Sunday, May 16, 2010


With our time in Cuenca coming to a close, I'll try to write about some stuff we take for granted, but which is really quite different from our lives in Seattle.

Food shopping in Cuenca, as in many places in Latin America, takes a variety of forms. As Cuenca is a relatively big and modern city, there are, of course, even more options here than one would find in the countryside. Bread is purchased daily from any number ("cualquier cantidad") of local "panaderias" (bakeries) - there are at least three within easy walking distance of our apartment which we patronize regularly. Most of the bread we buy would be considered "rolls" or "buns"in the US. Nothing all that special, most white, or wheat ("integral"), or with egg or corn, often with a thin layer of cheese in the middle. A roll typically costs $0.10 for a basic roll, to perhaps 0.15 for a fancy roll. What is most satisfying about these places is the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread that permeates the street.

In addition, there are a number of local "tiendas," basically small corner shops that sell a little bit of everything: snack food, pop, beer, as well as real food like eggs, fruits and vegetables, milk, along with other household necessities, like detergent, sewing supplies, etc. Many of these local stores also sell whatever type of "mercancia" (literally, merchandise) their friends of family brings back from the States. This could be anything from shoes and clothes to hibachis or dancing Santas. Our favorite local tienda is Doña Margarita's, about 2 blocks away. Like many of these stores, it's just a storefront - customer's wait outside while Margarita scurries about inside collecting the goods that are requested. As often as not, someone asks for an egg, she goes to get it, brings it back, the customer asks how much, she tells them, and they then request 2 more! It's also a good place to witness the Ecuadoran version of "waiting your turn" in which whoever walks up to the store interrupts whatever transaction is underway to ask for what they need!

Cuenca has a number of American-style supermarkets, including some downscale ones like "Mi Comiseratio" or Comiseratio Popular. There is also a very popular upscale one called "Supermaxi," which has decent prices if you purchase a membership card at $40/year, and a low-cost alternative, where we shop, called "Gran Akí" This is where we buy our cleaning supplies, staples like pasta and rice, and American-type foods like cereal, peanut butter, and our candy and cookies. Some price samples: pasta, 1 lb, $0.76; milk, 1 lt bag, $0.88, or $0.84 when bought by the dozen; jar of peanut butter, $4.50;

For fresh fruits and vegetables however, our market of choice is "12 de Abril. " It's about a 15 minute walk from our house, and it is very much a market for locals - no tourist stuff here. Typically we go twice a week, and we buy broccoli, $1.00 for two or three medium-sized heads; pineapple, $1.00; papaya, $1.00 for 2 or 3 small ones (Hawaianas); mangoes, $1.00 for 3 to 5 mangoes, depending on the season; avocados, 3 or 4 for $1.00;

Here's what $10 bought at the market back in November:

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