With Ecuador’s geography clearly divided into three types (coast, highland, and Amazon), it will come as no surprise that each area features its own specific culinary delights. Here is an insight into El Oriente, as Ecuador calls its eastern region. Due to its vastness of impenetrable forest the region is home to a minor percentage of the country’s population, yet Ecuador’s Amazonian cuisine offers a variety of foods and drinks that will keep any traveler entranced.
Main Meal: Maito
Maito is arguably the Amazon’s most commonly served fish dish. While different types of fish may be used, the most common is (red) tilapia. The fish is wrapped in hoja de bijao, leaves of a plant common in Latin America’s tropics, and tied together with sapan, a fiber from a tropical forest tree. Maito is roasted on the grill and served with lemon, boiled or fried cassava (yucca), and a bit of salad. Some restaurants will serve maito with chicken instead of fish.
Side dish: Salprieta
Originating from the province of Manabí on the coast, immigrants brought salprieta to the eastern corner of Ecuador and you’ll now find it regularly in restaurants or at food stalls. Toasted corn and peanuts are ground to powder and mixed with condiments such as salt, black pepper, cilantro, and oregano. The mixture perfectly complements something simple like a fried plantain or your fish-and-rice dish.
Eating typical Amazonian meat may take some getting used to, as animals like monkeys, turtles, giant ants, and snakes may be part of indigenous people’s menu. While we didn’t encounter these types of meat in any restaurant in the town of Coca, mayón, on the other hand, was sold on the market and by street vendors in large quantities.
Mayón are the larvae of the black Amazon beetle (Escarabajo Negro), which feed themselves by hollowing out the trunk of a type of palm tree (killing it in the process). The maggots are roasted, deep-fried, or cooked in leaves. Or eat them as some locals do: popping them live in your mouth.
Among the simple delights of the Amazon are fruits, freshly picked, or served as a fruit juice. Typical Amazonian fruits are arazá, cocona, and chonta. Or enjoy the more commonly known maracuja (passion fruit): cut it open and spoon out the flesh.
The Amazon rivers are teeming with fish, the Ecuadorian part is home to as many as 800 species of fish. Three of them are piranhas and thus, unsurprisingly, you may have these served on your plate at one point in time. The important part about properly preparing piranha is slicing the many bones on both sides of the fish before frying it, making the bones crispy like chips and thus edible.
During the main meal of the day, lunch, piranha is generally served with rice, a menestre (legume in a sauce), a bit of salad, and fried plantains.
While there isn't one singular soup typical of the Amazon region, lunch in El Oriente is always accompanied by soup. Among the most common types of soup were biche de cameron, a soup made of peanuts; cameron (shrimp), yucca, beans, and vegetables; and sopa de encebollada, a fish soup commonly prepared with albacore.