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|
|Cabbage soup with other veggies - Cuenca Ecuador|
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|
|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|
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|
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!