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Two months ago, I went to the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest to write about cacao. As it happens, the villagers didn’t eat a lot of cacao. But, they did eat a lot of incredible food that just happened to be growing around them.
Over the course of my stay, I went from foreigner to chef, quickly learning about their many delicious traditional dishes. By the end, I could make patacones with my eyes closed.
The one thing that I loved about the Amazon was that the food was always clean, fresh, and local. Any walk through the forest would result in endless fruits and vegetables ripe and ready to consume.
Breaking open a termite’s nest would result in consuming some of the sweetest honey in the world; walking beneath the trees would have us all snacking on bananas and avocados and cinnamon.
If you’re looking at heading to the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest, there’s a lot of food that you need to try. Over the course of this article, I will talk about the three best and most common dishes that you absolutely cannot miss out on.
Food in the Amazon Rainforest
1. Caldo de Bagre
This stew is one of the many delicacies of the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest, featuring recently caught catfish, yuca, sweet plantain, corn and spices.
The first time I had this stew was after a long day of working in the chakra – the ancient tree forest – and harvesting yuca and plantain. I walked back to the host of my house, helped myself to a steaming plastic cup of hierba Luisa, and then my host poured me a bowl of the soup.
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The fish was a gift from her father who had recently caught it in the local river and then brought it to her via canoe. She’d spent hours crafting a broth from the head and bones, then adding in the perfect mix of vegetables and spice.
By the time it was served, almost every member of the village had tried at least one sip of the stew and commented on how delicious it was.
Whilst in the Ecuadorean Amazon this is one of the dishes that you’re going to have to try – it combines fresh ingredients, hard work, and inter-generational love. It is sure to become one of your favourites.
Of course, being in an area surrounded by lakes and rivers, you’re going to consume a lot of fish dishes.
When I first arrived in the Amazon, I made it a point to ask everyone I met what their favourite dish was. More often than not, they would tell me that it was maito.
Basically, maito is a selection of locally caught fish which is then steamed in bijao leaves. Sometimes, yuca, plantain and spices are added – although the general consensus in the village was that the simpler, the better.
This quickly became one of my favourite meals. Unlike the breakfasts and dinners usually coated in oil, it was completely oil-free. It felt light and healthy and gave my stomach a break from the fried fish and fried patacones.
Two weeks into my stay in the village, I was finally invited to go fishing with the men. Whilst this did turn out to be a date with the intention to marry me off, I greatly enjoyed passing the hours holding a long stick with a plastic wire and hook hanging off the end, waiting to see what bit.
By the end, one of the locals and I had caught three fish between us. The second we went back to my house, my host wrapped them in leaves and put them above the fire. By the end of the hour, we were eating.
3. Sopa de Fideo
And finally, we have a soup made from small pasta pieces, yuca and whatever else the villagers decide to put in: usually, this was egg, river fish or potato.
This became a staple dish throughout my time in the Amazon. Almost every lunchtime would start with sopa de fideo and end with sugary hierba Luisa.
Sopa de Fideo is the food which sustained people throughout their work. It was what made them sweat when the sun was too hot and they needed to cool down. This was what was served whenever my host tried to matchmake me with one of the locals.
The dish is made with a lot of time and a lot of love, often left for hours to cook over an open fire. By the time it is served, the pasta is soft and the yuca breaks apart in your mouth – believe me, it is heavenly.
Be sure not to miss any of these dishes during your time in the Amazon. Each one will shape the way that you view the landscape around you. By learning to cook what the locals eat, you will be able to earn respect from the whole village.
Author Bio: Amy Aed is a freelance adventurer that loves to write raw, off-the-beaten-track guides to gorgeous places.