What are bollos, arroz con menestra, guatita or plantain? Does a fast food restaurant in Ecuador is simply a McDonald’s? Or maybe this term means something completely different? Does Ecuadorian cuisine fit vegetarians? What spices are commonly used in this cuisine? What exotic fruits can you try when travelling in Ecuador? We provide answers to these and other questions in this interview. I hope that my small talk about the Ecuadorian food will broaden your knowledge and inspire you to read more about this topic. 🙂
Karen was born in Ecuador, and she spent a part of her childhood in Guayaquil. She agreed to share with me her extensive knowledge about the flavours and popular dishes from this corner of the world.
(Ecuadorian food – a dinner in Puerto Lopez)
Karolina: Thank you for your time and I’m happy that you agreed to this interview. Although it is mainly concerned with Ecuadorian food, let’s start with a question which focuses on you. Could you tell me from what part of Ecuador you come from? Is there anything specific about this region?
Karen: Alright, so I come from Guayaquil and Guayaquil is the second main city in Ecuador apart from the capital. Over there, there is a lot of import and export because we have one of the main ports compared to others in the country. We export fish, cocoa and different types of aliments that we grow in Ecuador naturally. I can also say that since Guayaquil is the second main city, there are lots of places to go and to explore. And we have “malecon” which is a seafront where there are many shops. It’s a big city so you can do many things there…
Karolina: Yes, it’s a big city indeed. The next question is associated with our primary topic: the food. Let’s start with the bananas. I know that in Ecuador there are two different words to describe a fruit which Europeans may both consider to be a banana – a banana and a plantain. Could you comment on that and tell what are the differences between them?
Karen: Yes, there are two different kinds of bananas according to what we think. So, a first banana, the one that you eat in Europe is a “normal” banana – it is a sweet yellow banana. But we also have a small banana compared to the first one, and we call it plantain or green plantain, or, in Spanish, a platano macho. So what is the difference between them? The difference is that the first one, banana, if it’s mature and yellow, then it’s at the right point to eat it, whereas the other one, a plantain, can also become yellow but it’s also possible to eat it when it’s not mature at all. You can fry it or do with it many other things. We use it as an ingredient quite a lot in the cooking.
Karolina: So what can you cook with this plantain?
Karen: For instance, in a dish called bollos. To prepare bollos, we mash plantain and put it on a banana leaf. Then we put fish on the plantain, usually a tuna. Then we wrap everything with the leaf and, then, we put in a waterbath and let it cook for like about three hours. That’s one of the primary food we do in Ecuador with plantain but only when it’s green. You can also use that banana after you take it from a tree, let it mature, and you can make lots of things of that as well. We can also fry it or put in on the grill and make some fresh chips from them. When they are grilled, they smell inside. So, that’s mainly what we use the plantain for. Also, a mature ripe plantain is very similar to a banana, but if you taste it, it does not have the same flavour, and you can feel that it is softer and it becomes black outside. Although it becomes black like a banana, a normal banana would be off, whereas you can still eat a plantain at this stage. It can last quite a few months, I would say.
Karolina: Now the topic of bananas is behind us, could you recommend any Ecuadorian dish that can be prepared in the UK?
Karen: Regarding bollos, it would be difficult to make it here, as you need to find plantain and banana leafs. If you can manage to find them here, then, of course, you can make it, but I think it would be a bit difficult. However, you can buy just bananas and fried them – we call it chifles as we fry very thin pieces of banana like the chips and then you can combine it with everything, for example, a salad or you fish.
Karolina: Have you got any additional recommendations? For instance, ceviche?
Karen: Yes, ceviche. In general, we do a lot of seafood, and we use a lot of different fish. Regarding ceviche, in the UK, you can make it out of prawns and, then, you would only need onions, lime juice, sometimes a pepper and tomatoes and a little bit of oil. The mix of those ingredients, we all call “salsa”, and we use it not only for ceviche but for other dishes as well. So to prepare it at home, you simply add prawns to the salsa. Normally people cook the prawns differently, and salsa may also differ. For example, some people add to it an orange juice, mustard or ketchup. It depends on a person’s taste. And there is also something fundamental – a coriander. We use a coriander a lot. And, then, you can always eat that with rice which is also available in the UK. Regarding the rice, we are quite similar to the Chinese people; we always eat rice because we grow rice in Ecuador. There is also an another typical Ecuadorian dish that can be prepared here, and it is just rice with beans and then with some fried or barbequed meat. We call it arroz which means rice, con menestra, which means with beans. You can use black beans, kidney beans or white beans… Besides beans, we also often use lentils, and you can buy them in the UK as well. If you want to cook like Ecuadorians, the rule is that we can make everything out of nothing. 🙂
(Ecuadorian food – ceviche with prawns | photo credit: Rinaldo W. via Foter.com / CC BY)
Karolina: Does the Ecuadorian cuisine fits the vegetarian or vegan diet?
Karen: I would say it does. A vegetarian person who might have a slightly option to eat seafood may enjoy a lot of things made up from fish, prawns, crab or few kinds of oysters, including black oysters we call conchas. If someone cannot eat even seafood, we still use lots of vegetables and rice. Therefore, vegans also can eat it. In general, in Ecuador, we eat meat, but there are various options of dishes without meat so everyone can find something for himself. Vegetarians can also eat food made from plantain. At this moment I cannot think of other dishes, but surely many of them would suit a vegetarian of a vegan as well.
Karolina: Now, returning to the topic about the fruits, can you tell us something about the exotic fruits that you can eat in Ecuador?
Karen: The fruit we use a lot, for example, to make drinks and I found it recently in the supermarket, here in the UK, is called granadilla. This fruit is typical not only for Ecuador but for many countries in South America. Since many countries there share a similar climate, (unless you go down to South), then, we also often grow similar fruits. So, granadilla is one of the fruits from Ecuador that you can look for in the UK. Another one is called naranjilla. But it’s not similar to orange, even though the name sounds almost like naranja which is an orange in Spanish. Naranjilla is more similar to a sweet tomato I would say but instead of red, is has more yellowish colour. Besides a difference in colour, naranjilla looks inside like a tomato with seeds, and it’s apparently sweeter. Then, another fruit is mango, but now this fruit is very popular in northern countries too, so it is not difficult to find them here in the stores. The next fruit is a coconut but a different one that you can find here in the supermarket. In the UK you can buy a small brown coconut, and the one we have in Ecuador is a massive fruit like a ball to play football, and it’s also green. It’s easier to get from it coconut water. Another fruit is guanabana – I would like to tell more about this one, but it’s been a long time since I’ve moved to Europe. However, I still remember how it looks outside. It’s green, and it has bumps coming out of fruit. It’s challenging to find this one in Europe. Well, I would keep talking about fruits…
Karolina: I think you indicated quite a lot. How would you describe a typical dinner with family on Sunday? What dishes come to your mind?
Karen: Okay, it’s quite a difficult question… But let’s say: a typical dinner in Ecuadorian families consists, firstly, of the soup. Soup and I would say, juice.
Karolina: And what kind of soup?
Karen: Well, as I said we usually have to “invent” dishes from available ingredients. But when we gather the family, we often prepare a soup called encebollado which is made out of fish, typically a tuna fish. That soup also contains yukka which is another kind of vegetable. I don’t know its translation in English, perhaps, it’s the same. It takes a lot of time to prepare encebollado, and there are so many ingredients in it including onions, tomato and many spices like cumin, oregano sometimes depending on who cooks it. As yukka takes a lot of time to prepare it, you have to start making this soup in the morning to have it for lunch. Another traditional dish is caldo de bola, and it again makes a lot of time to prepare it. Caldo de bola means a soup of the balls as we prepare “balls” from the plantain for this soup. The size of those balls may vary. They can be, for example, of a golf ball size. It’s totally up to the person who makes it. Caldo de bola also includes lots of vegetables, for example, cabbage. To be honest, my mum used to prepare this soup, and at this moment I can’t tell more about how to cook it.
Karolina: What about the second dish that is quite typical for a family dinner?
Karen: For the second dish, we usually cook the rice with menestra, as I said before. Or it could also be a fish with salad and home-made juice. We can also make ceviche as made out of prawns. Another dish could be again prepared from the plantain, but instead of wrapping it in a leaf, the plantain could be simply cooked and mixed with the water and then, you add to it something like a stick paste. A paste made from prawns of fish… This dish does not contain anything else – just plantain, a paste and eventually some species. And you can serve it with the rice. Most of the time, all our dishes include rice. Now, another dish that comes to my mind is guatita. In Ecuadorian Spanish, a word guaca is used to describe a belly. And guatita is a dish made of from a cow belly.
Karolina: How to prepare this dish more specifically?
Karen: To prepare guatita, firstly, we make a kind of soup from the peanut butter. Then, we add to it potatoes, a bit of grind pepper and, in the meantime, we cook those bellies for hours and hours and hours. When bellies are ready, we mix them with the peanut butter soup. This dish is also usually accompanied with the rice. There is always rice in our cuisine. But if you are not a fan of rice, you can always eat everything with a salad.
Karolina: Are there any fast food restaurants in Ecuador? I mean like McDonald or KFC, where you can eat a hamburger or chips?
Karen: To be honest, we are not fans of fast foods. Yes, there are fast foods restaurants, like restaurants to go & eat but I don’t remember any McDonalds near the places that I used to live, and I don’t think that now it has changed. It’s mostly a culture thing. Since we cook our food at homes, we call a “fast food” this food that you don’t eat at home but go and eat somewhere else. But actually, our fast food restaurants prepare the same food that we would eat at home. The only difference is that you eat outside. Not many people go to McDonald’s. When I talk to my friends from Ecuador and ask them “where are you going to eat?”, they never mention McDonald’s. Unless you’re going to the shopping centre, local restaurants rather serve our local cuisine.
Karolina: This is very interesting. And what spices do you typically use in Ecuadorian cuisine? I remember you mentioned cumin but what else is popular?
Karen: Yes, we use a lot of cumin. Also, we use a lot of grand coriander and chilli powder. But we are not like Mexicans who add chilli to almost every dish. Then, we also use oregano, rosemary. I know it’s not a spice, but we also use aloes to add a flavour of dishes. We grow aloes in Ecuador, so it’s popular. We also use turmeric but not as much as they use it, for example, in Moroccan cuisine. We also use garlic, onion, pepper, basil. Regarding basil, we add it especially to the tomato soup and to pasta. One of my grandmother’s sister used to prepare a green pasta, called “pesto” and it contained a lot of basil. Then, we also use parsley. So, I think those are all the spices we use very often.
(Ecuadorian food – alfajores. Photo credit: jamieanne via Foter.com / CC BY-ND)
Karolina: The last question will be quite sweet. What desserts come to your mind when you think about Ecuadorian cuisine?
Karen: For example, a cake with walnuts, raisins, almonds. To answer your question, mainly cake comes to my mind. It’s quite an international dessert – we often bake the same cakes as Americans. However, what specifically we use and we add it to the cake, is something called “dulce de leche”. Dulce de leche is made from the condensed milk. So we put a can of condensed milk on the waterbath and then, we leave it for like 2-3 hours, it could be in the oven or the pan. Then it turns its colour to brown. Dulce de leche is similar to toffee, but it’s not the same. Dulce the leche is thicker than toffee. I would say dulce de leche is like the dark condensed milk. It’s amazing. We use as well to make something called alfajores. Alfajores are the small biscuits a bit similar to the shortbread. Two parts of the biscuits are joined by dulce de leche and coconut. Alfajores are popular in many countries in South America, not only in Ecuador. They are yellowish as they are made of the cornflower. Then, we also often prepare a polenta cake.
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