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10 traditional foods in Ecuador you simply have to try

10 traditional foods in Ecuador you simply have to try

For such a tiny country, Ecuador really punches its weight on the culinary scene. You don’t associate Ecuador as a foodie destination, yet it has some of the best foods in the world. Instead images of Charles Darwin and giant Galapagos tortoises are more likely to spring to mind.

That’s what we thought when we first arrived, but very quickly discovered one of the most varied cuisines we’ve ever encountered in our travels with influences from the coast, Andes highlands and from its share of the Amazon basin. Remember: Ecuador is a tiny country, comparable in size to the UK or the state of Colorado in the US.

These are our 10 favourite traditional foods from Ecuador not to miss.

Llapingachos: fried stuffed potato patties

Llapingachos are one of Ecuador’s most famous dishes. They are fried potato omelettes stuffed with cheese, cooked on a hot griddle until crispy and commonly served with a fried egg, avocado, meat and peanut sauce.

They originated from the highlands but their popularity spread throughout the country, making them the national dish. They are popular in the markets where they’re prepared in bulk and served to hungry folk for lunch or as a side to another dish like hornados and fritadas.

Potatoes are a common theme for anyone eating their way around Ecuador. Potatoes were first cultivated in South America by the Incas and as a result there are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes growing in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

llapingachos famous foods ecuador
Freshly made llapingachos at Santa Clara market in Quito

Locro de papa: Ecuadorian potato soup

Locro de papa is a potato based soup with cheese, served with avocado and cooked with garlic, onions, achiote (annatto) powder and cilantro.

It is particularly popular in the Andes highlands of Ecuador, where it’s the perfect accompaniment to the cold rainy weather. The word locro comes from the Quechua word, ruqru, which means stew, and papa means potato in Spanish.

You can try out our recipe for locro de papa which kept us warm during those chilly evenings in Quito.

locro de papa ecuador famous foods
Sebastien showing off his freshly made locro de papa

Canelazo: the famous Ecuadorian cocktail!

Canelazo is a spiced hot drink from the highlands in Ecuador. It’s similar to mulled wine but with a richer flavour. A typical canelazo contains cinnamon, sugar, naranjilla (Ecuadorian citrus fruit) and puntas.

Puntas is a strong Ecuadorian alcoholic drink (around 30%-60%) made from sugar cane. The ones which are commercially made and sold in supermarkets are generally weaker compared to those that are home made. Ask around and a local will be able to point you in the direction of someone who makes puntas in their kitchen – but watch out: other than it being extremely strong, it’s illegal to produce home made puntas in Ecuador!

No Ecuadorian party is complete without a few pitchers of Canelazo or a round of puntas shots!

Empanada de viento: giant fluffy pies

Empanadas are famous throughout Latin America, particularly in the Argentinian cuisine. The Ecuadorian empanada de viento is made with regular dough, filled with cheese and served with sugar sprinkled on top. Other than the cheese, they are empty inside, just like the wind: viento.

And they’re HUGE!

Best place to try one is in one of the many small bars in Quito’s Old Town with a group of friends, washed down with lots of canelazo.

giant empanada de viento ecuador famous foods
A Friday night out in Quito’s Old Town with friends: empanada de viento and canelazos

Churrasco: a hearty complete meal

A churrasco is a very typical Ecuadorian dish and confusingly has the same name as the famous Brazilian barbecue. In Ecuador, churrasco refers to a plate of thinly sliced grilled steak topped with a fried egg, rice, plantains, chips, sliced avocado, salad, and spicy garlic aji sauce.

It’s a complete meal, which ticks all the boxes: hearty, delicious and contains a portion of carbs, protein and veg all in one.

churrasco ecuador famous foods
Freshly made churrasco in Guayaquil for lunch

Hornado: well hey there Porky Pig!

Hornado is quite bluntly a roasted pig, cooked whole, usually with a tomato stuffed into its mouth. It’s popular in the highlands and we tried it in the markets in Quito and Otavalo. It reminded us a lot of that famous Filipino foodlechon suckling pig.

Hornado is usually eaten wth llapingachos, mote (dried maize) and vegetables.

Hornado famous foods in Ecuador
Well hey there Porky Pig, ready for lunchtime?

Exotic tropical fruits

The wide mix of coastal, mountain and jungle climate means a lot of fun for fruit lovers. In Ecuador we encountered a whole new range of fruits we never heard of:

  • pitahayas: after travelling in Asia for 2 years, we became accustomed to dragon fruits. Pitahayas are similar to dragon fruits but they look more like prickly pears and taste much sweeter.
  • naranjillas: these are Ecuadorian citrus fruits and great as a smoothie or used to flavour canelazos.
  • uvilla: small bright orange fruits from the Andes which taste a bit like cherry tomatoes:
uvilla tropical fruit famous foods Ecuador
The cherry tomato-like uvilla fruit popular throughout Ecuador
  • granadillas: a type of large orange/yellow passion fruit
  • maracuyá: a more bitter type of passion fruit, red in colour
  • taxo: an oblong shaped type of passion fruit, bitter and yellow
  • tree tomato: the tomate de arbol is too tangy and acidic to eat as a raw fruit, but as a smoothie, it’s delicious!
tomate de arbol famous foods ecuador
Tomate de arbol fruits popular in Ecuador

Quesadillas with hot chocolate + mozzarella

Quesadillas are normally associated as a type of Mexican melted cheese tortilla. In Ecuador, quesadillas are a pentagonal shaped pastry filled with both sweet and savoury flavours, similar to Portuguese queijada.

Quesadillas are a popular breakfast treat and you can try our simple recipe for Ecuadorian quesadillas. In some cafes in Quito, the quesadillas are served with hot chocolate and mozzarella. Strange idea at first, but it’s actually a delicious snack worth trying out.

Quesadillas in Quito famous foods Ecuador
A happy Stefan with freshly made Ecuadorian quesadillas in Quito

Fritada de Chancho: an Ecuadorian pork fry up!

A fritada is a popular pork based Ecuadorian dish from the highlands. The pork is cooked in boiling water mixed with orange juice and various spices including cumin, onions, garlic, until the water evaporates. It is then fried in its fat until it becomes golden and crispy.

The key to a delicious fritada is all the sides it comes with, which can include sweet fried plantains, llapingachos, hominy (coarsely ground corn), habas (fava beans), yuca, corn on the cob, camote (sweet potatoes), sweet plantains, boiled potatoes and maíz tostado (toasted dry corn).

fritada famous foods ecuador
Freshly made Ecuadorian fritada

Seco de chivo: goat stew cooked in beer

Secos are thick Ecuadorian stews, usually served with yellow rice and fried plantains. Seco de chivo is a goat stew, eaten for special occasions in Ecuador. Traditionally, it was made with chicha, a fermented corn beverage introduced by the Incas, but today beer is used instead.

The meat is cooked in the beer until all the liquid has evaporated to produce these delicious chunks of goat meat. Whilst seco de chivo may not be the most photogenic looking dish, it sure goes down well with a few fresh Pilseners – Ecuador’s traditional beer:

pilsener beer famous foods of Ecuador
Pilsener the famous beer in Ecuador and the base for cooking seco de chivo


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Transportation: Public transportation is really cheap in Ecuador, but why use buses when you can get a taxi for a fraction of what it would cost at home. Uber is not (yet) used in Ecuador, however excellent alternatives include Cabify and Easytaxi. An average ride in Quito from the Old Town to the Mariscal will cost around $3.

Travel insurance: Whether you go diving, hiking or just lay on the beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.

Flights: Domestic flights within Ecuador are inexpensive. However, international flights to Ecuador can be pricey. We recommend Skyscanner to research your flights. Their website is very easy to use and they always offer the best prices. You can even search for the cheapest flights for any given month.

Hotels: Ecuador has a huge diversity of accommodation options. When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use to find the best deals and to book accommodation online.

For more inspiration:

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Recipe for Ecuadorian quesadilla
Recipe for Ecuadorian quesadillas
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Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born.

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