A New Kind of Blog

There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Eating in Ecuador

One of the most interesting subjects about Ecuador is the wonderful food. The mid-day meal is the big meal of the day followed by a light dinner. Many businesses and retail establishments close from one to three in the afternoon when most people go home for the main meal of the day. Restaurants open early but are never full until at least nine PM. It is not unusual to see a table full of an entire family, grandmother and grandfather, mother and father, cousins and children, even small children, eating supper that will last up to 10 or 11 at night. To buy food for your own cooking, there is a large supermarket chain in Ecuador called Supermaxi who have three stores in Cuenca. This is far fewer than you may be accustomed to but Supermaxi has almost everything you might want. A couple of notable exceptions are that there are very few frozen foods and almost no prepared food. Also fresh orange juice in cartons like Tropicana is expensive at around $6.00 per quart as everything imported carries a high protective tariff. Oranges and most fruits are very inexpensive. Most people squeeze their own OJ using an Oster juicer. You will have to get used to the food packaging in Ecuador as some of it is very unusual. Milk comes either raw and is delivered from buckets by truck to your door, or fresh pasteurized milk in one liter, plastic bags at the markets which have to be cut open and poured into a jug to keep in the refrigerator, or irradiated milk in one liter boxes that you keep un-refrigerated in the pantry until you need it. The wine we drink is quite good at about $5.50 per liter. It comes from Chile and is also in plastic boxes. Hamburger meat has very little fat. We buy 1% fat content ground beef at about $2.50 per pound. The produce counter is the most fun with dozens of unusual fruits and vegetables, too many to name. At the market you will find imported products like Ritz crackers alongside a locally made imitation that will be half the price. It takes a little investigation to find what the good local products are but the savings can be large. Mini-markets are on almost every block where you can get basic staples. Cuenca has an incredible co-op called Coopera which sells fresh fruit and vegetables many of which you have never seen before at extremely reasonable prices. Yesterday, $13 bought us a cantaloupe, a head of lettuce, a cucumber, a pound of white grapes, a pound of huge strawberries, four fat carrots, a half dozen tangerines, two mangos, a dozen peaches, a dozen tomatoes and a dozen large juice oranges. At a nearby flower shop, another $5 bought 18 long stem white roses, 12 white carnations and 12 stalks of Baby’s Breath. We keep fresh flowers in vases around the apartment almost all the time. In the city, vendors push wheelbarrows full of huge strawberries, oranges and tangerines that are some of the best you can find anywhere. There are three huge Mercado’s with hundreds of stalls where Indians sell farm raised fruit, vegetables, meats (mostly un-refrigerated), and live animals like chickens, guinea pig, dogs and cats. We sometimes shop there when we are looking for some unusual produce but the Mercado’s are somewhat risky places for gringos. Unfortunately, the indigenous Indian diet of boiled rice and fried chicken causes a lot of obesity and the poorer children are lacking in milk which stunts their growth. All in All, our food purchases and restaurant experiences have been excellent. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of restaurants, only a few dozen of which we have gone to. Most have been great. As an example, a very high end restaurant called Quatros Rios serves an excellent dinner comparable to any you might find in the best US restaurants at about $10 per person. There are restaurants at every price range down to a Tipico at $1.50. Everyone has their favorites. A number of them are in old Spanish hotels where the restaurant is in an indoor hacienda-like, courtyard. There are Chinese, Indian, Italian, and most other cuisines available.

 It is a little adventuresome, but we have gone many times to “Comida Tipicos,” or restaurants that mostly cater to the working class. A bowl of delicious soup followed by a plate of rice and chicken and a fruit drink costs about $1.50. Then there are the roadside roasted pig food sellers. The pig is suspended on a spit. Skinned, roasted and hacked at day after day, they are popular with the locals who stop and buy a pig sandwich. Unrefrigerated for days at a time, this can be risky business for a gringo. Guinea Pig is a local delicacy. Called Cuy, these cute little creatures are an even larger obstacle for Americans who know them only as pets. Eating Cuy seems to be a national pastime and, believe it or not, they are quite delicious. We tend to only eat out a few nights a week because of our four year old grandson, but most of our friends eat out nearly every night. The enormous variety and the low cost, makes it hard to avoid eating out as often as possible.

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