Pizza, hamburgers and apple pie — these are the foods that come to mind when you first think about American cuisine. But what about Ecuadorian cuisine? Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Otavalo, Ecuador on a volunteer spring break trip through Northeastern University. It was such an inspiring experience and I highly recommend traveling there if you ever get the chance. While there, I discovered five must try local Ecuadorian dishes:

1. Cui (Guinea Pig)

Tiffany Liahkim

Ecuadorians consider cui to be a delicacy and tend to only eat it on special occasions, such as weddings. On the trip, I went to a cooking school and was able to roast some cui on a stick over a blazing fire pit. Almost like roasting hot dogs over a campfire, am I right? To be honest, it made me a little sad knowing that this had once been a fluffy little guinea pig. After eating it, though, I realized that it doesn't taste that much different than a greasy chicken.

2. Helado de Mora y Guanábana (Blackberry and Soursop Ice Cream)

strawberry, candy, cream, chocolate
Tiffany Liahkim

My favorite thing about Ecuador was probably these $1 ice cream cones. I know, I know, $1? That wouldn't even buy you a pack of gum back in the U.S. Also, I discovered my new favorite fruit: the guanábana, or soursop, which tastes like a cross between a strawberry banana smoothie and a coconut. 

3. Llapingachos (Cheesy Potato Pancakes)

Tiffany Liahkim

After taking my first bite of a llapingacho, I knew it was love. The saltiness of the cheese hit my tongue first, then the creaminess of the mashed potatoes slid down the back of my throat and then finally I felt the overwhelming need to replicate these beauties back home. 

4. Pan Dulce

sweet, cookie, cupcake, muffin, chocolate, cake
Tiffany Liahkim

Bakeries (or panaderías, en español) are an essential part of the local Ecuadorian experience. There is one on basically every corner — like how you might find a Starbucks on every corner in the U.S. Pan dulce, for those of you non-Spanish speakers, means sweet bread. But don't be fooled by the simple name, because after crunching into the sugary topping, my mouth hit the fluffy, sweet homemade bread inside and I was in instant carb heaven. 

5. Tortuga Latte from La Cosecha

milk, mocha, cappuccino, espresso, coffee
Tiffany Liahkim

Even though lattes aren't specific to Ecuador itself, the shade-grown, fair trade coffee there is a hundred times better than the Folgers instant coffee I drink back in the U.S. After tasting one of these tortuga lattes from La Cosecha, located right near the main outdoor market in Otavalo, I could never go back to drinking sugar-overloaded Starbucks Frappuccinos. Caramel and chocolate syrups blended together in foamy steamed milk combined with the smoothest espresso I've ever had made drinking this latte an unforgettable experience.

Hopefully after reading this, you've gained a little more insight into Ecuadorian cuisine. There are countless food options and it may seem difficult to decide on what to eat, but these five must try local Ecuadorian dishes will help you get started. Even though they might seem very different from what we're used to in America, food is the best avenue into learning more about a new culture. Better start booking your flight now!

If you're looking for other great dishes to try out while in Ecuador, check out this article