Travelers most often encounter Guayaquil, Ecuador on their way somewhere else. If you’re traveling to the Galapagos Islands or Machu Picchu, you might find yourself in Guayaquil for a night or two. This big, tropical port city has tried to improve its reputation and become more hospitable to tourists over the last couple of decades. You’ll find plenty to keep you occupied for a day in Guayaquil, and vegetarian travelers can eat well here.
According to Ricardo Cevallos, vegetarianism is growing in Ecuador. “The change in the consciousness of the planet affects even here,” he said. Cevallos owns El Manso, a boutique hotel and hostel and Manso Mix, a mostly vegetarian and organic restaurant, on the premises. Cevallos is a pescaterian. His partner has been vegetarian for 15 years.
Ecuador is two different civilizations, Cevallos said, estimating that about 20 percent of the people are Westernized and 80 percent are closely tied to their native background. While vegetarianism is associated with education and even elitism in many parts of the Western world, in Ecuador the less educated native people are more likely to be vegetarian, Cevallos said. More than 500 years ago, the indigenous diet was vegetarian, he said, but now pork is widely eaten. Those who choose to revert to the vegetarian diet usually do so for health reasons.
Most of Guayaquil’s vegetarian restaurants are in the central part of the city. So if you’re staying downtown, you can walk to most of them. And if you stay at El Manso, you’ll have easy access to veg food. El Manso offers a plain but decent continental breakfast of fresh fruit, wheat toast, butter, jam, juice and coffee. Availability of fruit varied from day to day, but was sweet and flavorful. You can supplement the continental breakfast with eggs and several types of tortillas. They also serve lunch and dinner.
When the Manso opened in 2008, Guayaquil’s main vegetarian options were Asian or soy-based. “We wanted to do something Ecuadorian,” Cevallos said. Instead of soy, the Manso’s menu focuses on local ingredients like quinoa and grains. Their quinoa burger with fried plantain chips is quite good.
The Hare Krishnas have a temple in Guayaquil, with a bustling restaurant downstairs. Krishna Restaurant is a cheerful place with hot pink walls, purple tablecloths and a TV playing Hare Krishna videos. The restaurant is open to the street for good people watching. If you don’t speak Spanish, simply go up to the counter and point at food in the serving area. You’ll get some approximation of what you indicated, plus or minus a couple of items. A recent lunch there included brown rice, vegetables, tofu, some sort of large beans, a fried spinach and potato cake, salad, carrot soup and sweet tea. Dessert was a fruity gelatinous (hopefully without gelatin, which isn’t vegetarian) concoction. All this cost $2.50. The restaurant is at 6 de Marzo 226, just off Victor Manuel Rendon Esquina at Centenario Park. If you want more Krishna, you can join their chanting every day at noon in the temple upstairs, or improve your Spanish at a Sunday night Bhagavad Gita study at 7 p.m.
Just a few blocks from Krishna Restaurant you’ll find the rather similar Shri Ganesha. The latter is not affiliated with Hare Krishnas, but decorates its walls with posters of Hindu deities and a large Om symbol. Shri Ganesha also provides the opportunity for non-Spanish speakers to point at the desired food in the serving area, and one of the cooks spoke some English. They feature soy burgers and other fake meats. You can eat on the main level or take your lunch to the quieter upstairs. The green, orange and yellow color scheme is uplifting. A plate of brown or white rice, dahl, vegetables and a potato patty cost about $2.50 here, too. Lunch came with mango juice and a banana for dessert. Bananas are Ecuador’s biggest export, and taste sweeter here than the ones that have been transported all the way to the United States. Shri Ganesha is on Victor Manuel Rendon Esquina.
La Alimentación del Futuro, at the corner of Machala and Hurtado, is small, busy, and open to the street on two sides. They specialize in vegetarian Ecuadorian food and make their own soy meat. They also offer packaged granola and soy-based cookies.
Aladino on Los Rios, just off 9 de Octubre offers veg and non-veg South Asian meals. The shabi chole, a spicy chick pea dish, was a standout. You can order your veg entree with rice or freshly baked whole wheat flat bread. This is the place to come if you want to smoke hookahs while lounging on backless red padded benches. If you visit at an off time, it might just be you and a few young men watching a Bollywood movie on the TV screen in the back.
If you find yourself craving a big breakfast of omelets, pastries, yogurt with toppings and miles of fresh fruit, you can’t beat the breakfast buffet at the Oro Verde Hotel. Guayaquil’s only locally-owned five-star hotel is located at 9 de Octubre and Garcia Moreno.