I’ll admit... this title is a bit misleading. Most of the junk food that exists in Ecuador is the same junk food that exists in the United States. What makes it Ecuadorian is the experience of choosing and buying it, AKA the ridiculously low price of it and the fact that it is (dangerously) available on practically every street corner. Lucky for you, you’ve got me to help you navigate through all your future guilty Ecuadorian junk food purchases. Let’s dive in.
Pictured below is your typical corner store. There’s usually a fridge for ice cream, a fridge for drinks, racks for cookies, crackers and chips and shelves for the 18+ items (mainly boxed wine – which tastes like the box itself - and the occasional bottle of liquor). To avoid early onset diabetes (which is a serious impending doom many tourists face upon arrival because of the prevalence of such corner stores), I’ve detailed some do’s and don’ts, some price ranges and some tricks and tips to help you out.
Perhaps what makes junk food purchases the most difficult here is that nutrition facts are fairly nonexistent. Some products contain nutrition facts, but the majority of them just have labels in red, yellow or green that tell you that a product is alto, medio or bajo (high, medium or low) in sal, grasa or azucar (salt, fat, sugar). Kiss your concrete numbers good bye; Ecuador only gives you a rough idea of how much damage you’re doing to your arteries. I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have to exercise all the self-control you promised yourself you’d have…from all your New Years’ Resolutions combined.
Your typical vanilla ice cream and chocolate shell. Particularly dangerous because it can be finished in about 5 bites and only costs $0.30… which naturally begs the question… why not just buy two? Sixty cents and 10 bites? That math totally adds up.
These are a splurge. Think designer ice cream bars. Comes in either coffee-chocolate or strawberry. I have yet to hear praise for the strawberry bar, so if it’s a treat yo’self day and you’re willing to drop the $1.25, pick the former.
These might single-handedly be fueling the energy of the youth of Ecuador. $0.15 ice pops. All flavors… and practically all you can eat because of the price. Perfect for if you need a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ that’s cold.
One-buck-chuck’s. Fairly fancy: cone with ice cream and chocolate syrup, sometimes with M&Ms on top. Sometimes get soggy in the packaging and never truly fills me up. Not sure about the calories, but I tend to think it’s more economical to get two of the Topsy Bars instead… and still have change to spare!
Usual suspects are available. 250mL bottles all the way up to the 2L bad boys. You can feel less guilty and quench your caffeine cravings all for $0.50!
Hardly ever more than $0.50, unless you’re in a particularly touristy area. No excuse not to hydrate.
Carbonated water. When you ask for water it’s important to specify “sin gas” or “con gas.” Don’t forget that detail!
(Apple Soda). Step awayyyy from the bottle. It’s a horrendous combination of sugar and DayQuil and food coloring. They love it here. I guarantee you won’t.
Energy drink. Also tastes like liquid candy. Far better flavor than Manzana, though. Chances are, if you need the energy that badly, you’ll endure the sugar overload.
Ritz are available, as are Salticas (think Ecuadorian Ritz knock-off). Prices are usually about the same…Salticas are slightly healthier (smaller in size, less buttery). Of all the snacks to buy at a tienda, I recommend staying away from crackers. You will inevitably come down with a stomach bug in your time here and end up on a strict cracker diet. Best not to get sick of them before they’re all you eat for a week straight.
Rather dangerous because they are only $0.50. Almost never Doubled Stuffed, so in my humble Oreo connoisseur opinion, no sense in bothering with plain old Oreos, even if they are only fifty cents.
Hard to come by! If you see them, don’t think twice! Buy them!!
Never a bad choice. You can have your pick from vanilla, chocolate, lime and strawberry. Solid impulse-buy.
Banana chips. Probably one of the best purchases you could make from a tienda. They come in personal bags as well as family size bags. Be prepared for the addiction. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Picante (or spicy) chifles are the move if you want a little more zest in your life.
Stay away from these. They are merely a constant disappointment when compared to the magic of chifles.
Essentially cheese doodles. Stable party snack. Great to munch on on long bus rides. Majority of the time we only buy them because we like saying “K-Chitos.”
Comes in small packages (think Danimals) or bigger containers with granola or cookies on top. Great idea if you’re in a hurry and want to pretend you’re being healthy. Just be warned that these containers come with a plastic spoon (a VERY TINY plastic spoon), so it will certainly take you longer than you’d like to finish this yogurt.
$0.50 chocolate and peanut bars. Life-changing. Ecuadorians like to hold them in their hands for a while until they melt and then eat them like Go-Gurt. I prefer my chocolate bars solid, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I say go for it. As if a $0.50 chocolate bar wasn’t problematic enough, Manicho also comes in King Size boxes with at least 10 bars in them, for about $2. Self-control, people.
Another $0.15 purchase. Generally only available in flavors like cherry and grape. Unless you’re a lollipop addict, need to use up the 15 pennies you have lying around or have a small child to please, you can generally stay away from chupetes.
Kit-Kats and M&Ms
They exist, but taste different. If you’re really missing chocolate from home, buy it, but chances are you’ll be slightly disappointed. Stick to Manicho.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on how you see it) many tiendas double as panaderias, or bakeries. It is nearly impossible to walk by a panaderia and not stop in to make a quick, guilty purchase after being unwillingly subjected to the heavenly scent of the sweet, fresh bread. What’s worse, almost every piece of bread costs a mere $0.30. Better start lovin’ your love handles. Below is a quick list of the usual carbolicious teases you’ll encounter:
Come in white or wheat. Always soft and warm. Sometimes come in other shapes (braids, buns, etc.)
Pineapple or guava bread
More like a pastry (on the flakier side). Has a sweet yellow filling (can be pineapple or guava). Both are delicious… if you’ve got allergies to either one, make sure you ask before just blindly grabbing something!
These are usually called empanadas (even though they look like your standard roll). They come with sugar on top, which is an incredible combination with the salty cheese. This is highly recommended!!
Flakey, buttery, soft and warm. There is really no better combination of adjectives. Croissants are obviously delicious, but for the sense of practicality, I’d avoid staying away from them because there’s no neat way to eat a croissant. If you grab one to eat on the bus, only 50% of it will end up in your stomach… the other 50% will end up on your stomach.
This is a bit of a disappointment. It always looks better than it tastes. I’m not sure what it is about the chocolate that’s used for this bread… but it usually lets me down.
It’s not very often that you see these, so if you do stumble upon it, by all means BUY IT AND EAT IT!
Consider spending some time in Ecuador to try these tasty treats yourself! Learn more about Manna Project's volunteer opportunities on with our upcoming online info session on Monday, November 21st at 8PM EST. Join the Info Session here: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/766371197