The Cost of Food Shopping in Cuenca

You will save money when you grocery shop in Ecuador. Prices for local products are often substantially below those in North America. This is a result of the lower cost of living in Ecuador. The average monthly salary in Cuenca is $753.00 a month, with many earning $450.00 a month. Some items are subsidized by the government; others are  priced lower in order to accommodate the low average salary.

Alicia Erickson has researched food costs in six major Cuenca stores  in April 2022 (https://yapatree.com/cuenca-grocery-shopping-options-compare-lower-cost-of-living/). Her figures below are based on one pound, except where noted.

Proteins                               

Chicken     $1.25
Beef             $2.80
Pork            $2.00
Fish             $1.25
Shrimp      $3.00

Produce   

Onions        $0.40
Tomatoes  $0.40
Apples         $0.73
Potatoes     $0.30
Pineapple  $1.00 (1)

Staples                                             

Sugar          $0.45
Spaghetti $1.00
Flour           $0.47
Rice             $0.50
Beans         $0.80
Quinoa       $1.50

Miscellaneous

Box Wine    $5.00
Eggs (30)   $3.50
Milk (1L)    $0.70
W. Bread    $1.00 (loaf)
Honey         $1.00 (small jar)

Comparisons with the Mercados

Local Tiendas                28% higher
SuperMaxi                      61% higher
Other large stores       29%-55% higher

Last week at my Mercado, I bought a head of lettuce and a cauliflower, 3 green peppers, 3 white onions, 2 cucumbers, 1 humongous zucchini, 2 carrots for a total of $3.50!

Clearly, shopping in the mercados is the most cost-effective way to obtain groceries. Hence, their popularity. 

Fact: Unrefrigerated milk is sold in cartons on the shelf
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Herb, Hornado, or Haircut

Do you need a fish head, a wooden spoon, an exotic herb, a hornado, or a haircut? In Cuenca, you need to head to 10 Agosto Mercado in the El Centro, an authentic Cuenca market, where you will these items and many more than you can imagine. You must experience the sights and smells of this colorful market. Although it is open 7 days a week, it is best to go on a weekday when it is running full tilt.

When you approach the Mercado, you will find many vendors in front with their goods spread out before them or in a wheelbarrow. Wend your way through them and up a few steps and you are in the entry way of this large mercado. Ahead is a partial wall to block the elements from coming into this covered market.

You will first see piles of food stuffs along either side of the walls. Here you will find stalls of organic items in large baskets. Suddenly, you find yourself in a large courtyard-type space. Ahead is a decorated elevator with escalators on either side. Below one of these escalators stand indigenous women beating their clients with sage leaves as a purification rite.

Moving forward from the courtyard-type space are rows of meats, fruits, beans, and vegetables. Ride the escalator up to the second floor and these rows are duplicated. In addition, you will find multiple products for sale on individual tables: bags of various nuts, fruit drinks, more herbs; there are also Chinese imported products, wooden spoons and other wooden utensils, and even a couple of vendors offering a haircut for $2.50. Not to be outdone by the food products are rows containing clothing, shoes, and hats.

The prepared food smells will draw you back toward the escalators. Along either balcony side are individual food vendors offering you an inexpensive meal of typical Ecuadorian fare with tables opposite for your use. At the end of these food rows in a larger eating area are more food choices. Here you will find the hornado, a whole roasted pig served with boiled local corn kernels, mashed potato balls glazed with homemade sauce, and fresh salad mix. The pulled pork meal will melt in your mouth. This $4.00 meal can be topped with a glass of coconut milk or a fruit drink for another $1.00.

The 10 Agosto Mercado has been around since 1954. A trip to El Centro would not be complete without visiting this amazing “grocery store”.

Fact: Ecuador has some 40 large and colorful native mercados
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Latin American Cuisine Doesn’t Get the Credit it Deserves

Reprinted with permission from Cuenca Highlife, Sep 27, 2022 [edited]

By Carrie Dennett

Back in August, I wrote about how I wouldn’t promote the Mediterranean diet like I used to. One reason is that the heavy emphasis on this way of eating – although delicious and nutritious – rejects other traditional ways of eating, also. It’s delicious and nutritious, but it hasn’t benefited from being highlighted by research. Take Latin American cuisine, for example.

Like the Mediterranean [diet], “Latin America” ​​is not a monolith. It is quite diverse, consisting of Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America – countries influenced by Spanish or Portuguese colonization that began centuries ago.

While there are common threads, the cuisines in this part of the world can be strongly regional, reflecting the blending of influences from the … natives, their colonizers, and enslaved Africans. In her stunning book, “The South American Table,” food writer, cookbook, and culinary historian Maria Baez-Kejak describes South American cuisine as “a unique cuisine that I believe has no equal in the world.”

From Cuenca Highlife, 9/27/2022

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a common non-Hispanic misconception that Latin American cuisine is less than healthy — too high in carbs and fat, and too low in vegetables. Ironically, because I’ve also seen diet/wellness culture … cherry pick some traditional Latin American foods like “superfoods” – avocado, chia seeds, quinoa, coconut milk, cashews, and oat milk – while demonizing other traditional foods, like corn, white rice, and potatoes. No matter that corn is a whole grain, potatoes contain a lot of nutrients, and a cup of brown rice contains only one gram more fiber than white rice.

It is easy to get an idea of ​​a culture’s cuisine from what we see on restaurant menus (including fast food menus), although this usually does not reflect what people from that culture eat and cook at home on an average day. For example, soups (sopas) and stews (caldos) are important in Latin American cuisine, but most Latin American restaurants do not feature them.

In the United States, we are often used to meals that contain separate sources of protein and vegetables, such as grilled chicken with broccoli. With Latin American foods, mixed dishes are more common, and vegetables are used as a basis for flavor and as a garnish, so it may not be clear how many vegetables you’re eating.

Beans, soups, and stews can be cooked with sofrito – most versions start with onions and/or garlic, then other ingredients like tomatoes and bell peppers are added – then topped with fresh sauce or raw vegetable garnishes, such as shredded cabbage, radish, carrots, or onions. Sauces, another important ingredient in Latin American cooking, are often also made from aromatic vegetables. There may also be a serving of pickled, fermented, or grilled vegetables on the side.

Pixabay.com

When I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina, nearly 14 years ago, I had a little whim when quite a few restaurant menus had salads like what I ordered at home. But the grilled vegetables were plentiful. (As I learned from Maricel E. Presilla’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, “Gran Cocina Latina,” there are Latin American salads — they’re not just the leafy green combinations you’re used to.)

From Cuenca Highlife, 9/27/2022

When I visited Ecuador a decade later, I was much cooler about the food.

We can learn a lot from Latin American food, including how to use vegetables as flavor and how to incorporate more beans – a great source of protein, fiber and other nutrients. Like every food culture, Latin American food culture is nutritious and delicious, and it’s worth celebrating.

Fact:  Ecuadorian food is as diverse as its landscape. 
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Chocolate Anyone?

Gold has always been sought in Ecuador. The Conquistadors scoured Ecuador for these deposits, as they did throughout South America. Their intent was to extract whatever resources they could from the continent, even while attempting to convert the indigenous to Catholicism. One of these resources was liquid chocolate, a commodity that became all the rage in Europe.

At the same time, the Incas used chocolate as currency, as it was valued for its taste and its perceived magical qualities. Francisco Valdez, an archaeologist, dug up some pottery that contained microscopic remnants of cocoa. Is it possible that Ecuador is the original home for the cocoa bean? This discovery in the Amazon indicates that cocoa beans were being harvested and added to the diet of the indigenous more than 5,000 years ago.

Out on a Limb

There was a chocolate boom in the 1800s and Ecuador, as the largest producer of cocoa, saw fortunes made almost over night. This was attributed to the high quality of the cocoa bean found in Ecuador. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, is attributed to making the first chocolate bar in 1847, a treat that soared in popularity throughout the world. The boom lasted until 1916 when the Ecuador crop was hit by a fungus that crushed plantations for many years. Abroad, Fry’s Chocolates survived for several generations, eventually merging with their strongest competitor, Cadbury Brothers. In 2011, the company closed its British operations and move to Poland.

Ecuador’s cocoa beans are known as Nacional or Arriba, the latter indicating the location of this delightful taste. The Arriba beans vary in taste and size relative to the area where they grow. With the advent of the popularity of dark chocolate, Ecuador became the pre-eminent exporter of fine beans until the growers realized that it was to their advantage to retain the beans and develop their own savory bars.

A Handful of Beans

This new focus resulted in smaller-sized family operations, focusing on quality over quantity. These operations also made a shift toward the popular, producing dark chocolate. This has resulted in a market share of about 63% fine Arriba chocolate sold throughout the world. Ecuadorians continue to explore dark chocolate flavors by adding new ingredients such as hot chili, sea salt, and roses. The variety of Ecuadorian chocolate has expanded but one thing remains the same: it is still in high demand.

Fact: “Ecuador’s cacao zone is to chocolate cognoscenti what Bordeaux is to wine-lovers.” (The Economist)
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At the Chocolate Factory

Once again, I have asked my friend Myra to share with us one of her recent posts. She has been in Boquete longer than I have been and gotten to places I have yet to visit. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel, so I welcome her post which I think you will enjoy:

Please visit Myra’s blog at https://gayle54.com. Thanks, Myra.

Fact: Chocolate is big business in Boquete
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