Five foods to try in Ecuador (besides guinea pig)

When discussing food in Ecuador, the most talked about meal is guinea pig, or cuy. But outside of butterflying cute cuddly rodents on a grill, Ecuadorians eat many other foods that are worth a try. From traditional to tropical, here are a few of the can’t-miss eats in Ecuador.

Llapingauchos: My personal favorite Ecuadorian food is llapingauchos, a traditional Andean potato pattie stuffed with cheese and cooked on a griddle until crispy and brown. Llapingauchos are typically topped with a fried egg and a few slivers of cheese and avocado, and served alongside carne de res (beef) and a delicious-looking salad that I would not dare touch for fear of contracting a parasite (it’s not recommended you eat uncooked vegetables from restaurants in Ecuador).

Pan de yuca: Made from the root of a tree, yuca is actually the third-largest source of carbohydrates for meals in the world. In Ecuador, it comes in many forms: in the rainforest yuca is grated and turned into a tortilla (pictured above), while in big cities there are plenty of fast food joints mixing yuca with cheese and baking it to make a bit-sized treats. Similar in size and consistency to a donut hole, pan de yuca is served piping hot so that the outside is toasty while the inside is soft and warm. Pan de yuca is usually enjoyed with sippable yogurt or coffee.

Choclo con queso: Translated as “corn with cheese,” its easy to guess what this meal consists of. Cobs of Andean corn, or choclo, have large kernels and taste less sweet than the corn sold in the United States. Ecuadorian cheese, on the other hand, is very fresh and moist with little flavor, much like tofu. Choclo con queso is often served alongside some earthy beans, making it a pretty nutritious meal.

Almuerzos ejectivos: Almuerzos ejectivos are fixed-price lunches that usually consist of a cup of fresh fruit juice, a bowl of soup, and a plate of rice accompanied by a piece of meat and/or beans (if you’re lucky, there will also be a small dessert). These lunches cost anywhere from $2 up, and the quality varies considerably depending on where you dine–a good tip is to see which restaurants are already populated with locals. Although sometimes criticized for being overly starchy and bland, within arms reach you will always find plenty of ají (hot sauce) to spice things up. More often than not, soups are served with a basket of popcorn or chilfles (plaintain chips) to be mixed in like crackers. Don’t be surprised to find a whole potato or a chicken leg in the bowl of soup. Although these aren’t the tastiest meals you’ll ever eat, it certainly gives you a real slice of Ecuadorian life.

Fresh fruit: This might seem like a no-brainer, but it would be a shame to visit Ecuador without trying the fresh tropical fruits available there. Although bananas, mangoes, and pineapples are popular, there are also some interesting varieties that are hard to find elsewhere–like guanabana (which tastes like a mix of strawberry, pineapple, and coconut), naranjilla (a mix between a tomato and an orange), and tomate de arbol (a sweet tomato that grows on a tree). Get them fresh at a market or from a cart on the street, or stop by a fruit stand and have them mix you up a fresh smoothie or shake.