Published on May 21st, 2014


Uh Toto, We Ain’t Shoppin’ at Safeway Anymore

Ecuador food


I’ve shopped at plenty of exotic food markets in Vietnam of course.  Indeed, open air street markets tucked into neighborhood alleyways in both Saigon and Dalat where the fish were still alive, swimming in pans of water, and the chickens were still happily cluck-clucking in pens at the feet of local lasses perched on wee plastic preschool stools.

And while there are likewise street vendors here selling a potpourri of stray treats (like HUGE strawberries, etc.), my main squeeze (nay neighborhood “Safeway”) here in Cuenca, Ecuador is just a four cobbled block’s stroll from my front door: Mercado 9 de Octubre (October 9 Market).

Curiously, the various markets here in Cuenca all seem to be named for the dates of famous historical events:– Mercado 27 de Febrero (independence day of Quito)

– Mercado 12 de Abril (foundation date of Cuenca)
– Mercado 10 de Agosto (independence day of Ecuador from Spain)
– Mercado 9 de Octubre (independence day of Guayaquil)
– Mercado 3 de Noviembre (independence date of Cuenca

Cuenca mercado

My neighborhood market: Mercado 9 de Octubre

As most everything I eat now is fresh, I tend to shop every few days, picking up fruits, vegetables, eggs, a “media libra” (half pound) of “queso fresca” (fresh cheese – much like feta and oh so delish!) plus a bit of fresh chicken, sausage, pork and/or beef (pollo, salchicha, cerdo y/o carne).

Unlike jumping in the car and driving to the nearest Safeway in Seattle, strolling to the market here, and bartering with the ladies for a trio of avocados ($1), 6 tomatoes (50¢), a whole pineapple or papaya ($1), etc. – is more like a pleasant social event than a chore.


Cuenca market fruit and vegetable vendor

My special fruit ‘n veggie lass…

I make a point of randomly spreading my business around a bit to keep all the vendors happy.  But I do have my special lady where I get most my veggies and fruit (and she always kindly tosses in an extra banana or other free treat).

The main level of the market is devoted strictly to produce – all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables.  While downstairs is all the beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.  And upstairs is a gaggle of kiosks serving cooked dishes – savory “pulled” pork with heavenly pillows of deep fried mashed potatoes (the pork is hand-pulled right there from the innards of a FULL PIG – head and cloven feet greeting you while you wait), along with yummy fruit smoothies, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate (I often buy a slab of bitter chocolate to make my own cocoa at home).

And the prices?  Oh my – imagine all of THIS for 15 bucks!

A week of food in Cuenca for $15

A week’s worth of grub for just $15

Now there ARE a handful of “Safeway” wannabee grocery stores here in Cuenca. “SuperMaxi”s I’m told, that offer the more familiar dreary aisles of meats pre-packaged neatly in plastic, along with brand names like “Skippy” and “Heinz”, as well as sharp cheddar and true feta cheese, etc. (at breathtakingly elevated imported prices). But I honestly wouldn’t know, as I’ve never yet stepped foot in any of them.

Indeed, personally I didn’t move abroad to seal myself off in an expat bubble, nor do I favor replicating everything in my native land here in Ecuador (Vietnam, Thailand). Rather, though I may occasionally pine over the elusiveness of peanut butter cups (I mean, after all – I’m only human) 😉 my whole point in moving to a foreign country – was/is to find things “different”. To seek out and experience (as much as possible w/ my gringo blue eyes and startling white hair) the way the locals live.

YMMV of course, but for me, if I wanted plastic-wrapped meats and canned cream corn – why I would have jolly-well stayed put in Seattle.

(Click on any of the thumbnails to start the slide show…)

What about you – do you seek out the “differences” when you travel?  Or rather, ever strive to stick to the familiar foods and comforts of your native land?

About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

30 Responses to Uh Toto, We Ain’t Shoppin’ at Safeway Anymore

  1. Quite simply, I adore markets. Your charming coverage and pix simply add to the desire to explore more of them. I agree – if you want what’s ‘gift wrapped’ at home, that’s where to stay.

    • Dyanne says:

      “…if you want what’s ‘gift wrapped’ at home, that’s where to stay.”

      I L.O.V.E. this Ursula! What a perfectly charming (and imho, spot-on) way to put it.

      While I try very hard not to judge folks who have different ideas about traveling, I must admit – I simply don’t understand those who CHOOSE to live in a developing country, and then seal themselves off from the local culture (in gated high-rises, eating only in gringo restaurants, and shopping in Safeway wannabe grocery stores – buying frozen foods and meats neatly sealed in plastic). In short, those who try their best to replicate their lives back home (or worse – perpetually complain that their adopted home doesn’t quite measure up).

      lol Ursula 😉 Thanks for stopping by TL!

  2. Michelle says:

    Oh how I wish I could shop at places like this in the Unites States! I’m a vegetarian so no meat for me, but that produce looks incredible! Your pictures are beautiful – I love the colors.
    Michelle kindly contributed to world literature by posting…“I think Australia has to be a country which has the ‘Welcome’ sign out.”~ Paul KeatingMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes Michelle, though we had small summer markets in Seattle, the mercados here are year-round of course, and filled with ever so many exotic fruits and vegetables!

  3. Looks like such an enticing market! Do you ever have food safety concerns?
    Irene S. Levine kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Market Visit – President Wilson Market in ParisMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Not really Irene. There’s a few tips for choosing street-eats (or any restaurant, for that matter):

      Look for the cart/restaurant that’s busy/packed with locals (i.e. the food will be fresh due to rapid turnover, and all those locals can’t be wrong, yes?) Plus (obviously) best not choose meat or seafood that’s been setting out all day.

      But other than that, I’ve long been an extremely adventurous eater (to the tune of actually LIKING roasted crickets in Vietnam!) 😉 And in 30+ years of perpetual street eating in my travels I’ve rarely gotten sick. Indeed, I’ve actually had food poisoning more often when eating at chain restaurants in the U.S.!

      • I wasn’t necessarily thinking about spoiled or rotten. I thought that some uncooked foods at markets don’t sit as well with visitors as they do with locals who are used to the water and such.
        Irene S. Levine kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Market Visit – President Wilson Market in ParisMy Profile

        • Dyanne says:

          Oh, you mean the uncooked pork, chicken, etc. in the Mercado? All I can tell you is – the cleanliness standards seem quite good to me. And I’ve been buying any and all there for more than 3 months now (cooking it at home) with no ill effects.

          Also, though I continue to boil my drinking water (mainly b/c it’s easy enough to do and second nature to me now after doing it in Asia for nearly 3 years), I understand that the water in Cuenca is potable and most expats drink it right from the tap.

        • Thanks! Another concern is refrigeration. When we visited a market in Jamaica, for example, there was none.
          Irene S. Levine kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Market Visit – President Wilson Market in ParisMy Profile

        • Dyanne says:

          None (refrigeration) here as well, Irene (nor in most every other developing country). But things are packaged differently here (milk, for example comes in bags and boxes and apparently needs no refrigeration).

          And interestingly, AIS below in a reply comment to Michele – unlike the States, eggs too don’t need refrigeration here ‘cuz they don’t wash them which removes a thin protective membrane that covers the shells, and keeps them fresh.

          In short, I can only repeat that I’ve rarely had any problems with eating from local markets and street vendors all over the globe. And sampling the local street eats, etc. is among the highlights of my travels.

  4. Hi Dyanne, Just signed up to follow your blog as I sense a kindred spirit and I can’t wait to read some of your archives. I’ll be especially interested in your Ecuador posts as we’ll be heading your way in September. As for the market, we really love the sense of adventure that accompanies our trips to these places and the interaction with the vendors is always fun!
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The Road To CahuitaMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Well hey Anita – I too felt a kinship when I read your “About Us” page – and looks like you’re presently hanging out in my old stompin’ grounds (Costa Rica). Unfortunately my TravelnLass blog doesn’t cover my many years bouncing to and from Costa Rica, but you might enjoy my (4 part!) series on “So You Want To Be an Int’l Tour Operator, Huh?” which details my years in C.A.

      Likely I’ll still be tucked in here in Cuenca come September, so be sure to give me a holler when you plan to come!

  5. You and your words are colorful, indeed. Thanks for sharing. A bit jealous, here.
    Lisa Richardson kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Why do we crave Cork & Fork?My Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post Lisa, and yes – “colorful” is hard not to miss here in Latin America. From the luscious textiles to the vast array of colorful veggies and exotic tropical fruits in the many local markets.

      In short, I’m thrilled to be living here in Cuenca, Ecuador!

  6. I love the nostalgia of your story and photos since I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. Our chickens had the pleasure of matrimony with the few roosters in residence. I had never heard the phrase, matrimony eggs. Love it.

    After my dad butchered a pig, usually the meanest one in the pen. My mom and I made sausage with “real” intestines, not the plastic stuff we buy now.

    After you find some yellow corn to compare with your white corn, you need to find the yellow & white variety. This is the juiciest corn ever.

    Apparently snow cones are ancient by the looks of that machine. Thanks for this tour of your market.
    Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Weirdest House Built on a RockMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Sounds like a lovely childhood in the country Neva. I too had never heard of “matrimony” eggs. And likewise – it never occurred to me that most likely the sausages here in Ecuador are encased in “real” intestines.

      Not sure about the corn. I’ve yet to find the yellow sweet corn of my own Midwest cornfield days, here in Ecuador. But will keep an eye out for both yellow, as well as the “amarillo y blanco” varieties here, and will post here if I find either!

  7. I love those “matrimony eggs” – you surely wouldn’t find those in Safeway. But I do hear you on the peanut butter! I’ve actually been known to tote peanut butter with me to Guatemala along with balsamic vinegar, pasta and Dijon mustard. Oh, the comforts of home are nice to have in between servings of salchicha!
    Michele Peterson kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Salpicón: shredded beef and mint salad from GuatemalaMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Nope Michele – surely no “matrimony” eggs in Seattle. And btw, did you know that eggs here come UN-refridgerated b/c – unlike the States, they don’t wash them which removes a thin protective membrane that covers the shells, and keeps them fresh w/o refrigeration.

      Likely the same for you there in Mexico? Can you get “matrimony” eggs there too?

  8. I love markets- just did a collaborative blog post on local markets around the world. By now you’ve probably been to the market at Otavalo. I discovered it through a guest post someone did for us and send a friend who was traveling in Ecuador there to get us woven purses.

    • Dyanne says:

      Actually no Billie, I’ve not yet made it to the legendary Otavalo market. Guess I just wore myself out bouncing around Asia these past 2 years – I’ve been tucked in here in Cuenca, Ecuador for more than 3 months now, and am happily content to sit tight and just explore the cobbled streets here in my new “home”.

      But no doubt I’ll get the “itch” to wander again sooner rather than later (after all, I’m convinced I have a gob of “gypsy” in my DNA), and I look forward to fingering all those yummy handicrafts at Otavaolo (not to mention those luscious Galapagos Isles!) one day soon.

  9. Jan Ross says:

    Oh, that food all looks wonderful! We shop as much as possible at the Farmer’s Market here in Lexington, Kentucky. Nothing like fresh food!!
    Jan Ross kindly contributed to world literature by posting…A Spring Weekend in ChicagoMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes indeed Jan – it was only after a full year of living in Vietnam that it suddenly occurred to me that… why I’d not eaten anything FROZEN in more than 12 months. It’s one of my favorite things about living abroad – shopping in local markets for fresh eats every few days is the norm.

  10. Sue Pearson says:

    Definitely better than Safeway!! Can you get fresh corn or is it mostly dried? I love fresh corn on the cob! The pics are making me hungry!
    Sue Pearson kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Paper Mache Koi fish hanging Mirror by mosaicmacheMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      I’m not sure about fresh corn on the cob – yellow, as we know it in the States, Sue. I don’t recall seeing it but I’ll keep an eye out now that you mention it.

      What I HAVE seen quite a lot of is a white corn – both on the cob and off, fresh and dried. A kind of hominy that is very popular as a side dish here. But imho, not as tasty as good ol’ Midwest sweet corn on the cob dripping with butter… yum!

  11. James says:

    In Vietnam lately, people favor supermarkets because they feel the produce / meat is safer than your everyday outdoor markets. As they say, “You eat, you die. You don’t eat, you die.” Rather macabre, but considering that most everything is imported from China and food scandals are aplenty there, don’t know as I blame them…
    James kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Photomania!My Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Really James? In HCMC (and elsewhere?) even the locals now favor plastic-clad meats, etc. at supermarkets?

      Yes, I recall the stories of dog meat, etc from the Chinese street vendors – macabre indeed. Surely though, the veggies still grown in my beloved Dalat, but the chickens, pigs, etc. – now mostly imported? Wonder why…

      P.S. btw, given your penchant/fetish? for photo contests – stay tuned here, I’m planning a bit of a TL photo challenge soon.

  12. Mary Moss says:

    I love this post! The “shops” are beautiful and the selection looks fabulous. It looks as if Cuenca’s markets easily rival those in Asia. But, I have to tell you …. mangos and avocados are in season now and delicious.

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes Mary, kind of a “same-same but different” thing. The open-air markets with fresh veggies, live produce, etc. here are much like Asia, but… Otherwise, Ecuador/Vietnam – like two different PLANETS.

      And oh my yes – I remember well. Those HUGE luscious mangos and avocados when in season in Asia – ever both a pittance and a treat!

  13. Sue Pearson says:

    Well, I did pass up the chance to eat Donkey in Italy, was that silly of me? Is the white corn dried or fresh? I was thinking the other day that I didn’t see much corn to cook like corn on the cob. That queso fresca is making my mouth water! And well everything here, your pictures are so “yummy”!!!
    Sue Pearson kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Paper Mache Koi fish hanging Mirror by mosaicmacheMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Donkey in Italy, Sue? Given that I managed to toss down a few boiled silkworms along with some truly tasty roasted crickets in Asia – why I’d be first in line for a juicy donkey burger!

      And btw, I’ve still got my eye out for yellow sweet corn on the cob here – stay tuned!

Back to Top ↑

Show Buttons
Hide me