The Grande Bouffe

I am not going to review here classics of the Italian cinema (it happened once – have you seen such depths of my blog? Only in Polish, though). Following my friend Tadeusz’s request, I’m going to write few words about one of the things I don’t like in Ecuador – the food. It’s not that Ecuador has bad food. In fact, there are good products and delicious dishes here. Although, the cuisine here does not offer such variety as European ones. First of all, food in Ecuador serves the primary purpose of the food – it feeds. Being a pleasure is a secondary role.


Mami Luz Colonial. A typical cantina in Quito. 1.5$ for a lunch.


For some time, I have been eating with an Ecuadorian family. It was quite difficult to get used to their diet. Also the amounts of food were not sufficient. It’s not that I need a lot of it, but without some concrete protein to digest, I get hungry pretty quickly.


Yuca and a slice of cheese. It’s not a good cheese, too salty. It was my breakfast. No, I didn’t fill my stomach.


First of all, in the everyday life there is no big difference between meals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – all of them are based on carbohydrates. In the mountains those are rice and corn, sometimes yuca, potatoes, plantains, rarely pasta. In other parts of Ecuador proportions can differ – the coast eats more rice and plantains, less potatoes and corn. On the other hand, Oriente, the Eastern part of Ecuador, bases its diet on yuca, also limiting the amount of potatoes eaten. Regional differences apply also to meat. Pork on the coast, beef in the mountains. Although the only one ruling meat in whole country is chicken.

I know only two countries where soups hold such important place in the diet – Poland and Ecuador. I haven’t met it anywhere else. Ecuadorians eat soups as a first course of the lunch or as the entire lunch itself. All of them are rather cloudy and have the whole pallet of carbohydrates inside. One of the most interesting one is a soup from burned pasta. In almost every soup there are some potatoes or beans or other plantains and yuca. Soups are often cooked with meat or rather bones. The favourite part of the chicken to put into a soup is neck or chicken feet. I don’t know how to eat either of them.


A soup with some kind of fish, a piece of corn and something more that I wasn’t able to identify. It was no good.


I’ve written that Ecuadorian cuisine is not my favourite. It is mostly because it is not very diverse and doesn’t contain much spices. Most of dishes are just a piece of fried meat, a humongous serving of rice, a bit of other carbohydrates and sometimes a slice of tomato or few stripes of grated carrot.  They didn’t hear about real salads.


White carrot.


Despite its name, one of the few not dry dishes is… seco (Spanish for ‘dry’). Seco is made of any meat, which is simmered and served with the juice. And that would be it. The most interesting form of this dish is seco de chivo, made out of goat. It’s more tender than beef. One of my favourites.


Seco de chivo. This one was expensive. I ate better and cheaper one later. You didn’t expect it to look differently, did you?


Ecuadorians admire seafood and fish. No wonder. The coast is over two thousand kilometres (about 1500 miles) and it is slightly longer than the land borders! Also, both in Amazon region as well as in the West, tilapia is bred and mountain streams are full of trout. Therefore, whole country is full of restaurants such as “the Pirate’s treasure” that sell mariscos, seafood. They have also ceviche, which differs from its Peruvian (better one in my opinion) equivalent by the fact that it’s cooked with a lot of cilantro and lemon juice. It’s made not only from fish, but also from calmars, shrimps or some mussels, which I still fail to identify. A dish especially recommended for the hangover is ecebollado, a type of a cold fish soup with – as the name suggests – a whole lot of red onion.


Seafood in Machala at the Pacific coast. Including ceviche from shrimps, calmars and fish.


Oh, yes. Onion. Ecuador is the real capital of onion. They eat it with every meal. Mostly read, but sometimes white too. Onion is one of the main ingredients of aji, the hot peppers sauce. It contains also a lot of – what else – cilantro. I have to admit, the first weeks in Ecuador were a hassle for me in the terms of food. I don’t like spicy food, neither cilantro. I got used to spicy food quickly. Cilantro… I was told there is an almost magical way to get to like it. Joy, an American who’s been living in Ecuador for the last forty years shared the secret with me. She didn’t tolerate the taste, which she described as “petrol”. One should eat the cilantro flower. I was looking for it. However, before I got my hands on one, I got used to it’s everywhere presence and I can’t imagine my lunch without some spicy souce with red onion and cilantro.


The sauce mentioned above. It wasn’t hot, though.


I almost forgot to mention how bad is the cheese here. Besides white soft queso, they make mozzarella and parmesan which don’t taste like mozzarella and parmesan. Milk is ultrapasteurised that changes completely its taste. A dozen years ago grocery stores rarely were equipped with fridges. Such ultrapasteurised milk (heated over a hundred degrees centigrade, not only about eighty as normally pasteurised) can spend a year on a shelf in thirty degrees centigrade and still be drinkable, if it ever was.


Cheese from Saraguro at the organic market in Vilcabamba. No one eats such cheese on daily basis.


To finish, two more things to rant about – salt and sugar. What is salty, is usually too salty, what is sweet, is too sweet. And I barely use salt nor sugar.


You can buy many kinds of vegetables, but I believe only gringoes eat them.


I will describe some dishes that I especially like. Would you like some recipes? Or maybe a “how to” video? Let me know in the comments.

One Comment

  1. Hi Peter,
    It’s really nice to see that your blog is developing co quickly. Me and my friends are watching closely your amazing trip. I wouldn’t find a courage to go on a journey like you do. Maybe we could visit you in Ecuador or you will make us a visit in Liverpool for a pint of beer.
    With Love

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