Eating Your Way Through Ecuador: Must-Try Dishes for Foodie Backpackers

Eating Your Way Through Ecuador: Must-Try Dishes for Foodie Backpackers

Ecuador, a small but extraordinarily diverse country nestled on the equator, offers a gastronomic adventure that is rich in flavor, history, and culture. From the lush Amazon rainforest to the towering Andes mountains and the pristine Galápagos Islands, Ecuador’s cuisine is as varied as its landscapes. For the foodie backpacker, the journey through Ecuador isn’t complete without indulging in its traditional dishes. Here’s a guide to some must-try Ecuadorian meals and how to recreate the experience at home.

1. Ceviche

Ceviche is a staple of coastal Ecuadorian cuisine, made from fresh, raw seafood that is “cooked” in citrus juices. Typically, you’ll find shrimp, fish, or a mix of various seafood marinated in lime or lemon juice, mixed with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.

Where to Find It:

  • Guayaquil: Head to the bustling Malecon 2000, where you’ll find numerous vendors serving fresh ceviche.
  • Manta: This coastal town is famous for its seafood, and you’ll find some of the best ceviche here.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Fresh seafood (shrimp, fish, or a mix)
  2. Lime juice (enough to cover the seafood)
  3. Chopped tomatoes, onions, and cilantro
  4. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. Optional: a touch of orange juice for sweetness

    Combine all ingredients and let the mixture marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

2. Encebollado

Encebollado is a hearty fish stew that is particularly popular along the coast. It is made with fresh tuna, yuca (cassava), onions, tomatoes, and various spices. Often enjoyed for breakfast, it is said to be a great cure for hangovers.

Where to Find It:

  • Esmeraldas: Known for its Afro-Ecuadorian culture and cuisine, you’ll find some of the best encebollado here.
  • Quito: Even in the highlands, coastal dishes are popular, and you’ll find plenty of spots serving authentic encebollado.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Fresh tuna
  2. Yuca, peeled and cut into chunks
  3. Onions and tomatoes
  4. Cilantro and spices (cumin, pepper, and annatto)
  5. Lime juice

    Boil the yuca until tender. In a separate pot, cook the tuna with onions, tomatoes, and spices. Combine the yuca and tuna mixture, and let it simmer until flavors meld.

3. Llapingachos

Llapingachos are delicious potato patties stuffed with cheese, often served with a peanut sauce, chorizo, and a simple salad. This dish is a comfort food classic from the Andean region.

Where to Find It:

  • Quito: Many traditional eateries in the capital offer authentic llapingachos.
  • Cuenca: Known for its rich culinary scene, this city is a great place to try this dish.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Potatoes, boiled and mashed
  2. Cheese (queso fresco or mozzarella)
  3. Peanut sauce (peanut butter, milk, and spices)
  4. Chorizo
  5. Simple salad (lettuce, tomato, and avocado)

    Form the mashed potatoes into patties, stuff with cheese, and fry until golden brown. Serve with peanut sauce, chorizo, and a simple salad.

4. Fanesca

Fanesca is a unique, hearty soup made with grains, beans, vegetables, and salt cod. It is traditionally served during Holy Week and is a culinary representation of Ecuador’s diverse agricultural bounty.

Where to Find It:

  • Quito: During Holy Week, many restaurants offer their version of fanesca.
  • Ambato: Known for its agricultural produce, this city serves some of the most authentic fanesca.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Salt cod, soaked and cooked
  2. Various grains and beans (corn, peas, lima beans, etc.)
  3. Pumpkin and other vegetables
  4. Milk and cheese
  5. Spices (cumin, annatto, and garlic)

    Combine all ingredients and let the soup simmer until thick and hearty. Serve with hard-boiled eggs and fried plantains.

5. Hornado

Hornado is a traditional dish featuring slow-roasted pork, often served with llapingachos, mote (hominy), and a variety of sauces. The pork is marinated with spices and achiote (annatto) before being roasted to perfection.

Where to Find It:

  • Riobamba: This city is renowned for its hornado, with many markets and eateries offering this succulent dish.
  • Quito: The Mercado Central is a great place to find authentic hornado.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Pork shoulder or leg
  2. Marinade (garlic, cumin, pepper, achiote, and beer)
  3. Llapingachos, mote, and sauces

    Marinate the pork overnight and roast it slowly until tender. Serve with traditional sides.

6. Empanadas de Viento

Empanadas de viento are fried pastries filled with cheese and dusted with sugar. The name translates to “wind empanadas” due to their light and airy texture.

Where to Find It:

  • Quito: Street vendors and cafes throughout the city serve these delicious treats.
  • Cuenca: Known for its pastries, you’ll find exceptional empanadas here.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Dough (flour, water, butter, and salt)
  2. Cheese filling (queso fresco or mozzarella)
  3. Oil for frying
  4. Sugar for dusting

    Fill the dough with cheese, seal, and fry until golden brown. Dust with sugar before serving.

7. Seco de Chivo

Seco de Chivo is a flavorful goat stew, slow-cooked with beer, naranjilla (a local fruit), and spices. It is typically served with rice, avocado, and fried plantains.

Where to Find It:

  • Loja: This southern city is known for its excellent seco de chivo.
  • Guayaquil: Many coastal restaurants serve this hearty dish.

How to Recreate It:

  1. Goat meat, cut into chunks
  2. Beer and naranjilla juice
  3. Onions, tomatoes, and spices (cumin, pepper, and garlic)
  4. Rice, avocado, and fried plantains

    Cook the goat meat with the sauce ingredients until tender. Serve with traditional sides.

Recreating the Ecuadorian Culinary Experience at Home

While traveling through Ecuador offers an unparalleled culinary adventure, you can recreate some of these delicious dishes at home. Here are some tips to help you get started:


  • Specialty Stores: Look for Latin American or international grocery stores that carry ingredients like achiote, mote, and naranjilla.
  • Substitutes: If specific ingredients are hard to find, look for suitable substitutes. For instance, you can use lime instead of naranjilla or mozzarella cheese instead of queso fresco.

Cooking Techniques:

  • Marination and Slow Cooking: Many Ecuadorian dishes rely on marination and slow cooking to develop their rich flavors. Set aside ample time for preparation.
  • Freshness: Fresh, high-quality ingredients make a significant difference, especially for dishes like ceviche and encebollado.

Cultural Context:

  • Learn: Understanding the cultural significance of each dish enhances the cooking and dining experience. Research the history and traditional ways of serving each dish.
  • Share: Ecuadorian meals are often communal. Invite friends and family to join you, and share the stories behind each dish.


Q: What is the best time of year to visit Ecuador for foodies?

A: Anytime is great for foodies, but Holy Week is especially notable for traditional dishes like fanesca. Coastal regions are best visited from December to May when seafood is fresh and plentiful.

Q: Are there vegetarian options in Ecuadorian cuisine?

A: Yes, while many traditional dishes feature meat or seafood, there are plenty of vegetarian options such as llapingachos, humitas (corn cakes), and various soups and stews.

Q: How spicy is Ecuadorian food?

A: Ecuadorian cuisine is generally not very spicy. However, you can add aji (hot sauce) to your liking.

Q: Can I find Ecuadorian ingredients online?

A: Yes, many specialty ingredients can be found on online grocery stores or marketplaces like Amazon.

Q: Is it safe to eat street food in Ecuador?

A: Street food is generally safe, but it’s wise to choose vendors with good hygiene practices and a high turnover of food to ensure freshness.

Embarking on a culinary journey through Ecuador not only tantalizes your taste buds but also offers a deep dive into the country’s rich cultural tapestry. So whether you’re planning your next backpacking adventure or a themed dinner night at home, the flavors of Ecuador are sure to leave a lasting impression.

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