Ecuadorians grow a wide variety of potatoes but one reigns as the king of comfort food – the Papa Chola. It is a large, russet-sized potato with a pale yellow flesh and red skin. It falls apart when boiled, making it perfect for soups and for mashing.
Llanpingachos are small, round mashed potato pancakes. They have the flavor of a potato croquette, crunchy on the outside and creamy in the center. The best ones are served alongside roast pork or a fried egg and spicy, red sausage from Ambato.
Locro de Papas
This potato soup is famous throughout the Ecuadorian Sierra and can be found in almost any restaurant. Every grandmother has their own special recipe. All will include the Papa Chola, some milk, cubed cheese and sliced avocado.
Mote is very similar to hominy. It is basically the kernels of dried field corn that have been soaked in a mixture that includes either lye or lime. This process, called nixtamalization, changes the protein and carbohydrate structures of the corn. Hominy is husked, mote is not.
Mote is pan-fried in lard with chopped onion, minced garlic, and seasoned with cumin and salt. The starchy corn soaks up the flavors and the whiteness of the mote is flecked with the fried onion and garlic, making everything look a little soiled. Thus the name, Dirty Hominy.
Mote de Chicharron
Take a batch of Mote Sucio and add delicious chicharrón, bits of pork belly fried until crisp. This is usually served with a side of ají, or Ecuadorian hot sauce, and tostado, small kernels of corn toasted to crispy goodness.
Ecuadorians love fresh cheese. Each dairy region produces their own version and, while many of us cannot tell a big difference, cheese aficionados can spot the provenance of a well made fresh cheese from its flavor, texture and age.
Habas con Queso
Habas are fava beans. This common street food is also country comfort food, served in many local homes in the mountains. The hulled fava beans are boiled in their second husks until cooked. Once removed from the water, the cooked beans are salted and served in a bowl with a side of sliced, fresh cheese. Some people eat the fava bean husk and all; others take a small bite to cut into the husk and then squeeze the soft bean out into their mouths. Alternate fava beans with bites from the salty cheese. Delicious!
Choclo con Queso
Choclo is Ecuadorian for corn, specifically an ear of corn. The kernels are large, chunky and very starchy. They are not very sweet. The ear is either boiled or grilled to cook the kernels and served with slices of fresh, salty cheese. To eat the choclo, use your fingers to break off the large kernels, especially if you are sharing an ear with other people.
Maduro con Queso
Maduro is the nickname for a sweet, ripe plantain, a platano maduro. A favorite way to eat a sweet plantain is before it is overly ripe. It is grilled, split in half, then filled with grated cheese or sliced fresh cheese, depending on the region. The combination of sweet, starchy plantain with salty cheese is mouthwatering good.
An Ecuadorian who doesn’t love soup is a rare find. Soup starts almost every meal. But a couple of soups are made when someone is ill or just needs a pick me up. These can also be ordered in many roadside restaurants.
Caldo de Pata
This soup is made from a calf’s hoof boiled in water and flavored with onion, garlic and parsley. The final soup includes milk, peanut butter or ground peanuts and potatoes. The resulting soup is fatty and very rich. It must be served very warm otherwise the gelatin from the hoof coagulates, making the soup gummy. This is a soup that garners strong emotions – you will either love it or hate it.
Caldo de Gallina
It’s your grandmother’s chicken soup, Ecuadorian-style! While this soup is often made with a supermarket chicken, traditional recipes actually call for gallina criolla, or a farm-raised bird. The chicken is usually served in large pieces in a bowl of chicken broth flavored with carrots, potatoes and yucca. This is restorative soup recommended for tourists arriving from lower altitudes to the high Andes.