Empanadas, Bananas & Chocolate From Scratch: How To Eat In Ecuador

So you’ve decided you want to travel to South America.

Given the fact that it’s about as far away from Australia as you can get, you wanna make sure your travel plans are tight and that you’re visiting all the right spots for an unforgettable, deeply-Instagrammable trip.

Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Peru are usually the top destinations on an intrepid traveller’s itinerary, and for good reason.

While you can’t go past the riot of Rio Carnival or the significance of Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, there are a few countries that slip under your average gringo’s radar.

One of them is Ecuador.

It probably best known for being a pleasant gateway to the Galapagos Islands and home to The Equator. But Ecuador has so much more to offer, especially if you like eating. Which, let’s be real, is a key reason for existing.

Contiki sent me (yo me llamo Lucinda, Lifestyle Editor at PTV) on an action-packed, 7-day adventure through four equally-diverse Ecuadorian cities.

I ate fried guinea pig in Tena, shook my tits in fiery salsa lessons in Quito and trekked through the Amazon Jungle with a group of 25 Contiki trippers I’m now lucky enough to call my mates:

I left my GoPro on while we went exploring, and cut together the best bits for you to feast on, including making chocolate from scratch in the Amazon and being scandalised by just how large bananas can grow:

As you can tell from the above audiovisual exposé, we had a heck tonne of fun. But the best bit about the Contiki trip was that our guide, Mayra, could give us the insider access and background to what we were doing.

Mayra grew up in the capital city of Quito, and having her as a link between the group and the locals was indispensable; especially since only three of us could string a sentence together in Spanglish.

Five fast facts I learnt about Ecuador’s food culture from the delightful Mayra:

1. Ecuador is one of the world’s biggest exporters of bananas and plantains (they’re like bananas, but used in more savoury dishes). Heaps of plantations line the highways in major cities.

2. For Ecuadorians, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. It’s not unusual to eat a whopping big serve of chicken, beetroot salad and yucca (sorta like a jungle potato) at midday then have a small soup for dinner.

3. Guinea pig might be a furry friend Down Under, but it’s a real treat to eat here. They’ll barbecue it like you would a whole pig and serve it up. It tastes gamey… and it’s not for the faint of heart.

4. Guayusa tea is one of the world’s most powerful (legal) stimulants. Made from dried Ilex Guayusa (a plant found in the Amazon), the tea is super sweet and has five times more caffeine than a regular coffee. The fact that it goes down a treat means you’ll probably go overboard, but luckily it doesn’t have any of the nasty side effects of too much java.

5. The Amazon is a hotbed for medicinal plants, and the locals we met in a village in Tena (the grandfather of this village is featured in the video, licking an ant out of a plant) are deeply appreciative of the incredible healing powers of the jungle. There are hundreds of natural remedies under the canopies, but one of them is that leaves from Cocoa Trees can be crushed and inhaled to clear your passageways. There’s plenty of food in the jungle, too: those ants are fulla protein and taste… a bit like chicken.

Me gusta mucho, folks. Me gusta mucho.