The squeamish should turn back while they still can, because things are about to get a bit weird. If we thought we were daring when we had tripe stew at a Nigerian restaurant, we’d be well out of our depth at some Ecuadorian eateries.
Before I even start to talk about soup made from a certain appendage, I should say that Ecuador does boast a lot of varied and delicious sounding food. Seafood features a heavily, as does fresh fruit – many of which are unique to the country – and their national dish is a whole hog roast, which is the kind of food that even some die-hard vegetarians have been known to sniff hopefully at.
But these dishes, with one notable and tasty exception, are the kind of food that raises serious questions about their creators and quite how they discovered that it’s edible (assuming it actually is).
Cuy (roasted or barbecued guinea pig)
That’s right. One of the dishes Ecuador is most famous for is what most people would consider the perfect pet for a child. Cuy used to be reserved for ceremonial meals, but now the poor things are eaten throughout Ecuador. But it does make sense; they’re easy livestock to keep and reproduce extremely fast, as well as being relatively low in fat but high in protein – similar to that other fluffy delicacy, rabbit. Apparently it can be delicious grilled, roasted, fried or even in soup. I’m a convert until I think about it too much.
Cuero de librillo (cow stomach soup)
Ecuadorians love soup. Really love it. Details on this one are a little sketchy, but technically it’s made with the outside of the stomach, which does little to allay my aversion to digesting stomach in my stomach. Still, it must be similar to tripe, and therefore liked by some people. None of those people are me, or work in the same office as me, because we are all disgusted.
Ceviche (cured fish)
By far the most normal on the list – in fact Jamie has a Peruvian version – it’s still pretty daring to serve up raw fish. You’ll be relieved to know that it’s made safe to eat by the addition of an acid that cures it. Traditionally that’s lime juice, usually with the addition of peppers, shallots, tomatoes and coriander. It’s fresh, aromatic, light and delicious.
Locro de papa (potato and cheese soup)
One of the staples of Ecuadorian cuisine, nothing out of the ordinary goes into this soup, but the combination is somewhat alarming. I am not sure there is another dish in the world that combines potato, avocado and cheese – and definitely not another soup. But along with the spices (most likely achiote powder and cumin) it makes for a delicious looking, hearty soup.
Caldo de tronquito (penis soup)
Finishing with a bang, this soup is said to have aphrodisiac properties. I’d think twice before serving it up to your better half on date night though, because the main ingredient is bull’s penis. I’d love to tell you what else is in it, but this is the only ingredient people ever talk about, and if you can get past that, you’re probably not really bothered what else goes in your food. I’m down with offal, but this is a step – or more of a leap – too far.