10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, December 18, 2015

Here's the Nitty-gritty about Ecuadorian Almuerzo (Lunch) - Let's Eat!

Traditional Ecuadorian Lunch (almuerzo)

The traditional Almuerzo usually comes with soup, a piece of meat (beef, chicken, pork, fish),  white rice, sometimes ensalada (something raw) and, what is called menestra, which is a stew of usually either lentils, beans, or peas and a juice drink. 

The restaurateur will usually put outside the restaurant a slate board or whiteboard with the “menu of the day” and the price. That way you can know ahead of time what they are serving for lunch before you go inside and sit down. 

Menu of the day
Prices vary, depending on where you go and who they cater to. Ecuadorians do not generally spend more than $2.50 for lunch. Many of the $2.50 to $3.00 lunches still serve some of the tastiest and generous portions of food. 
Cabbage soup with other veggies - Cuenca Ecuador
 Non Traditional Almuerzo

In the almuerzo restaurants in Cuenca that cater to gringos you will often find prices as high as $6.50, but usually they are around $4 to $4.50. And they will serve foods they know gringos like.

Sometimes these lunches are a bit more creative and they make pasta dishes with chicken or rice or with sautéed beef. The more expensive almuerzo restaurants that cater to the gringos might serve lasagna and even hamburgers or Mexican food but the higher price will reflect the non-traditional lunches. 
Ecuadorian desayuno almuerzo - This one was 2.50 in Quito Ecuador

Ecuador Sopa (Soup) 

Soups in Ecuador are usually very good and sometimes they are a meal in themselves. Poultry is very good in Ecuador and so the chicken soups are usually tasty. Some of the more popular soups they serve with almuerzo are vegetable or a rich broth with bolon (fried green plantain dumplings or a pork dumpling). It's interesting.
Broth soup with bolon and yuca
Some of the soups are made with chicken or vegetables with pasta or a creamy milk or tomato based soup. They’re all very tasty and are made from scratch. Ecuadorians make some of the best soups we’ve ever eaten for the price. 
Tomato based soup with chicken

Ensalada (raw vegetables, Ecuadorian salad)

The raw part of the meal can be a very small salad of cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes drizzled with a little bit of vinegar and oil, or something simpler such as a half avocado. Sometimes the salad is more than just the side dish and is mixed with beans and mayo or potatoes and peas; if your salad is actually a bean or potato salad they will not usually serve (menestra) beans or lentils on the side.

Juice Drinks Served with Ecuadorian Almuerzos

We were living here for about 6 months before we realized (after I watched someone make ‘tree tomato’ juice) the juices served with the almuerzo lunches in Ecuador are loaded with sugar and not of the ‘integral panela’ variety, but the really refined stuff. So we quit drinking our juice drink when we have the traditional almuerzo. they are good though.

Here’s how they make the tree tomato juice in a nutshell.

Tree Tomato Juice: First they boil the tree tomatoes and then they skin them. Then they blend the tomatoes up with water; they use a lot of water to make the juice stretch further and then they strain out any loose tomato pieces, add sugar and blend again, then chill and serve a with the almuerzos.

When they make their fruit juices it is done a bit different because the fruits do not need to be cooked. I’ve watched them make many different juices at the Children’s home in Cuenca. Here’s how they make Papaya juice.

Ecuadorian Papaya Juice: They buy the huge papayas shaped like a watermelon and scoop out all the pulp. They then blend the pulp with (hot) water to make it go further; they strain out any small bits of papaya that did not get blended up to make it nice and smooth, and then they add a lot of sugar to make the drink even sweeter and blend up some more.

Interestingly we found that even some of the supposed healthy vegetarian restaurants, add refined sugar to their juices, because we asked of course. A warning to those that care about such things.
Quinoa /vegetarian Restaurant serves brown rice
 White Rice for SURE!

The one thing you can always count on for sure (seguro) with the traditional Ecuadorian almuerzos is white rice. There are a few restaurants that serve brown rice and we list them in our  Free Restaurant Guide. The guide lists some of the traditional almuerzos as well as some of the more North American style fare restaurants.

By the way, in Panama they also ‘for sure’ serve white rice or potato salad and juice drinks with added refined sugar, so it must be a Latin thing. Panamanians love potato salad, and sometimes instead of the rice, you will be served potato salad in the almuerzo. See our video about the differences between the Ecuadorian almuerzo and the Panamanian almuerzo here.
 Ecuadorian Aji Sauce

Aji is an Ecuadorian sauce made with onions, cilantro, sometimes tree tomato, aji peppers, carrots, herbs, etc. Each region of Ecuador makes it a little bit different. It is spicier on the coast. 
Aji sauce - Cuenca Ecuador
Our next door neighbor came over to our house and she showed me how to make aji using tree tomatoes (tomatillos) . Here's the recipe. It's very good.  

Pastre (something sweet)

Last but never least, at the end of the meal they serve slices of fruit or something a little bit sweet. It's always very interesting to see what you are going to get.
Until we write again…
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!


  1. Panama SUGAR story I always think of when on the subject... I know a nice family which ran a juice stand in central downtown Panama City. They told me they started with 2 scopes of WHITE-sugar in each drink and then asked the person how much they wanted. It ended up being 6 or more in each drink, they where about 16 oz. size or less. Oh by the way it was an ICE-CREAM scope-er they used! I would see them get many, many 5 lbs. bags of sugar delivered at a time and they told me it only lasted them a few days.
    NOW FLASH !!... heard this week where there would soon be 110 flights a DAY from the US to Cuba. They will serve 3 city in Cuba and be from major city's in the US (East to West). That is lots of traffic BUT most airlines fly into FL. and from there I would think you will change planes. Frank and Angie, it is time for a DIY Cuba Landing Guide... PLEASE!

  2. !DIYCubaLandingGuide. Well let's see how many people would want that. If you would like to pre pledge your interest in such a guide please say eye below...


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