ECUADOR FOR VEGETARIANS – TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
When you are a vegetarian and traveling through Ecuador your first impression might be that you will starve. There is meat everywhere. But don’t worry, when you get to know the Ecuadorean cuisine better, you will notice that there is a great variety of vegetarian options. In addition, you don’t have to pay a fortune or search for a luxury international restaurant.
I have been a vegetarian for about 18 years and have traveled in many (Latin American) countries and I can assure that in Ecuador it is easy to find food without eating the same every day.
First, it should be explained, that the word ‘meat’ in Ecuador is used differently than in other countries. The literal translation for meat – carne – refers only to red meat (pork, beef), while pollo means chicken, pescado is fish and mariscos means seafood. These are the four main non vegetarian food groups in the country.
The term “vegetarian” is well known at restaurants and local food stands in bigger cities and tourist areas.
In Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil you can find vegetarian restaurants for all price levels.
Another good option in bigger cities are the “Chifa”. These are Chinese restaurants where you can choose from fresh ingredients what you want to eat. The dish is going to be prepared on that instant. A good choice is for example arroz con verduras/vegetales (rice with vegetables) or tallarines/fideos con verduras/vegetales (noodles with vegetables).
In rural and non-touristy zones it might be a bit more difficult to find vegetarian food. In most restaurants, vegetarianism is not very well known. In these kind of places, it is better to order directly what you want.
Almost every Ecuadorian dish includes rice. This is a good base for vegetarians because it combines with many side dishes.
In the mountain region, there is a higher variety of suitable vegetarian ingredients than in the coast region. Especially in the markets you can mix your own plate of food with the different types of legumes: frejoles (beans), lentejas (lentils), arveja (pea), together with choclo (a type of corn) and papas (potatoes). You can add queso (cheese), aguacate (avocado), huevo (egg) and will have a tasty, nutritious meal for a very good price (no more than 3 $).
At the coast, the main side dish besides rice is plantain. In Ecuador there are many different varieties of plantains, for example: the green unripe (verde) fruit or the ripe yellow one (maduro). Each one is prepared differently (see below).
Overall, in Ecuador you can find the side dish menestra. This is kind of a liquid stew made of beans, lentils or chickpeas. Together with rice it is already a tasty dish and you can order as an addition a fried egg or a slice of cheese or a piece of avocado.
There is a nice variety of vegetarian soups, especially in the Andes. Like for example Locro.
Locro is a quichua-origin word and means a thick stew based on potatoes, beans or corn. There are some vegetarian alternatives like locro de papas (potato stew), locro de queso (cheese stew), locro de acelga (chard stew).
However, pay attention as there are also locros that are absolutely not vegetarian: the yahuarlocro is made of lamb entrails and lamb blood.
Quinoa soups exist all over the Andean region. They are very nutritious and healthy.
In some places you may find crema de champiñones or crema de verduras which are in some cases made of packet soups but sometimes the only option available, especially in small restaurants.
Ají is on one hand the Ecuadorean word for chili and on the other hand a more or less hot and spicy chili sauce based on vinegar, peanut butter or tamarillo, etc. It is a nice addition to the flavor of every dish, snack or even a simple cheese sandwich.
Street food and snacks
Walking through streets, in shopping centers or waiting at bus stations you will always find stands with snacks and take away food with many vegetarian options:
As mentioned before the plantain is prepared in different ways and served as side dish or as a complete meal:
A very popular preparation is patacones. These are small flat pancakes of unripe plantain slices which are fried, flattened and finally re-fried. They are often served with salt or cheese and can be part of a breakfast.
Bolon de verde con queso is a big fried dumpling of smashed plantain and cheese. It’s a whole meal and pretty filling and you wont need much more food during the rest of the day.
A smaller version of the bolon is served in a soup which is then called sopa de bolon de verde.
Maduro – the ripe, sweet plantain – can be cooked or grilled as an entire piece, with cheese on it. It can also be served in fried slices as a side dish.
My favorite. It’s a solid paste of ground corn (choclo), onion, sometimes egg and cheese which is wrapped in the corn leaves and boiled in water. Some recipes might contain lard. If you want to be really sure, I recommend to ask: “son con manteca de cerdo?”
At street stands and even on buses you can get corncobs of the pale yellow corn with cheese (choclo con queso).
Also in Ecuador the empanadas are a popular take away meal. The dough of these pastry is made of either wheat flour or plantain flour and can be stuffed with almost everything. Normally fried, sometimes baked. Interesting for vegetarians are the cheese ones, which sometimes have sugar on it. Sounds strange but it actually tastes pretty good. If you are very lucky you may find a vegetable pastry – empanada de verduras.
Potatoes are served in many different ways. Of course also as french fries – papas fritas. Watch out not to order salchipapas. These are french fries served with sausage pieces.
Llapingacho is a tortilla made of smashed potatoes and cheese, roasted on a flat pan until it is golden. You can combine it with salad, peanut sauce or ají.
This is a vegetarian version of the famous South American Ceviche. Instead of fish it is prepared with chochos, the Andean Lupines. It is like a salad with onion and tomato slices, tomato sauce, toasted corn and sometimes chips of plantain.
Sandwiches and Burgers
Bread with cheese you can find almost everywhere. Also known as sanduche. Only in some cases it comes with the typical tomato and lettuce topping. If it’s too dry you can add ají or avocado.
The burger boom has reached Ecuador, as well. In bigger cities and tourist areas you can find more and more stands and fast food restaurants that offer burgers and very often also vegetarian ones, for example with soy meat. These hamburgesas vegetarianas or hamburgesas con carne de soja are sometimes served with french fries.
As you can see, you wont have to starve. Enjoy the vegetarian Ecuadorean food – buen provecho!
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