Ecuador is located in the northern end of the Andes Mountains, just north of Peru. Ecuador is one of 17 megadiverse countries and is the most biodiverse country per square mile on the planet. Ecuador owes its diversity to its four geographic regions: the highlands, including the Andes and several volcanoes, the Amazon, the coast, and the Galapagos, the iconic Islands which teased the imagination of one Charles Darwin. Ecuador also has a rich history which is one part of a chorus of South American histories which include natives such as the Incans, who arrived and incorporated the natives into the Incan Empire in 146 and the Spaniard, whose 300 year rule ended in 1809. To the outsider, however, it is probably most well known for its location on the equator, from which it derives its name and the nickname "the middle of the world." Look at google maps and paste in these coordinates (-0.002194, -78.455799) to see the national monument.
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
You read that right: guinea pig. Cuy (pronounced kew-y) is the national dish of both Ecuador and Peru. Cuy was a source of meat prior to the cattle trade. They are often kept as pets, farmed, or left to run wild. In spite of the qualms you may have about feasting on a wonderpet, it is actually quite tasty. Many people describe it as a duck-rabbit mix, I think of it more like a quail-duck mix. Cuy is usually fried or grilled. They are eaten whole. Don't worry about a fork and etiquette, use your hands and tear it with your mouth. While plentiful and cheap in Ecuador and Peru, Cuy is scarce and expensive here in the States. It is only served in NYC and Houston, and carries a hefty price tag ($60 if you want the whole platter-pictured-and $20 if you want an individual portion). If you aren't into critters, don't let this rare opportunity spoil your appetite for the other amazing Ecuadoran dishes.
The northwest coast of South America was a stop on an East-West trading route. This route brought many Chinese influences to South America. Fried Rice is one of these culinary influences. While obviously tipping the hat to the Chinese, this dish is also distinctly Ecuadoran with plantains
Another favorite dish was the Hornado. this marinated roasted pork leg is served with a side of hominey sauté with pork gravy, and Llapingachos, which are essentially mashed potato balls that are filled with cheese (so good it will make you change your religion...).
All of this delicious Ecuadoran food is available from a new restaurant called Andes Café. Our group will definitely be returning there as this is a very important restaurant in our travels. It is important because there are several countries represented by its regional fare (it covers all of the Andes mountain countries) which we would otherwise not have food for in Houston, most notable Bolivian and Chilean. It is located close to the ball park and sports a contemporary, modern-art vibe.
Just one last fun little thing about Cuy...