Street food from around the world. Ecuador: empanadas, humitas and corn tortillas

Jan 9 2023, 08:28 | by Michela Becchi
Simple and delicious preparations that conquer everyone's palate: here are three must-taste foods during a trip to Ecuador to better acquaint oneself with the local culture.

Street food in Ecuador

A country famous for its very rich biodiversity, which allows cooks to put colourful, fragrant, always different dishes on the table. More or less spiced recipes with an ancient charm, many preparations based on corn - symbol of the territory - and a lot of street food. In Ecuador it is easy to come across kiosks and carts selling mango with lemon and salt, a refreshing snack loved by young and old, together with fruit drinks or coconut water. Plus tortillas, empanadas, recipes also common to the rest of Latin America and which have travelled around the world over time. We have selected three typical street foods for you to try.

Empanadas de viento, the dumplings of South America

We all know empanadas, savoury dumplings famous throughout Spanish and South American cuisine: in Ecuador they are a must, even if it is a specialty officially born in Spain. In Galicia, to be precise, where they were already present in the Middle Ages, when they were probably created to imitate Indian samosas: in any case, the first written traces date back to 1520 in a recipe book in Catalan which speaks of dough shells filled with seafood. In the beginning, they were consumed on the occasion of the jaranas criollas, the Creole festivals with music, dances, shows and food, where the asado - traditional grilled meats - accompanied by empanadas reigned supreme. The fillings vary according to the area: among the classics there is the one with tuna, tomato sauce and onion; or filled with sardines or chorizo cooked in tomato sauce, but there are many other versions. The most famous in Ecuador are the empanadas de viento, so called because of the shape they take after frying, bulging and airy as if inflated by the wind. In this case, they are stuffed with cheese and onion, then sprinkled with a little sugar.

Humitas, an ode to corn

Stuffed corn leaf bundles, which contain a mixture of steamed corn, chopped and reduced to powder, mixed with onions, eggs and spices, often even a little cheese for an even tastier touch. Voilà humitas, one of the most loved street foods by Ecuadorians and also present in Argentina, Chile, Peru and many other South American countries, each adapting the recipe with local ingredients and techniques. But let's go back to Ecuador: humitas have their origins in pre-Columbian times, when they were prepared by the native populations and called humint'a in the Quechua language, a term which indicates cooked corn wrapped in its own husk. A hearty snack ideal at any time, vegetarian and present in many kiosks scattered throughout the country.

Corn tortillas, the South American dish par excellence

When you think of tortillas, the association with Tex-Mex cuisine is immediate. Those from Ecuador, however, differ a bit in shape and consistency: in any case, we are talking about round flatbreads made from cornmeal, which are believed to have already been present in the diet of the Olmecs, an ancient pre-Columbian civilization that lived in the central part of Southern Mexico. The presence of corn, moreover, has always been notable in the territory, and many of the recipes of South America are based precisely on this key ingredient. As often happens, even tortillas are a preparation shared with several other countries, in particular Colombia and Venezuela, where instead they are called arepas. They are prepared with a mixture of cornmeal, salt, a pinch of sugar, yeast and butter, often with the addition of eggs. A peculiarity of the recipe is that they are baked on a hot plate, usually made of clay. They can be enjoyed as is or with vegetables, or spiced meat.

by Michela Becchi

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