By Lance Brashear
Visitors arriving in Ecuador are often amazed at the country’s wild and exotic fruit. Both strange and delicious, many varieties bear little resemblance to what they know and love back home.
An example is the granadilla, cousin of the passion fruit. To eat it, one is required to break open a hard outer shell and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp and seeds.
Another fruit oddity for non-Ecuadorians is the tomate de arbol, or tree tomato, an oblong fruit that fits in the palm of your hand. The color of its smooth skin varies from red to orange to yellow, and sometime with shades of all three. You can eat it in one of two ways: The more refined method is to cut it in half and use a spoon to scoop out the fruit inside. The less refined way, if you have to be outdoors especially, is to bite off the end, squeeze and suck out all the wonderful pulp, juice, and seeds.
Other strange fruits include the uvilla, or gooseberry, is a tart, berry-like, yellow-orange fruit about the size of a small grape, and the orito, a very sweet “finger banana.” Some common options that the visitor may recognize include: naranja (orange), piña (pineapple), mora (blackberry), fresa (strawberry), naranjilla (translated literally as little orange), and guanabana (soursop). The last two often require explanation for most visitors.
Enjoying fresh fruit in Ecuador does not always require instruction. One of the most common ways to consume exotic fruits is to simply drink them.
Naranjilla should not be confused with “naranja,” or orange. It is a small round citric fruit, with a green, transparent flesh and small seeds. It is generally utilized for juices and ice cream and not eaten raw.
Guanabana is similar to another Ecuadorian fruit in appearance and texture, the chirimoya (custard apple), only larger. Guanabana is the size of a softball or small melon, with white fleshy pulp and black seeds. It is used for everything from juice to ice cream and even pie.
As a general rule, if a fruit makes a good juice, it probably makes a good ice cream, too, and examples can be found in ice cream shops throughout the country. They offer some of the most traditional flavors such as uvilla and guanabana, but also strawberry, blackberry, maricuya (the real passion fruit, similar to its cousin, the granadilla), and taxo, a sour fruit known as the “banana passion fruit.”
If you find yourself in the Andes during late October or early November, you will have the privilege of tasting colada morada, a warm drink enjoyed only once a year as part of the Memorial Day celebrations. Colada morada takes its name from its dark color (“morada” or a deep violet) and is made with up to half a dozen fruits, the most important of which are Ecuador’s own blueberry, known as the mortiño – a smaller version of the traditional blueberry that many visitors are familiar with. Colada morada can also include babaco (a cousin of the papaya), pineapple, naranjilla, and strawberry.
Fruit also goes well with alcoholic beverages and many establishments take pride in offering a house drink that uses a local fruit. A good example is the the “Ecuaton,” a cocktail made with triple sec and tree tomato. If you are at the coast, near San Clemente, drop by Hotel Palmazul for a glass of grosella wine. The name can be deceiving but the drink is refreshing. Grosellas are slightly smaller than a grape and very acidic. The fruit is picked green and placed in a large container to ferment for 6-8 weeks. Then it is mixed with crushed ice and sugar and served in a tall glass beneath the hot sun.
If you find that you are not eating enough fruit and experience the not-so-uncommon intestinal blockage caused by the stress of travel, then Ecuador has two great natural, fruity remedies.
The first is papaya, which can be eaten raw without skin or seeds, or it may be consumed as a juice. The other fruit that has even stronger cathartic effects is pitahaya. Called dragon fruit because of its red color in Central America, the main variety in Ecuador is yellow. It has an off-white pulp with tiny black seeds and a sweet taste. It is not generally prepared as a juice, so cut it open and eat with a spoon.
Visitors often discover that the local fruit vocabulary can be cause for a lot of confusion. Here we offer a few points for clarification:
Plantains: They are not the same as bananas, though they appear to be. As a general rule of thumb, bananas are smaller and eaten raw, while plantains are cooked. Ripe plantains, or platanos maduros, can be fried and served hot. Unripe plantains, or platanos verde are fried to make “chifles” or banana chips. The maqueño, a large banana with rounded edges, can be boiled, fried, or baked.
Melons: Know that when you order melon in Ecuador it is a cantaloupe that you are requesting. If you desire watermelon, then ask for sandia.
Lemons and Limes: The lemon we know in English (the yellow, sour, citric fruit) is known as limón meyer. The lime is called limón sútil. And neither should be confused with a “lima,” similar in size to a lemon but with a green-yellow or green-orange peel.
Guavas: The guayaba is known to many English speakers as “guava” but in Ecuador they are two distinct fruits. Guayaba (or the English-language guava) is a round, yellow fruit with pinkish-yellow flesh. The Guavas found in Ecuador are pod-like fruits with a cotton-like pulp (the part you eat) and dark seeds (the part you do not eat). Another similar pod-like fruit is the tamarindo (tamarind, in English) with a brown fibrous pulp and dark seeds.
Tunas: Finally, if you are offered tuna in Ecuador, it is not a fish that you will be eating (the fish is called “atun”). Tuna, known as prickly pear, is cactus-like fruit with a red, sweet flesh inside.