Spending 3 weeks in Ecuador, I was introduced to a variety of traditional cuisine. What I expected was rice and chicken, and that is exactly what I got. But not without some new and delicious extra’s to try to…
The staple meals vary within Ecuador, depending on altitudes and culture. Most meal times consisted of 3 courses: a soup, with a piece of meat, vegetables, or noodles in, a rice and meat dish with a side of salad, and finally a bite size dessert.
Across Ecuador we ate heaps of plantain in various forms. Pretty much exactly like a banana, this sweet fruit grows all year round and is huge and green. It is most often served beside your meal either fried, or as chips with a sprinkling of salt, known to Ecuadorians as chifles. Being gluten free, often this was what my roll was substituted for, but I wasn’t complaining!
Staple to the jungle diet is yuca (also known as cassava), a potatoe. It is used the most in developing countries as a source of carbohydrate, which is exactly what we needed trekking through the Amazon. Yuca chips, yuca omelette, yuca crisps, and chi cha- a home fermented alcoholic drink which tastes a bit like natural greek yoghurt. Living in such a harsh environment, we witnessed the jungle people using the plants to their advantage, and learnt about the amazing medicinal properties each hold. A small mention of a stomach ache and one of our jungle guides would appear with a hot healing herbal tea- magical!
Another alcoholic drink is moonshine, which we begrudgingly drank in the jungle under the stars when the beer had ran out. Moonshine is illegal to produce in the UK, and is a spirit made from fermenting a countries indigenous ingredient. In Ecuador, it is commonly sugarcane. This is the most delicious snack in its natural form; basically a chewy stick bursting with a sugary juice, but as moonshine… let’s just say we had to psych ourselves up to do a group shot just once an hour, and it was not pretty.
At the end of our volunteering in the Amazionian Tuyano community, they held a party for us and laid out a real feast. We tentatively ate from plantain leaves, eager to try some of the jungle’s delicacies! This included the fruit from which cocoa beans are extracted. Cocoa beans are the basis of chocolate, but not the kind of sugary milky kind we get from Cadbury’s and the like at home. Dark chocolate contains much higher levels of cocoa, which is why we are told it is a healthier option. Ecuador used to be the world leader for cocoa production, but now ranks 6th, producing 4%. However is responsible for 70% of the finer, gourmet chocolate. It is a huge part of their economy and history.
The fruit from the plant itself, theobroma cacao, can be cut open revealing around 20 to 60 seeds, covered in a white pulp. It’s this sweet pulp that you can eat, and is also made into juices, smoothies and jellies. One evening we ground the cocoa seeds ourselves to make hot chocolate and bliss balls, yum!
We were often dubious, understandably, of the meat served on our plates, as I was warned before coming here of the Ecuadorians liking of cuy– guinea pig. Those furry little pets are popular up in the mountains, where we got our first sighting of it being cooked at a food market in Baños. The animal used to be saved for celebratory meals, but now is an easy and profitable livestock in South America. I personally didn’t have a try, but of course the boys did! What we did try was a classic Ecuadorian meal- llapingachos, potatoe patties with cheese, served with chorizo, salad, avocado, chicken, a fried egg, and of course, rice. It was so warming to eat a familiar tasting potatoe again that I ate about 6 of these llapingachos (definitely need to learn how to make them).
Overall I was delighted with the food we were served in Ecuador. It was raw, unprocessed, and things like jam were delicious without the sugars packed in. But after a while, the steak and onion pie with mash and veg and a glass of Merlot at The Secret Garden in Quito was just the English meal I needed!