Italy and Ecuador, Two Rich Traditions

28/Febrero/2012 | 20:32

Italy and Ecuador, Two Rich Traditions


Though there seems to be little similarity between Italian and Ecuadorian cuisine, what makes both culinary traditions equally rich are their commonalities.An abundance of natural products, regionalized cuisine, and outside influences have given both countries unique, gastronomic traditions. And both countries have, in some way, influenced one another.


Italian cuisine can mean different things to different people, just as Ecuadorian cuisine also takes on a different connotation depending on where you are eating.

Both Ecuadorian and Italian cuisines are highly regionalized, which is to say that what is prepared in Manta is not what one finds in Cotopaxi. Likewise, what one finds in the northern province of Lombardia is not the same as what is prepared from the products of Tuscany or Sicily.


Though the availability of ingredients is much broader in today's modern Italy, this was not the case until recently (before WWII).Olive oil has been traditionally enjoyed in Southern Italy, while in the north it is too cold for olive trees, so they typically used butter to fatten their dishes. With more sun in the south, dry pasta made with durum wheat and water is more traditional, but as you head north, fresher pasta with eggs may be more popular. And in the very north of Italy, risotto and corn meal often replace pasta altogether.


The tomato, often considered a very Italian ingredient, is used more frequently in southern regions due to climate.  But the tomato is not an old world ingredient. It came from the New World, along with other products that are found naturally there: potatoes, peppers, and corn.


What Is Italian?


Before the 19th century, the country known as Italy was a fragmented collection of regions inhabited, invaded, and conquered by many whose traditions took hold.   The Greeks, Romans, and Arabs all left their marks, with the latter often accredited for introducing the most Italian of all dishes: pasta. 


But the use and preparation of vegetables, fruits, and fish predate the noodle. And the Normans, Spanish, French, and Germans came to shape the food throughout different regions of the Italian Peninsula, creating a highly diversified cuisine.  


What is Ecuadorian?


Ecuador, too, has had outside influences that have shaped its food traditions. Most notable is the Spanish conquest which brought not just Spanish products and techniques, but influences from all over Europe.


When the Spanish arrived they brought new products, such as wheat, which allowed for the production of leavened bread and cattle, which introduced not only a new meat source, but milk and cheese. Aside from cows, the Spanish introduced pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, and honey bees. They brought more grains in the form of rice, barley, oats, and rye, and nuts like almonds and peanuts. New vegetables were introduced such as lettuce, radishes, peas, onions, and cabbage. And fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, mango, and papaya are from the old world.


But there is a natural richness found in Ecuador that is often overshadowed by the imported influences. Ecuador has one of the greatest diversities in fruits and seafood. Andean products like pumpkins, squash, avocados, yucca, quinoa, amaranthus, and many other grains, legumes, and vegetables give Ecuador a distinctively rich source of ingredients from which to prepare meals.


Regions of Italy


Northern Italy is characterized by hearty meals with significant meat production. Dairy is more important in the north than the south. Soups, risotto, corn meal, and stuffed pastas are staples and a distinct seafood tradition includes eel, mussels, clams, and other fresh water fish.


As one heads into the central regions of Italy a wider variety of meats are enjoyed, including lamb and poultry to accompany beef and pork. There is a great farming tradition and more grains. The climate is warmer, offering more vegetables.


Southern Italy enjoys a long tradition of breads and dried pastas. Meats such as lamb are more common due to the shepherding culture, except along the coast where fish and seafood are more prominent.


The richest source of cuisine in Italy is often attributed to Sicily. It is perhaps the most diverse because throughout history it has been the source of every traveler and invader in the Mediterranean, all of whom brought new ingredients and new methods for cooking.


Regions of Ecuador


We can divide the Ecuadorian food map, too, into some general regions. Cuisine from the sierra, though it varies greatly from north to south, has many of the same ingredients: hearty grains, starches, and legumes are combined with pork, beef, goat, chicken, and guinea pig.


Coastal traditions in Ecuador change dramatically as one moves from Esmeraldas in the north to Manabi in the central part of the coast. The "encocados" of Esmeraldas come from the local supply of coconuts. Manabi has a richer selection of seafood due to the cold currents that hit their coast and unique tradition of "sal prieta," a seasoning made from two key ingredients: peanuts and corn, ground together often with a few additional products that give it flavor. But all along the coastal plain it is the banana, or plantain, that unites Ecuadorian seafood traditions.


Coming Together


Ecuadorian cuisine continues to grow in richness, a result of the continued influences from abroad.Fabrizio Bari is an Italian chef working and living in Ecuador. His wife, Tania Espinoza, is an Ecuadorian chef who trained in Italy.   Together they own and run Rincon Italiano in Quito, which offers traditional Italian dishes. Today we offer their recipe for "Spaghetti al frutti di mare" (Spaghetti with fruits of the sea) using the native products of coastal Ecuador.



RECIPE Spaghetti al frutti di mare

Rincon Italiano



olive oil

4 cloves of garlic



1 lb. of squid

4 large prawns


3 tomatoes, peeled and cut

2 cups fish broth



Bring to a boil four liters of water, add a pinch of salt, and cook spaghetti until you have the consistency desired.

 In a separate pan, heat the oil and garlic, frying briefly before adding squid (cut and with skin removed). Add parsley, tomatoes, and fish broth. Cook for approximately 15 minutes. Place prawns (previously cleaned) in the sauce for two minutes, then add shrimp and cook for an additional two minutes. Mix spaghetti noodles with the seafood sauce and serve.

Ciudad Quito

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