Let me tell you a tale of how I came to crave vegetables like never before in my life: a trip to the mountains of Ecuador.
I can’t say that I can fairly judge Ecuadorian cuisine, or even the cuisine of Ecuador’s mountains that well, given my experiences on the trip. The inevitable travel sickness (I think coming from letting my guard down a bit in Peru) caught up with me on my second day in Ecuador, and intermittently took with it my appetite and for a brief bit, my ability to eat solid food. One word of advice for travelers in South America: Gatorade. It solves many ills, and they have much better flavors down there than in the states.
What I did experience about Ecuadorian cuisine, I had mixed feelings about. Mountainous Ecuadorian cuisine is largely about meat and starch– we’re talking the starch on starch action of potatoes with a side of mote (hominy). The meat varies, from pork to chicken to beef to fish to guinea pig (cuy). They (at least the mountainous folk) are not so into the spicy factor as the Peruvians, which was a minor disappointment, but the sauces are still extremely flavorful even though they won’t burn your face off for the most aprt.
I pretty much only had pork, chicken, and fish on my visit, largely because after an incident involving pork I did not feel like having any heavy meats. Honestly, though, I cannot explain the level of exasperation I felt with myself for having that feeling though because everything looked awesome.
The pork, though, was cooked to perfection– the hornado we had had crispy skin and moist meat. Hornado is a whole roasted pig, snout and all, that you get to have bits carved off of served with onions, mote, and llapingachos. And let me tell you about those llapingachos: if you like mashed potatoes and you like convenient food, you’d better try some. They’re pretty awesome, and I’d imagine pretty easy to make. Just be forewarned that they often contain milk or cheese (a.k.a. extra deliciousness as long as you’re not an unknowing lactose intolerant or milk-allergic person!).
Ecuador also makes some awesome fried chicken, which is kind of like chicken fried steak but chicken instead of steak– apanado de pollo. Served with chili sauce called ají and lime, that stuff was moist yet tender yet thin yet crispy. I need a recipe.
Trout, or trucha, is also very popular in Ecuador as it swims around in Andean streams, blissfully ignorant to the fact that it is immensely delicious to humans. Served in a variety of ways, trout has a deservedly respected place in cuisine (it’s so underrated and hard to find in the U.S.!). In the restaurant where I had some decent grilled trout (after a pleasant hike in their natural habitat), we also had our first experience with the famous Ecuadorian potato soup, locro de papas. Given that I love potatoes, I love cheese, and I love any soup that combines the two– I was on the verge of proposing to locro de papas. I found a reasonable looking recipe on myrecipes, but have yet to try it.
While staying with our friends in Cuenca (a gorgeous, affordable, clean, and not currently tourist overrun city, by the way), we had one of our first “fine dining” experiences of the trip. We went to Tiesto’s in Cuenca (yes, like the Trance artist), and it was both fantastic and affordable (we’re talking for an administrative assistant and an elementary school teacher from the U.S., too) and the chef was very friendly. I highly recommend it, but go in anticipating spending a little more than you intend to because they will offer you some tempting and delicious “upgrades” (note: I didn’t regret giving in to the roquefort filet mingon and chocolate cake with passionfruit ice cream, for whatever it’s worth). Make a reservation in advance, especially if you plan to eat before 9 pm.
Also interesting from trip: ceviche from a can from the Supermaxi grocery store. Marginally better than you’d expect. And the fruit? Freaking amazing. Period.
Overall, I don’t know if I would go out of my way for mountainous Ecuadorian cuisine but I’ll definitely integrate some of it into my cooking exploits. I’d definitely recommend Ecuador as a country to visit, because it’s beautiful, fairly clean, affordable, and conveniently small but packed with cool stuff (desert, ocean, mountains, rainforest, and more!).
Recap of things to try from Ecuadorian cuisine:
- apanado de pollo
- hornado (as long as you’re feeling up to pork. If you’re feeling up to pork, you should try cuy for me and report back! I’m sad I couldn’t try it.)
- locro de papas
- cebiche (just for the contrast with Peruvian ceviche, though you may like it more if you’re not so much into the sour end of the taste spectrum)
- trucha (trout)
- anything with ají, particularly shrimp (camarones)
- anything with maracuya or grenadilla (two different types of passionfruit)
Yeah, go to Ecuador. Try the cuy and visit the coast and please report back, because I wish I’d been able to try it all! But yeah, with all that protein and mote and potatoes, you can probably guess that one of the first things I ate when I got back was a big, fresh Californian salad. :)