Food Shopping in Cuenca

The cost savings when purchasing food can be great when you know where to shop. As in cities of similar size, Cuenca is blest to have several options for shopping. These include the city markets (mercados), the chain stores, the local mom and pop shops (tiendas), and the street vendors.

There are five large mercados scattered around Cuenca. The largest of these i s the Feria Libre, an overwhelming market in size and number of products for sale. One of Cuenca’s popular tour operators gives us a tour of this market. He offers a commercial opening but continue watching to see the scope of this  popular market.


The other four mercados offer similar merchandise but on a smaller scale (see last week’s post at This is the mercado where I usually shop as it is the closest for me (a 25-minute walk).

Large local chain stores in Cuenca serve all the residents. One of the popular stores is the SuperMaxi, a large American-style grocery store popular with ex-pats. For five years, this chain has been building a MegaMaxi at a cost of 36 million dollars. It is due to open in 2023 and will be similar to a Walmart. Which brings us to another super store: Coral. This chain has six stores in Cuenca, from small to large; it is owned by Walmart. There are a few more large chain-type stores.

The local tiendas are the most numerous grocery outlets in the city. Many of these are too small to even enter. They have a counter across the doorway where you ask for what you want. The advantage of these tiendas is convenience for last minute shopping, and a place where you can purchase small quantities (such as a cup of flour). They are not to be overlooked.

The choice of shopping outlets is yours. You may choose for convenience, price, or location. Like many Ecuadorians, you may also need to shop at several of these in order to find all the products you want. Shopping in Cuenca is an adventure. Next week, I will discuss the costs and comparisons  of shopping for groceries.

Fact: Ecuadorians juice some fruits instead of eating them
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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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