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.
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.”
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.
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.)
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.
I find that I shop for food several times a week. It’s as if Panamá didn’t have refrigeration. The truth is, I can shop for only what I can carry. I can easily fill up a backpack and sometimes I have to add another bag. I’ve even been known to make two trips in one day.
Boquete central (known locally as Bajo Boquete) has four main grocery stores (mercados) and an innumerable number of small convenience (mom and pop) stores (tiendas). There is also a public market (mercado público) which is a permanent building of small stalls. All of these are open 7days a week (excluding some holidays).
Additionally, there are specialty stores for meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, wine, and organic products, or any combination of these. There are also some street vendors, either stationary or traveling in trucks. There is a Tuesday Market generally geared toward expats. Handmade items also abound there.
The availability of items in the grocery stores fluctuates daily or weekly. I often have to go to more than one store to purchase a particular item or brand. Imported items are generally more expensive than local products. I always look for the latter unless experience has told me that the quality is not as good as the imported items. Yet, finding Panamanian foods unknown to me is mostly a pleasure.
I have compiled a short list of items I have purchased recently. I thought the prices (US dollars) might be of interest to you:
Bottle salad dressing 8/oz 1.95
Can cream corn 14.75/oz 1.20
2 apples .76
Strawberries .66/lb 5.69
Carton of milk 32/oz 1.60
Carton of orange juice 32/oz 1.24
Bag of granola 12/oz 6.45
Can diced tomatoes 14/oz 1.98
Green tea 20 bags 1.61
Papaya 2.2/lbs 2.19
12 medium eggs 2.00
Carton quick oats 42/oz 3.59
Small can tuna fish 2.00
Very small can 1.45
Container of cinnamon .15/lb 1.43
Can breadcrumbs 15/oz 2.38
Carton of fresh spinach 1.94
Box of chicken stock 3.15
Butter 1/lb 6.89
Bog of Mozzarella cheese 8/oz 2.95
Box sliced mushrooms .88/lbs 3.60
Can string beans 14.5/oz .93
Panamanian coffee .94/lbs 5.12
Campbell’s Mushroom Soup 2.32
Boquete is a little more expensive than other towns in Panamá. It is possible to go to larger stores in larger cities to find lower prices. The influx of expats to Boquete has likely raised prices but allowed for a better and greater variety of products than in many Panamanian communities.
Fact: Panamá does not allow plastic grocery bags; fruit and vegetable stands usually provide plastic bags if needed.