Indigenous Mercados

Indigenous Mercados in Cuenca
Shop the Way the Quechua Shop

There are several indigenous mercados in Cuenca. If you want to have the freshest, and usually the cheapest, food, you'll want to shop at these markets.

The only thing you have to be willing to do is negotiate (in other words, haggle). It may seem like you'll be stealing from one of the vendors when a head of broccoli is only 25 cents, or 20 mandarins are $1.

We've learned from experience, however, that they'll respect you more and be happier with the outcome if you do negotiate.

We're not saying that you should ask for that head of broccoli for 20 cents, if that's all you're buying from the vendor. However, if you like what you see there, and plan on buying $5 or $10 of food from her (most of the vendors are women), then negotiate a discount, or ask her to throw in something extra for free (this free product is called yapa).

Most of these vendors are full-time, professional business owners. They won't take a loss, so don't worry about putting them out of business with your haggling. They'll quote you their lowest price eventually. But it may take you starting to walk away for them to do so. So be willing to walk away.

What You'll Find at the Mercados

This question could be more easily answered by asking about what you won't find at the indigenous mercados. The answer to that one is very close to "nothing." There's just about nothing in terms of food that you won't find at one of the mercados.

Meat and Seafood

You can find meat still hanging on the carcass, and chickens with their claws still attached.

You'll find whole fish, from tuna and corvina (sea bass) to tilapia, catfish and many other small fish. Buy the small ones by the fish, and the larger ones by the pound. They'll cut it for you while you watch.

Camarones (shrimp), langostinas (like crayfish in North America), langostas (lobsters), cangrejas (crabs) and other types of seafood are also available, usually from the fish vendors.

Fruit and Vegetables

If a fruit or vegetable grows in South America, and it's in season, you'll find it at the mercados. Almost all the apples are imported from Chile (it's not cool enough in Ecuador to grow them), the grapes are from Chile (it's too cool to grow them well in Ecuador), and the navel oranges are imported from the U.S. Other than that, the rest of the produce comes from Ecuador.

And what a selection of fruit there is:

Indigenous market fruit display
A fruit display at a mercado
  • White and yellow pineapple (we prefer the yellow)
  • Juice oranges, grapefruit, and limes (very few lemons are grown in Ecuador, but limes are available by the millions it seems)
  • Bananas and their relatives, the sweet and the starchy plantains (plátanos)
  • Strawberries (frutillas) and blackberries (moras) and, occasionally, blueberries (mortiños)
  • Red/green mangos and yellow mangos (Jeff prefers the yellow ones)
  • Watermelons and cantaloupes, and, of course,
  • Coconuts

Vegetables and herbs include broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, potatoes of all sizes (and colors), yuca (cassava), green beans, chard, tomatoes, white and purple onions, green onions, avocados, basil, rosemary and several others herbs.

Animals

Chickens and ducks are available at some of the markets. Their eggs are available at every market, as are quail eggs.

If you want an Ecuadorian "delicacy," buy a cuy ("coo-ee") and cook it yourself. If you had a guinea pig as a pet when you were a child, you'll have a hard time though; cuy are guinea pigs, which are indigenous to the Andes mountains.

If you're looking for a pet, puppies and kittens are also available at some of the markets, as are some types of small birds.

Dry Goods

There are usually a few stalls selling packaged goods, whether boxed or canned, and things like grains and flours. Large slabs of unsweetened chocolate can be had as well, for baking and for making hot chocolate.

Locations

By far the largest indigenous mercado is Feria Libre (Free Market, or Free Fair), on Avenida de las Américas, at the traffic circle where it meets Remigio Crespo. Its official name is Mercado El Arenal, but everyone knows it as Feria Libre.

If you're agoraphobic, don't go to this market, especially on Wednesday or Sunday. Or go later in the afternoon, after the crowds have thinned out.

There are three mercados in El Centro, Cuenca's downtown area:

  • On Calle Larga, you'll find Mercado 10 de Agosto (10th of August). It's not nearly as big as Feria Libre, yet it has everything you'll need.
  • On the east end of Gaspar Sangurima, you'll find Mercado 9 de Octubre (9th of October), near Plaza Rotary (the Rotary Club plaza). There are fewer vendors here, but you should find just about everything you're looking for.
  • On the west end of Mariscal Lamar, you'll find Mercado 3 de Noviembre (3rd of November), another smaller market that has a full range of food products.
  • East of El Centro, on Viracochabamba, you'll discover Mercado 12 de Abril (12th of April). This market is older, with many outdoor stalls (covered, but not inside).
  • And south of El Centro, in New Town, there's Mercado 27 de Febrero (27th of February), another older market.

Summary

If you enjoy haggling, and don't mind crowds and carcasses, you'll find Cuenca's indigenous mercados a fascinating experience and a fun place to shop. And you'll be keeping your food costs very low.

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Indigenous Mercados




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