Take a look at the variety of fruit for sale at one stand in the Mercado Central de Quito. Vendors quote prices in dollars because, well, that's the Ecuadorian currency. Ecuador adopted the American dollar in 2000.
On the left sits a stack of babaco, a large fruit related to papaya. Online descriptions suggest that babaco tastes like a mixture of any number of more familiar fruits, from strawberry to kiwi to pineapple to banana. Personally, when we tried babaco juice, it reminded us most of a combination of white grape and apple.
Pitaya and Cherimoya
Kenji has called the pitaya (left) the "coolest looking fruit known to man" and it's hard to argue with that description. Cut one in half, and you can spoon out the soft white flesh that tastes like kiwi without the tang. Little black seeds provide a crunchy texture as you eat.
To find a quotation about the cherimoya (right), we turn to Mark Twain, who supposedly called it "the most delicious fruit known to men." He must have liked the cherimoya's sweet, soft white flesh.
Tomate de Arbol
At the center of this overflowing table sit tomate de arbol—literally translated as tree tomato. Kenji has written about this one as well, complaining that its savory taste can be a little off-putting. However, we didn't mind the tart flavor when it was blended into juice.
The chili peppers just above will no doubt find their way into ají, the spicy condiment of choice across Ecuador.
Chicken and Egg
Look carefully at the chicken on the left and you'll see that it's full of half-formed eggs. Ecuadorians stew the whole bird, making sure to keep the eggs intact, to make Caldo de Gallina Criolla. In conversations with locals during our travels, quite a few called this soup their favorite dish.
Pig Trotters and Head
Ecuadorians practice whole-animal cooking as a matter of course. It was not uncommon to find chicken feet sitting at the bottom of a bowl of soup. Here, pig trotters and head are offered up for sale at the Saturday market in Latacunga.
Whole Roast Pig
By about 2 p.m., only the head of this whole-roasted pig remained at one food stall in the indoor market in Chordeleg. Little kids—and tourists—received a little piece of the crispy skin to munch on while they waited to place their order. The plate that later arrived at our table included more of the impressively-crisp skin, moist chunks of pork, pan-fried balls of mashed potatoes, and sausages that tasted as if they had been filled with Thanksgiving stuffing.
Fried Sea Bass
Enter the Mercado Central de Quito, and the longest line in the building snakes away from the counter at Las Corvinas de Don Jimy, a food stall specializing in fried sea bass. The Corvina con Papa, Concha, y Camarón may just have been the best thing we ate in all of Ecuador. A giant piece of sea bass gets fried until crisp-salty on the exterior, but still moist inside. It comes with a bowl of acidic sea food broth containing red onion marinated in lime and a scattering of shrimp that you pour over the sea bass at the last minute in order to help preserve the crispness of the fried exterior. Delicious.
We spotted the vibrant color of this stew while looking down from an upstairs balcony in the Mercado Central de Quito and knew we had to try it. They cooked this version from a tomato broth that, after a squirt of lime and a spoonful of ají became a pleasing riot of flavors. Only the giant chunks of albacore tuna didn't always put their best foot forward, becoming a bit too fishy in certain bites. (Fresher versions can be found nearer to the coast.) Wherever you get it, don't forget to add chifle (plantain chips) for texture!
These giant brown discs of unrefined cane sugar and brown sugar are often sold in Ecuadorian markets in plugs of varying sizes.
Though we associate potatoes with Ireland and Idaho, they originated in the Andes. In Ecuador, they show up in any number of dishes.
Carrots and Beets
The Sunday market in Gualaceo may just win the prize for the most attractive produce. The beets and carrots practically glowed.
Mercado Central de Quito vendors
Vendors at some of the markets could engage in a gentle-hard sell, coming out of their booths briefly to make sure you knew what they had to offer. But, ultimately, they weren't pushy at all, and couldn't have been happier to talk about their food with a curious tourist. Here, two vendors at the Mercado Central de Quito pose for a picture in their violet market uniforms.