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An Adventure in Eating-Traditional Food of the Ecuadorian Amazon Jungle

motorcycles crossing metal bridge in puerto misahualli ecuador in the amazon basinA big part of any motorcycle adventure to the Ecuadorian Amazon basin is the food. It is an exotic place where the geography, the climate, the culture, and the exuberant availability of produce, fish, and spices come together to give food lovers new flavors to savor.  The cuisine here is very different, being in an isolated location and away from the Spanish influence that affected the rest of the country’s cuisine. amazon jungle river in Ecuador motorcycle adventure tour

The people of the Amazon have always used what they had locally for their meals. More than 800 kinds of fish, 4000 fruits, and countless edible plants thrive in the Ecuadorian jungle. Wild ginger, garlic, ginger, peanuts, edible ferns, vanilla, amazon cinnamon, 25 kinds of peppers, and starches including yucca and plantains grow here.

To understand the traditional dishes of the Amazon you need to understand the people and the area where they live. Until a few decades ago there were few roads, and getting back and forth to cities to find supplies readily available in the rest of the country meant an arduous journey.

motorcycle traveliung on motorized canoe in ecuador amazon napo river

The A’I Kofan, Secoya, Siona, Waorani, Shuar, Kichwa,  and Siekopaai indigenous groups live in the Amazon, as well as two tribes that remain in isolation to this day: the Taromenane and the Tagaeri.

Some of these are hunter-gatherers, taking to the forest in search of wild boar, monkeys, and snakes and to the river for turtles and fish. Others, like the Waorani, grow cacao and have increased their quality of life by producing gourmet chocolate that’s now distributed worldwide. Chocolate originated in the jungle and made its way up to Central America after the Mayo-Chinchipe people traded cacao beans with people on the coast.

Different communities have embraced the interest of international travelers and created jungle lodges that benefit the education and medical needs of villages up and down the Napo River. Keep reading for a handful of traditional dishes from the "Oriente" - what Ecuadorians call the part of their country located in the Amazon basin.

a typical meal on a motorcycle adventure tour in ecuador amazon

Maito

Maito is tilapia Amazon-style. Not a native species of the jungle but rather introduced after being let loose from fish farms, red tilapia and maito makes an appearance almost everywhere you look. Markets sell it from stalls, lodges serve it to guests, and it is a staple of the communities around the jungle.

The fish is seasoned and wrapped in a Bijao leaf and then roasted over hot coals or on a grill. It’s traditionally served with yucca and the leaf broils the fish in its own juices, making it a tender delicacy that is not to be missed.

cooking over a fire in ecuador amazon basin on motorcycle adventure tour

Paiche

Paiche is a freshwater Amazon fish that can grow to lengths of 8 Ft. and weight over a hundred pounds. It has long been a staple of the jungle, grilled, fried or baked and served with yucca. It has a mild flavor, and often jungle kitchens serve it with ají negro, a specialty hot sauce that each community makes differently-but as a rule uses wild peppers and the leftover juices from making yucca bread.enjoying fish meal in the ecuador amazon jungle on motorcycle adventure tour

Long overlooked outside of the Amazon, Paiche has made its way into innovative kitchens around the country. Some use it for a new twist on ceviche, others put it in an encocado-a fish stew from the coast-instead of seafood, and has made appearances on menus in the states and Europe.

Piranha

plate of fish served on motorcycle tour in ecuador amazon basinThere are three different types of piranha in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, and are found in abundance in the shallow waters of the lagoons, rivers, and tributaries of the region. The small fish are often a lunch dish. Fried and served with a variety of sides including rice, fried plantains, and salad.

Soups and Stews

Caldo de Bagra

Caldo de Bagra is a robust stew that combines catfish, yucca, tomatoes, pepper, and spices into a meal that feeds the families and communities of the Napo River. It is a traditional dish and a staple. Fishermen bring back the day’s catch and the village elders oversee the preparation, bringing just the right balance of flavor and substance to the table.

Uchumanga

While the Andes have tripe and the coast has encocado, the Amazon combines the two into Uchumanga, a stew made with fish (all of the fish,) sometimes animal intestines, and a burst of spice that hits the right spot. It is sort of the Amazon equivalent of a Ploughman’s Lunch-whatever is on hand is put in the pot and served to hungry community members.

chontas in ecuador amaon basin

Exotic

Chontacuro or Mayón

chontocoros in ecuadorChontacuros are thumb-sized worms that live in rotting trees until harvested. They are a signature dish of the Amazon-sold on skewers at street stands, used in traditional meals at indigenous events, and even eaten alive. More often than not they are barbequed over open flames and eaten with fried plantains or yucca.

 

Chicha

Chicha is one of the most well-known beverages of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Traditionally it’s made by chewing yucca and spitting it into a bucket to ferment, saliva helps to break down the tuber and keep the fermenting process moving.woman preparing food in ecuador amazon basin on motorcycle tour

Unless you visit communities deep in the jungle, most of the time it is made without the saliva in the present. If you do go into a Napo community where it is still made the old-fashioned way, be aware, it’s considered disrespectful to refuse the drink.

drinking chicha in the ecuador amazon during motorcycle adventure tourOur High Andes, Deep Amazon Tour takes you to towns and places where the culture and community of the area are at center stage alongside the creatures of the wild. The way of life on the river depends on a reliance between the communities of the Oriente and the environment. The bonds and friendships that develop between travelers and the people who live there go beyond the beaten paths of other parts of the country. One day you might meet someone at a restaurant in one spot, and the next afternoon find that your boat driver is his brother.

For more information about our off-the-beaten-path guided and self-guided tours to the Amazon and the other regions of Ecuador, contact a member of our team.

visiting with community amzon ecuador motorcycle tour

About the Author

jon jaredJon Jared first experienced the itch for travel during summer trips with his grandparents to England, Scotland, and Wales. After visiting Zambia and traversing the mountain towns of Colorado, he moved to Ecuador in search of a new understanding of the world around him. In Ecuador, Jon has worked at hotels, restaurants, and bars; served as a local guide, and a freelance writer and editor. His work in print includes Delta Sky Magazine and the 2015 Moon Ecuador and the Galapagos guidebook.

 

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