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Vegetarian Food
Vegetarian food staples such as grains, pulses and beans in market in Ecuador
Chochos with chifles and tostado - a nutritious vegan snack
Vegetables in market in Ecuador
Tostado (grains of toasted maize), another veggie option in Ecuador
Basket of corncobs (choclo) - a great veggie snack
Ecuador fruit market

Vegetarians & vegans
will find many delicious snacks in Ecuador, but may need
some Spanish language skills
and creativity to find
vegetarian dishes in
local restaurants.




Vegetarian Food in Ecuador

Vegetarian food is available in Ecuador, but be cautious.  Vegetarianism is still a fairly new concept in Ecuador, outside of the few vegetarian restaurants in tourist areas, and vegans are even more unusual.  A vegetarian dish is often understood to mean without red meat, so you may be given chicken instead...  Most vegetable soups are made with meat or chicken stock, and/or milk - ask if not sure.  Eggs may be fried in lard if you do not make your vegetarian requirements very clear.  However, with creativity and a bit of Spanish vocabulary, vegetarians and vegans can eat very well in Ecuador.
Tasty vegan dishes in Ecuador include "menestra" - stewed lentils (lenteja) or beans (frijol), though you'll have to explain that you don't want the beef they are invariably served with, or donate it to a fellow diner.  Menestra is usually also served with rice and fried plantain, so its a reasonably balanced vegetarian meal.
For vegetarians, eggs (huevos) can be found even in tiny villages and can be fried (fritos) or scrambled (revueltos) and served with rice (arroz) or potato (papa).  Add an avocado (aguacate) or tomato (tomate), with some chilli sauce to cheer it up, and you have a nutritious vegetarian meal (though probably one you will eat so many times that you get bored with it, if you spend much time in small villages in Ecuador). 
A vegetarian meal rather high in fat, but very tasty, is patacones (fried chunks of plantain) with cheese, avocado and salad - a great combination, if you can persuade the restaurant that you want them all at the same time.  For vegetarian variety, in the costa you may be able to get "yuca frita" (fried yuca, a bit like chips) instead of the patacones, or in the sierra, "choclo" (corn on the cob).  In the highlands, one of the best of Ecuador's traditional dishes, llapingachos (cheesy potato cakes) make a great vegetarian option.
The "chifa" (Chinese restaurant) that you'll find in almost every town will probably do fried rice (chaulafán) or noodles (tallerines) with vegetables (verduras), though you need to make it clear you don't want meat or prawns as well.  They might even have some more imaginative vegetarian options if you are lucky.  Tofu is sometimes available in large supermarkets in cities, and so some Chinese restaurants do serve it, but vegetarians should not rely on being able to find it.
Veggie street snacks rather than formal meals can be an effective strategy for vegetarians and vegans, if you are not too prone to stomach problems.  "Choclo" (corn on the cob) with chunks of fresh cheese (queso) is nutritious and often sold on buses or on the street in the highlands.  Maduro con queso (barbequed plantain filled with cheese) is a delicious and filling vegetarian snack in the costa.  Empanadas (a type of pasty) with cheese or vegetable fillings are good, though you will want to avoid empanadas de pollo (chicken).  Chochos are soaked and boiled lupin seeds usually sold with tostado (toasted maize) to eat as a snack - packed with protein and minerals, they are very nutritious and a great standby for vegetarians and vegans.
Supermarkets and stalls have a wide variety of roasted and salted peanuts (maní), broad beans (haba), maize (tostado) and other grains and pulses, such as soy beans or chickpeas.  Carry a penknife, a spoon and a bottle of water for washing fruit and veg. to open up a variety of healthy and cheap vegetarian picnic options.  Local markets are full of fruit and vegetables.  Avocados are filling and very nutritious - just cut in half, sprinkle with salt and eat with a spoon.  Top up your vitamin levels with washed and/or peeled radishes, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber as well as tropical fruit.  Bakeries often sell yoghurt which is handy source of protein.  (It's usually very runny, as it's intended to be drunk rather than spooned). 
Cheap set lunches (almuerzos) are almost never vegetarian so you will need to budget more for food if you are eating out as a vegetarian.  Tourist areas in major cities might have a vegetarian restaurant.  Pricey upmarket foreign restaurants (e.g. Thai, Middle Eastern) usually have vegetarian options though you're likely to be paying $10 or $15 a head.  Indian restauarants can be relied on to have a range of vegetarian and vegan dishes at more reasonable prices (perhaps $6 to $8), although there are very few of them in Ecuador - try the Great India Restaurant on Calama y Juan Leon Mera, in Quito's Mariscal district, and don't miss the malai kofta.
Strict vegetarians or vegans might find it more convenient to look for accommodation with cooking facilities if staying in one place for a while, especially if travelling in a group.  Note that while a huge variety of grains and pulses are grown in Ecuador, there is little or nothing in the way of processed substitutes for meat or dairy.  So, while you will have no problem finding ingredients such as quinoa, chickpeas (garbanzo), or oats, you are probably on a hiding to nothing looking for items such as quorn pieces, nut milks or dairy-free "cheese".
In small, menu-less restaurants off the main tourist trail, it is often more productive to suggest some easy vegetarian meals or simple vegan lunches, rather than panic them by asking what veggie dishes are available. 
If you are lucky enough to stay with a local family, you'll probably try some of the wide range of "coladas".  Coladas are comforting hot drinks, usually but not always sweet and cinnamon-infused, which are often served in the evening with bread or empanadas.  They can be made with oats ("avena", runny porridge), quinoa, "morocho" (a kind of corn), or various different types of flour (e.g. barley ("máchica", or "pinol" when sweetened and spiced), plantain, pea or wheat flours - the last being frankly pretty boring).  Most coladas contain milk. 
Vegetarians shouldn't have too many diet problems in the Galapagos Islands as eggs and dairy products are easily available.  Do get a written sample menu from your cruise boat in advance though, as you will be stuck on it with few other options.  
Vegans may face more of a challenge in the Galapagos and should note that there are many restrictions about what foods you can take onto the islands - these may include the nutritious snacks you might have been planning to survive on.  If you are able to find a Galapagos cruise catering for vegans, get a full written description in advance of how they will meet your nutritional needs and check that their understanding of a vegan diet is the same as yours.
Relaxed vegetarians who eat seafood and can remain fairly chilled about the odd bit of meat having sat next to their lentils, or chicken stock in the soup, will find eating out in Ecuador easy, enjoyable and relatively cheap.  Stricter vegetarians will need to speak Spanish to a certain extent and invest some effort to stick to their vegetarian diet, and their vegetarianism may cost a little more, but there are plenty of tasty veggie options out there and even a few vegetarian restaurants in the bigger cities.  
Strict vegans are going to have a fairly difficult time avoiding malnutrition in Ecuador if they wish to eat out in company, but it should be possible.  You will need fairly fluent Spanish to get the concept across.  A homestay is probably more practical than hotel restaurants for a vegan diet.  Self catering will resolve the problem completely as you can then enjoy the huge range of beans, seeds, pulses, grains and vegetables - perhaps even more vegan variety than you get at home.
¡Buen provecho! (Bon appetit!) Enjoy your vegan or vegetarian food in Ecuador!


Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Ecuador
Vegetarianism, vegetarian restaurants, finding vegetarian dishes in Ecuador, veggie food options, vegetarian snacks and surviving as a vegetarian or vegan in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.