Imbabura produces more corn than any other province in Ecuador, and hence we find many culinary specialties in which this precious crop predominates. Another central ingredient (perhaps the region’s secret ingredient) is the sun, since almost every crop is laid outside in courtyards to receive its flavor-inducing heat. Pork and guinea pig are the main meats.
A soup that tastes intensely of corn is not very common in the world. This is perhaps one of the most explosive examples (not always found in restaurants, yet common in homes) made from sun-dried corn (chuchuca) prepared days in advance.
Cuy (guinea pig)
A sacred creature to ancient inhabitants, the guinea pig not only goes in the pot to celebrate special occasions, it is also used live in healing rituals. In homes, it is boiled in soups, but most non-local Ecuadorians today find it much less appetizing than the crispy fried version.
This is a staple of the entire Andes, and therefore there is no lack of motein Imbabura. Made with hard white corn, or the thick-cob morochovariety, boiled first with wood ash, washed and dried in the sun, and then boiled again.
Bonitísimas (pretty things)
A special patty grilled on a tiestoearthenware dish, it mixes both corn and potatoes: cornmeal stuffed with an achiote, onion and potato ‘rehash’.
A mélange of grains and herbs, this is the region’s answer to the ‘bag of potato chips’. You’ll see Otavaleños munching all day on this snack: mote, peas, chochos(lupins), (sometimes pork) and beans cooked in onions, scallions, cilantro and parsley.
Carne colorada (red meat)
The pukaicha, in kichwa, or carne colorada, is perhaps the most idiosyncratic main dish of the region: pork marinated in achioteand then sun dried and cooked, usually accompanied with avocado, llapingacho potato patties and a pickled onion and tomato sauce.
This fabulous invention – as all good invention go – is simple and perfect: basically a potato ‘tortilla’ stuffed with melted cheese, fried in achiote(anato): one of the most popular and representative elements in the Otavaleño culinary tradition.
A ritual beverage made during Finados (All Soul’s Day in early November) prepared in large wooden cauldrons and mixed with a huge ladle or stick, made of corn flour, hominy and flavored lemongrass and pineapple.
Where to savor the best of Imbaburan flavor
To taste chuchuca, bean or quinoa soups, as well to good chicha, sometimes the best place is a local’s home (community tourism like operators Runa Tupari, the Karanki of La Magdalena or San Clemente can help you).
A classic Otavalo hole-in-the-wall is Mama Rosita (Sucre and Montalvo); and a block away, on Sucre and Moreno, another dive offers home-style typical dishes.
Las Coloradas Carnes de Esther Moreno Unda in Cotacachi has earned its reputation for preparing pork and ‘red meat’ according to grandma’s recipe.
Apart from hacienda restaurants, which offer local dishes in a more classic, restaurant atmosphere, you can also try Puerto Lago or Cabañas del Lago, two of the most picturesque places to eat in the region; the former on the west shores of Lake San Pablo, the latter on the east.