One of the things I love most about living in Cuenca is the low prices. We're renting a 3-bedroom, 2-bath, furnished apartment in a 6-year-old building for $650/month (even made a video about it!). And the cost of food in Cuenca is cheap too, especially when we buy local produce and meats.
Ecuador may be in a tropical zone (hey, its name means equator!), but the Andes mountains that form its backbone are capped with snow year-round. This turns out to be a blessing because not only is the small country blessed with fertile, volcanic soil, they can grow foods as varied as bananas and apples at the same time, in different parts of the country.
I cannot believe how flavorful the fruits and veggies are! Perhaps it's because it can take less than 4 hours to get here from the hot and humid coast, but the food at the market is pretty close to ripe when we buy it.
Or perhaps it's because they don't have to pick fruit when it's green so that they can ship it around the country in boxcars here, as they do in America, and they don't need to gas the food to force it to look ready to eat.
Where to shop in Cuenca
When it comes to food, Cuenca has everything from full-fledged mega-American-style grocery stores to little tiendas, small corner stores that sell all of the usual convenience store items (like sodas, crackers, snacks, milk, dish soap, etc.).
The city even has a chain of co-op organic food stores. The Coopera stores are very popular with the gringos, who are thrilled to discover that they now live in a country where organic produce sells for less than what they used to pay for regular, GMO and pesticide-laden veggies in the U.S.
We have a Coopera only a few blocks from our apartment – and yes, we shop there – but we prefer to walk a block further to the biggest local market in town, called Feria Libre. Feria Libre is so big that it deserves its own post.
What we buy at the local markets
We were short on produce on Sunday so we walked down to Feria Libre. We came home with two backpacks stuffed full of the market's inexpensive, flavorful food, and yes, these are actual photos of our haul.
Our Cuenca grocery shopping haul:
- 2 bunches of flowers
- 4 small Haas avocados
- 1 head of broccoli
- 1 bunch of celery
- 2 heads of cauliflower
- 1 bunch of small bananas (17 count)
- 1 bag of small white onions (13 count)
- 1/2 lb. of shallots
- 1 lb. of strawberries
- 1 lb. of apricots
- 1 lb. of blackberries
- 1 lb. of red grapes
- 1 lb. of peas
- 1 lb. of peanut butter (no jar, just scooped into a plastic bag!)
We got all of this for $14.35. What do you think of that?!