Los Andes: Trout farms are very common in many regions in the Andes, so trout is almost always an option in restaurants, either con ajo [garlic sauce] or a la plancha [grilled]. Ecuadoreans also eat a lot of corvina [sea bass] and ceviche [corvino, octopus, shrimp], the latter, of course, being both outstandingly delicious and extraordinarily risky--if you're eating in a hotel or nicer restaurant it shouldn't be a problem.
Flank steaks or "filet mignon"--always well-marinated and grilled and absolutely tender and delicious, served with deglace or an Ecuadorean version of bearnaise.
Guinea pig--much talked about but really not as central to the food culture as some think--more of a "special" dish, and if it is on the menu in your restaurant, it may require several hours or a day's advance notice.
Pork: for example chunks of shoulder meat grilled til crispy, or a chop. Always flavorful.
Potatoes and corn and everything else: Don't expect much imaginative presentation of produce or side dishes. Your plates will be accompanied by some type of potato [boiled, fried] and or hominy and or rice, and maybe a slice of avocado, and a serving of "bird's eye"--how I designate the carrot/pea/green bean medley that seems to accompany every meal, and looks like frozen vegs from a bag--but isn't.
*mote pillo is a popular breakfast or meat accompaniment in Cuenca--eggs scrambled with hominy and cheese.
*churrascos--a plate of grilled flank steak topped with two fried eggs, a side of fried potatoes, rice and avocado. Sounds lardy and unhealthy, but after the guy sitting next to you orders it, as you watch his face brighten with pleasure, you'll wish you had, too.
*llapingachos--potato pancakes stuffed with cheese, usually served with grilled pork. Ecuadorean cheese is mild white soft fresh cheese that crumbles easily. Sometimes you get little strips of it on the side of other plates.
*humitas--Ecuadorean tamales, basically pureed fresh corn and milk and sugar pudding steamed inside corn husks til the mixture sets--literally the most DELICIOUS food I have ever put in my mouth in Ecuador. It's the corn, largely--it's sweet and chewy, more like hominy, which is also very popular in the Andes. The best humitas are available at the cafe in the Tianguez Gallery in Quito.
*alfonjares--I found these cookies at the bakery in the Monasterios de las Conceptas in Cuenca--a tiny shop with baked goods prepared by the nuns who still operate the convent. A short pastry [I will SWEAR it is made with lard] cookie sandwich, with a thin smear of dulce de leche in between, dusted with powdered sugar and rolled in toasted coconut. Knock yourself out.
El Oriente: If you are planning to visit the Amazon, you'll enjoy a very different food culture. If you get meat, it'll be stewed capon or hen--you won't know the difference because the foraging free range birds are all scrawny--but the meat is delicious--it's essence of chicken, very different from the fat tender juicy huge pieces of meat we force here in the States. You might get fish, little tilapias caught, say, five minutes ago, wrapped in bijao [palm] leaves and steamed with heart of palm. You'll always have rice and fried plantain, either tostones or maduros, and some sort of soup--made with potatoes or plantain dumplings. Sliced avocado. Heart of palm ceviche, chopped and steeped in lime and sugar with a little tomato or aji--delicious. Yuca--one of my favorite rainforest foods, and the staple of the rainforest diet. I love it cut into thick strips and pan fried til it's crispy at the edges, then eaten with a small dab of aji con sel--the local mined salt mixed with dried aji, very hot peppers from the jungle. Some say fried yuca tastes like nothing, but they are muy loco.
Bebidas: Wherever you are in Ecuador, you need to drink the jugos offered at every meal: thick pulpy liquidos made from naranjillas [tart equator citrus], tree tomatoes, moras [blackberries] pina, naranja, mango, papaya. Canelazos are hot cocktails made with sugar cane alcohol and sugar, lime, cinnamon. And if someone is offering shots of the sugar can alcohol--drago--take one. You'll feel the heat of the jungle and the strength of the mountains coursing through your body.
Good places to eat:
Quito: Hotel Sebastien's Cafe Mistral--high quality organic produce, one of the best breakfast buffets anywhere.
Otavalo: Hotel Casa de Hacienda--the trout was grilled to perfection. And a homemade blackberry ice cream with tangerine pudding that can't even be described--I ate two.
Termas de Papallacta: If you can drag your ass out of the hot baths, the food here is always very good. We had trout and flank steaks, and a creamy mushroom gravy was passed around the table. The full breakfast buffet includes eggs, pancakes, sausages, tiny yeasty croissants and huge fruit platters.
Cuenca: Hotel Crespa serves a very good breakfast--a huge plate with a chunk of banana, watermelon, pineapple, mango and canteloupe, accompanied by a glass of sweet whole milk yogurt, huevos al gusto, a basket of hot fresh pastries, including the tiny croussants that the Ecuadoreans do so well. The cafe con leche is very good here, too, the milk so rich that fat floats on the top. We ate supper here and had coctel de camarones y aguacate [one of my favorite dishes in the world--a half of avocado with chunks of steamed shrimp and a marie rose-type sauce, cream and paprika], also the cazuela de mar--a seafood casserole, hot creamy base with huge chunks of corvino, camarones, octopus.
Vilcabamba: we stayed a couple nights at the Madre Tierra spa [I had a 30-minute steam sauna followed by a full body sea salt exfoliation--for $17.92]. This is a fun and pretty place, but in general I have to say the food here really sucks ass--especially the coffee, which is unabashedly instant and weak [very typical of Ecuador]. You get a bowl of granola and fruit and an egg for breakfast, then a plate of food for supper--we had pot roast one night, tough and cold, a meal of depression, and fried fish and creamy potato casserole the next which was much better. But the hotel does have it's own bakery and serves a hearty dense pan integral that makes up for the rest of the meal. If you get hungry during the day you can order sanduches--huge flavorless buns with a microscopic slab of unidentifiable meat or "tempeh" or cheese inside. Just order fries, and get the bartender to mix you a killer capairina or capairoska--he makes each one slowly, meticulously, with a huge handful of juicy lime from the tree next to his cabana.
I spent the first hour in the Otavalo market walking through the food stalls, buying spices and ground corn and quinoa from the local women. When I got home yesterday, every item in my bag smelled of the fierce ground comino [cumin]; I bought blocks of canela--unrefined sugar. I also bought some dried canela sticks, steeped them in hot water last night and bathed til weary in herbs.
Ecuador--shungo--tierra de mi corazon.
Edited by stellabella, 18 March 2003 - 07:34 AM.