Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ecuador's Día de los Difuntos or Day of the Dead, Guaguas de Pan and Colada Morada

A vendor selling guaguas de pan or 'bread babies', traditional food for el dia de los difuntos (Day of the Dead)

"guagua" (pronounced wa-wa) is indigenous Quechuan word, not to be confused with Cuban guagua which is onomatopoetic word derived from the sound of old Havana busses

Día de los Difuntos (also known as Finados), or Day of the Dead, is without a doubt one of the most important and highly respected days in the Ecuadorian highlands, taking place on November 2nd.

This is the day when families celebrate the spirits of their ancestors through elaborate gestures such as the sharing of food, drink, and good conversation with the deceased.

Celebrated throughout Latin America as a result of the combination between indigenous beliefs and Catholic religion, the Day of the Dead takes place on November 2 around the continent.

In Ecuador the holiday is interpreted as a day to “catch up” with the ones who are no longer with us but have a life in a different world. People pack lunches of traditional food, flowers and offerings and head for the cemeteries where they spend the day as a family talking, eating and performing routine maintenance on the grave site.

The staple food of the season is the famous colada morada, a thick purple drink, and guaguas de pan, sweet bread in shape of dolls.

Traditional guagua de pan and colada morada

Weeks before the holiday supermarkets and bakeries begin selling the ingredients and store-made versions of the drink and breads. Colada morada is made out of black corn flour, blueberries, blackberries, cinnamon, and pineapple, among other ingredients that are cooked together and served hot or cold with the sweet bread.

To some people the purple/red drink symbolizes blood, which in turn symbolizes life of the ones how have moved on from this existence.

There are as many versions of colada morada and guaguas de pan recipes as there are households, because whether a family visits their long-time gone relatives at cemeteries or not, the great majority of Ecuadorians will taste their version of the traditional food.

The tradition of spending the day at cemeteries has declined in urban areas of Ecuador, however once you leave the city behind it is easy to find entire communities mingling at the local cemetery for the occasion.

My neighbor is from Ecuador and he is always eager to share his culinary culture with us and we have had many delicious dishes that he has made through the year from Ecuador.

This holiday was no different, as he and his family were over to share in our annual Halloween Kids Dinner (he has two sons, 3 and 5 yeas of age) and he wanted to share his own custom of drinking colada morada and eating guaguas de pan.

Both were truly delicious – the colada morada was SOOO delicious and I thought the guaguas de pan were very good too – but he was disappointed as it had turned out more like a baking soda biscuit than bread as was the traditional guaguas de pan. It was the first time he had made the guaguas de pan and I have to say – it really was delicious.

Of course, my culinary curiosity was piqued and so I did some research and I managed to find a couple of recipes for guaguas de pan online – in Spanish.

It was pretty simple to translate and once I got through the metric to imperial conversion; I was set to try my hand at the guaguas de pan.

My neighbor had made us the colada morada and guaguas de pan on the Sunday after Halloween and the actual Día de los Difuntos was on Monday.

I ran home after work on Monday night and went to work on making the guaguas de pan.

Guaguas de pan are 'bread babies'. (The word guagua, pronounced wa-wa, is Quechuan.) Some families make their own guaguas de pan at home, but most buy them from the panaderías, or bakeries, which only make them during this time of the year. These bread babies can be up to 12 inches long and are shaped with a ball of dough for the head and a long, tapering ball of dough for the body. They are decorated with icing and may have jam or some other sweet inside.

My first guaguas de pan

The recipe is really a basic one and I think easy enough for anyone to try.

GUAGUAS DE PAN RECIPE (pronounced 'wawas')

Yield: 6 guaguas de pan about 6-7 inches long.


2.2 lbsall-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons of salt
¼ cup of sugar
1 1/3 cup of butter, soft, room temperature
4 eggs
3 packs of rapid rise yeast

1 round tin of Goya Guava Paste - 21 oz.. Pasta de Guayaba

(You can also use your favorite jelly)


Colored royal icing (or I used Betty Crocker colored Cookie Decorating Icing)


1. Mix flour, sugar, yeast and salt together in a bowl.

2. Make a well with the flour, put in the softened butter and mix well, it should look like cornmeal.

3. In a bowl put the eggs, milk, yeast, and mix well and gradually add the dry ingredients and mix well until it gathers into a soft ball of dough.

4. Knead the dough on an unfloured surface until the dough is spongy and elastic.

5. Separate the dough into six equal parts, form into balls and let rise covered with plastic for 30 minutes or until doubled in volume (1 hour is using regular and not rapid rise yeast).

6. Roll each ball out into an egg-shaped oval to about ¼ inch to ½ inch thick.

7. Lay cut strips of guava paste in the center and seal dough around the paste.

8. Lay seam side down and shape into guagua or baby shape.

9. Let rise covered with plastic for about 30 minutes

10. Brush with glaze of one beaten egg and add raisins for eyes and nose.

12. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until brown and shiny.

13. Let cool for an hour and then frost with icing in bright colors.


The colada morada (translated as the purple colada) is a drink made from cooking blackberries, blueberries, cinnamon, cloves, and other fruits and spices with a little oatmeal in the water until thick. The drink is then blended until smooth. From the middle of October until the second of November, cafés and restaurants try to outdo each other in offering the best guaguas de pan and coladas moradas.

colada morada ingredients ready to cook


Recipes for colada morada can vary from region to region and family to family. While all versions contain the purple corn flour called 'harina de maiz negro' (cornstarch can substitute in a pinch) blueberry, blackberry, and pineapple, some will use naranjilla juice (an Andean fruit), babaco (champagne fruit), strawberries, and even raisins.

Tea Ingredients:

½ bundle of spices for colada morada (5-6 orange leaves, 1 fistful each of lemon verbena and myrtle)
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 whole allspice
4-5 cinnamon sticks
1-2 ishpingo (Ecuadorian cinnamon)**

1. Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with water (approximately 2 liters).
2. Place the spices in the water. Boil for about 15 minutes. Set this tea aside to be used later.

Juice base ingredients:

1 ½ pounds blueberries, rinsed of any impurities
2 pounds blackberries (boysenberries can also be used, or any combination of the two)
1 large pineapple, peeled and cored*
2 cups (or more) sugar
2-3 heaping tablespoons purple corn flour (or cornstarch)

1. Put the blueberries in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a roiling boil for 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. As the blueberry juice cools, blend the blackberries with a couple of cups of water. Strain the juice and set aside.

3. Cut the pineapple into small cubes.

4. Once the blueberry mixture is cool, blend it and strain it. Mix the blueberry and blackberry juices with the tea of spices above. (Divide into two Dutch ovens for easier handling.)

5. Add the pineapple and boil for about 20 minutes, or until the pineapple is soft but not mushy.

6. After the pineapple is cooked, add about 1 cup of sugar to each pot. Let dissolve and taste, adding more sugar if needed. (The amount of sugar needed will depend on how ripe the fruits are. Adjust the sugar levels to taste.)

7. Put 2-3 heaping tablespoons of purple corn flour in a glass of cold water. Stir and dissolve the purple corn flour and then add half of the mixture to each Dutch oven. Stir for about 5-10 minutes more, allowing the colada to thicken. Adjust the amount of purple corn flour as needed (more for a thicker colada).

Serve the colada warm or cold. 

colada morada - hot and delicious!

 Ecuadorians will eat colada with guaguas de pan, soft bread loaves shaped in the form of babies (guagua meaning baby in Quechua), filled with chocolate or marmalade, and decorated with frosting on top. In place of guaguas, any soft dipping bread will do.

* Other fruits can be added to colada morada, such as strawberries or babaco. If adding babaco, add at the same time as the pineapple. If using strawberries, add the fruit in the last step, cooking for about 5 minutes.

**Ishpingo is the Quechua word for the native Ecuadorian "Cinnamon" tree Ocotea quixos (Lauraceae), found only in a small region of Amazonian Ecuador and Colombia. It is in the same family (Lauraceae) as the common Cinnamon and has a similar aroma. It has been used locally as a spice and flavoring agent since pre-European times.


  1. Thanks a Lot!!!!!, que buena informaciòn, la colada morada viene desde nuestros ancestros hasta hoy se mantiene una tradiciòn con sabor, con cultura pura Ecuatoriana. Gracias por difundir nuestra cultura.

  2. very good. I'm like it.


Thanks for your comments! (^_^)