Vegetarian Foods in Ecuador
I appreciate learning about local foods from the perspective of fellow vegetarians. While Ecuador and Loja have many unique meat-based dishes, since I cannot eat those I want to know the options for vegetarians such as myself.
Incidentally, I am not a vegan even though I feel better on a vegan diet. I try to limit my intake of animal-based products but do eat eggs and dairy products, especially while traveling. I have tried being vegan while abroad, and while it is possible, it’s much harder.
I like to mingle with the locals and politely eat what they offer to me, and the fact that I do not drink alcohol or eat meat makes it challenging enough without adding the additional stress of trying to find food completely free of animal products.
If I could eat meat without feeling sick I would do so from time to time just to be polite, but my body almost always revolts with nausea, diarrhea, and/or stomach pains—depending on the type of meat. I guess I just lack the enzymes to digest it! Because of this, whenever I travel abroad I try to learn a few phrases in the local language so that I can communicate my dietary needs.
Here are a few useful Spanish phrases for vegetarians, and I always include chicken and fish to “meat” because some people don’t seem to consider them meats, even though they move around and have brains and eyes…
I am a vegetarian.
Soy vegetariano (if you’re a man)/Soy vegetariana (if you’re a woman). Note: the “g” in vegetariano is pronounced like an ‘h’ – “veh-heh-tah-reeYAW-no.”
(I’m sorry,) I cannot eat meat nor chicken nor fish.
(Lo siento,) No puedo comer carne ni pollo ni pescado. Note: the “ll” in pollo is pronounced like a ‘y’ – “PO-yo.”
Does it have meat/chicken/fish in it? (Point to food or menu item.)
What follows is a list of ovo lacto vegetarian foods we found in Ecuador. Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, be sure to give them a try when you’re in Ecuador!
Traditional Ecuadorian Meal
Traditional lunches and dinners can easily be found in restaurants all over for about $2.50 per plate. These simple but filling meals often start with a bowl of soup (particularly at lunchtime) and typically include a drink and a generous plate filled with plain rice, fried plantain or potatoes, a salad or veggie of some sort, eggs and/or a stew made of some sort of legume [beans (fréjol), peas (arvejas), lentils (lentejas), etc.] and a meat. Substituting the meat with a couple of eggs or a legume was never a problem, and often they actually reduced the price for us since these substitutions are cheaper than meat. (Note: the header image in this blog post is another typical Ecuadorian plate; ask to substitute a legume for the meat.)
Humitas and Quimbolitos
Humitas are similar to Mexican tamales, without a meat filling; made with corn and steamed in corn husks, while quimbolitos are similar to humitas, but sweet. They’re made with wheat and/or corn flour, raisins mixed in, and steamed in large green leaves.
Bolón de verde (con queso)
These are fried balls of plantain, often made with cheese mixed in. They make them with meat sometimes, so be sure to ask first!
Ecuadorian tortillas are thick and stiff, very different from Mexican tortillas. Sometimes they’re made with cheese in them.
Tostada – also known as Prensado de Queso
These aren’t the Mexican tostadas you may be used to—they’re actually grilled cheese sandwiches! They won’t taste like the grilled cheese sandwiches you’re used to with American cheese, though—Ecuadorian cheese is less processed and has a different flavor and texture. Still, they’re good!
Chifles are a common Ecuadorian snack food, the equivalent of potato chips in the U.S. They are thinly sliced plantains that are fried to a crisp and salted, just like potato chips! Flavors vary depending on how ripe the plantain was when it was prepared. Some chips are savory like potato chips—others are sweet like a banana.
Yet another food made of plantains. As you can see, the plantain/banana is a staple of the Ecuadorian diet. If you’re allergic to plantains or bananas, Ecuador may not be the country for you. Haha! These are cut into thicker rounds and smash-fried.
Jugos and Batidos
It’s easy to find fresh fruit juices and smoothies in many places. Fruit is so abundant that they just about have to make drinks out of it in order to consume it all before it goes bad!
Bakeries are common throughout the city if you enjoy fresh breads and pastries at a low price. One common Ecuadorian pastry/breakfast item is the empanada, filled with different things such as cheese (empanada de queso), yuca (empanada de yuca)…you guessed it…plantain (empanada de verde), and other things.
Made with choclo, eggs, cheese, cilantro and a few spices, this makes a filling dish! One of our Ecuadorian friends came over to our house one morning and we made this for breakfast. Be careful when ordering it at a restaurant, though, because sometimes it is made with meat. Ask first!
This is a lot like corn meal mush, except that the corn has been toasted first, which gives it a slightly “smoky” flavor. Some people also call it matahambre, which means hunger killer!
Repe blanco or Repe lojano
My favorite local specialty was a creamy white soup made from green bananas or green plantains called repe blanco or repe lojano. We found it up by Parque Pucará de Podocarpus near the Teleférico on the east side of town, in a restaurant also called Pucará de Podocarpus.
One of my favorite things about travel is the opportunity to try new things. I also enjoy learning how to cook new dishes and invite the locals to show me how. It’s a great way to spend time with new friends!
Do you have a favorite travel food experience to share? Comment below!
Header image credit: Jose and Roxanne
My husband and I are nomads, having lived in over a dozen U.S. states, plus Mexico, Antarctica, and Ecuador. I write. I recently released the 2nd edition of my 2nd book, "Live Like a Local in Loja," and I'm looking for a publisher for my third book, "Seven Years Running"--the true story of my fugitive childhood.