By studying a year abroad, I did not imagine how much food would affect my homesickness. Just like Popeye´s song claims, in the film version with Robin Williams, “Everything is food”, food is an important factor that concerns our daily habits. What I miss the most about food at home is the role it plays to bring family and friends together.
Ecuador is divided into four geographical regions, and as a result food varies from place to place. However, lunch is usually the most important meal all over the country. Since I am from Quito (the capital), in la sierra or highlands, our cuisine includes a lot of potatoes and rice. We have a lot of soups that contain potatoes, and rice is usually part of every meal. I suppose we eat a lot of carbohydrates because of the cool, windy weather in the mountains. Here is a famous song from an Ecuadorian band, “Rocola Bacalao” that jokes about our popular habit of eating potatoes (papas) every day of the week:
We also eat lots of beans, lentils, quinoa, garbanzo beans, barley, chulpi, tostado, chochos, habas (andean varieties of grains) and corn as well. Pork is also very popular among serranos, or people from the highlands. However, one of the most popular meat that Ecuadorians eat is guinea pig. This is always very shocking for foreigners who visit Ecuador. As I already mentioned before, lunch is the main and biggest dish. Ecuadorians use this time to be together, relax and have a break from work.
Although I am no expert in this topic, I will try to explain my own experience with Ecuadorian food. The three remaining regions-coastal region, Galápagos Islands and rainforest-are varied in their food choices. The coastal region and the Galápagos Islands include cebiches (raw fish also popular in other Latin American countries), fish, a grand variety of seafood dishes, rice, beans, lentils, patacones and salads. The rainforest region has similar dishes as the ones found in the coastal region. However, you can also find “exotic” food such as ants, worms and even grasshoppers. Humitas and tamales (also common in other Latin American countries) are also part of the sierra tradition.
As a general characteristic of Ecuadorian cuisine, I would describe it as soup and also fruit-based diet. Soups are the main dish for lunch and they usually have beans, veggies and chicken. Freshly squeezed juice is common for breakfast and lunch refreshments. A popular fruit drink in Ecuador is called Jucho. Jucho is a hot drink mixture of delicious berries and other fruits. Apart from the fact that Ecuador is in fact a Banana Republic that exports bananas, we do have an enormous variety of other fruits. Apples, oranges, kiwis, tomatoes de árbol, capulí, berries, mangoes, pineapples, tangerines, avocados, tomatoes, coconuts, lemons, passion fruit, papayas, pitahayas, tunas (fruit of the cactus), melons and watermelons are some examples of the fruit you can easily find in Ecuador. Many people make ice cream and other sweets with this fruit diversity. This is also one of the things I miss the most about Ecuador.
Moreover, being a vegetarian in Ecuador, although it is not very common, can be very easy because of the variety of vegetables and beans that are available in the country. Unfortunately, many of the local products are now GMO, which means chemically altered food. Unfortunately, not many people realize this and they consume these products. There is a controversy going on because some people consider these products food, and some others think that these products will eventually be dangerous and unhealthy. On the other hand, there are still many local and organic farmers. Therefore, getting natural, fresh food is still possible in my country.
As for desserts, Ecuador has a lot of them. My two favorite ones are: arroz con leche and dulce de tomate de árbol * (pictures and descriptions are below). Finally, during two very important holidays in Ecuador, Easter and Día de los muertos (Day of the Dead), Ecuadorians make two specials dishes: fanesca, which is a bean based soup that Ecuadorians eat during Easter. Then, la colada morada and guaguas de pan,* which is a typical Ecuadorian food during Día de los muertos.
Here are some of my favorite Ecuadorian dishes. If you ever visit Ecuador, be sure to try one of these: ¡Buen provecho!
Pictures (in order of appearance):