Ecuadorian ‘hornado’ is a culinary ritual. It has the power of truly transporting a local to his youth, family life, the yearning (these days) of getting together once again and celebrating Quito’s week-long foundation festivities. There are places and dates that are somehow linked to their cuisine and that is the case with the hornado and “Fiestas de Quito” in early December. That is why we cannot begin the month without hornado on our minds.
Hornado is a clear example of our country’s culinary mixed-heritage. The Spaniards brought eight Iberian pigs on Columbus’ second trip to America and, although we know that we can easily trace back the original recipe to the Spanish suckling pig tradition, in Ecuador, we have developed our very own take on the dish.
Sangolquí is considered by many —especially Quiteños— as the ‘hornado capital of the world’. But once you leave Quito, you notice that everyone has their own version and claim it as their own recipe. In Carchi, Chimborazo, Azuay there is a deep-rooted cult for the hornado. And, today, everyone offers their share of creativity given their ingredients or culinary preferences.
On the coast, for example, hornado can be served with sweet plantain, a peanut sauce, banana chips, even egg. In other Andean regions outside Quito, different herbs and spices are used to marinate the meat. And there’s nothing like experiencing the hornado ritual in the different Ecuadorian markets, where the cooked pig is presented whole, while cooks and vendors seek their clients out with flirtatious phrases: ‘que le doy, mi rey’, ‘le sirvo su hornado, mi vida’ ( “what can I give you, my love”, “are you ready for your hornado, my precious”…)
With rind, sour sauce, a double tortilla or ‘yapa’ (an extra serving)… what´s most important is the love with which this dish is prepared and served every day. Read on as we dissect this popular Ecuadorian culinary staple into its most basic components.
Quito’s Hornado, dissected
This traditional Ecuadorian dish in itself is a classic of Andean cuisine and consists of potato-pureed tortillas cooked on a flat grill with annatto and lard until golden and crispy.
The hornado meat
The life and blood of this dish: good hornado meat prepared with pigs 3-to-4 years of age. The entire pig is marinated in different sauces and herbs. In Quito, its most common to include garlic, onion, annatto, and cumin plus beer or chicha (a fermented drink) in the marinade. Marination takes days. Then, the pig is baked over low heat for several hours in a wood, clay, or mud oven until the rind bursts and the meat inside becomes juicy and soft enough to pull apart with your hands.
A creamy avocado
Because everything tastes better with a ripe avocado, it also provides great nutritional value to the dish. Today, hornado and avocado are inseparable. Quito is particularly famous for its avocados, especially the creamy ones from the Guayllabamba valley.
The perfect companion, a crucial grain in Andean cuisine, hominy should be cooked for hours until they are soft.
Hornado has a before and after the agrio, or sour sauce. “A good agrio can transform a normal hornado into a difficult-to-forget experience” says Galo Pillalaza, who is behind one of the most recognized agrios in the city, in his well-known dive Las Cosas Finas de La Florida (La Florida’s Fine Things). Every chef has a secret recipe which distinguishes him or her, makes them even famous at a neighborhood or citywide level. Tomato, onions, peppers, and coriander is the base; some preparations include chicha or beer. Others combine the sweet-and-sour taste with panela or brown sugar, vinegar and orange juice. Others versions are spicy.
And the ‘icing on the hornado cake’ is the rind, or ‘cuero’, a good ají hot sauce, and, of course, a cold beer… although we also like naranjilla juice (if you’re not into the alcohol).
We leave you with a list of well-respected hornado dives in Quito in honor of our capital city’s foundation festivities:
Iñaquito Market – Behind the Civil Registry Office on Avda Naciones Unidas
Cosas Finas de la Florida – In the north side of the city, near the old airport (parque Bicentenario)
El Legítimo Hornado Pastuzo – On Avenida 6 de Diciembre, near Clínica La Luz
Los Hornados de San Carlos – In San Carlos neighborhood, near Hospital del Adulto Mayor
Hornados Doña Miche – A classic in the outskirts town of El Tingo
Hornados Dieguito – The Sangolquí classic, also available in Quito