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.
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).
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.
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.
At street stands and even on buses you can get corncobs of the pale yellow corn with cheese (choclo con queso).
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
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!