide variety of river fish.
Maitos
(in northern Oriente) and
ayampacos
(in the south) are spiced meat, chicken, fish or palm hearts wrapped in special leaves and roasted over the coals. A traditional treat for jungle natives which has become increasingly popular with the population at large, is
chontacuro
, the larva of a large beetle roasted on a skewer; it makes
cuy
seem tame.


Special foods

Fanesca
is a fish soup with beans, many grains, ground peanuts and more, sold during Easter Week throughout the country.
Colada morada
(a thick dark purple fruit drink) and
guaguas de pan
(bread dolls) are made around the time of Finados, the Day of the Dead, at the beginning of November. Special
tamales
and sweet and sticky
pristiños
are Christmas specialities.

Ecuadorean food is not particularly spicy. However, in most homes and restaurants, the meal is accompanied by a small bowl of
ají
(hot pepper sauce) which may vary greatly in potency.
Colada
is a generic name which can refer to cream soups or sweet beverages. In addition to the prepared foods mentioned above, Ecuador offers a huge variety of delicious temperate and tropical fruits, some of which are unique to South America.


Eating out

The simplest and most common eateries found throughout Ecuador are little family-run
comedores
or
salones
serving only set meals:
almuerzos
and
meriendas
of the type described above. As long as the establishment is clean, you are unlikely to go wrong at one of these places, but you are unlikely to discover a hidden gastronomic treasure either. Make sure that juices are prepared with boiled or bottled water. One step up, and available in provincial capitals, are restaurants which serve both set meals (perhaps an
almuerzo ejecutivo
for lunch) and à la carte at night.  Outside main cities and resorts, the above are seldom supplemented by more than
chifas
(Chinese restaurants, some quite good, others terrible) and Italian or pizza places, which are usually a safe bet. Vegetarians must be adaptable in small towns, but can count on the good will and ingenuity of local cooks.

In Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca and the more popular tourist resorts, the sky is the limit for variety, quality, elegance and price of restaurant dining. You can find anything from gourmet French cuisine to sushi or tapas, very upscale Ecuadorean
comida típica
, plush cafés, and neon-on-plastic fast food chains. 'Fusion' is currently trendy, combining Ecuadorean ingredients with innovative recipes to create unusual dishes like ostrich in mango sauce (not widely available). Splurge if you can, to make the most of dining out in a few of the better places, which are still economical by international standards. Another class of restaurant, which has flourished specifically in areas frequented by foreigners, serves undifferentiated tourist fare: a little Mexican, a little vegetarian, a little of everything but nothing in particular; you can usually do better elsewhere. On the periphery of cities are many
paradores
, places where Ecuadorean families go at weekends to enjoy typical dishes or grilled meat. These can provide good quality and value.

Drink

The usual soft drinks, known as
colas
, are widely available. Much better and more interesting is the bewildering array of freshly-made fruit juices. On the downside, this is not coffee paradise. Instant coffee or liquid concentrate is common, so ask for
café pasado
if you want real filtered coffee. Bottled water (
agua mineral
) is available everywhere, with and without gas.

The main beers include Pilsener, Brahama and Club, all of which are reasonable. Some Quito bars have good microbrews and also offer a wide selection of foreign beers. Quality Argentine and Chilean wines are available in the larger cities as are some European and US ones.
Aguardiente
('fire-water') is potent sugar cane liquor, also known as
paico
and
trago de caña
, or just
trago
.
Chicha
, a native beverage fermented from corn in the highlands (
chicha de jora
) and from
yuca
(manioc root) or
chonta
(palm fruit) in Oriente, is not for those with a delicate stomach.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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