I arrived in Cuenca around breakfast time, but with only a few hours of sleep in the previous 24, food was the last thing I was thinking of. I had package of Biscoff cookies leftover from one of my three flights. That with a glass of Cuenca’s tasty perfectly safe tap water was enough to allow me to sleep until lunch time.
When the property manager let me into the condo, she pointed out, on a small map, where there were some places to eat and shop. Lunch is from noon until two. I woke up in time to do some Goggling before it was time to head out to find a restaurant. My plan here is to eat out as little as possible. I am not here as a tourist, but as a temporary resident. But on that first day I was too hungry to go shopping. I needed to eat before I could face a grocery store.
A half a block down from my AirBnb I had the choice of Mexican or Italian, one on each side of the street. I walked down and examined the Mexican restaurant’s street menu, and decided that the Italian one could wait for some other day. In the US and I am at a Mexican restaurant for the first time I always order chile rellenos. I have always found that dish to be a good test of if the place is any good. When the waiter came up to take my order, I changed my mind and went with a habit I picked up in Spain. I ordered the menu del dia. Three pork enchiladas, refried beans, rice, ham and been soup, and a desert of wild strawberries with cream sauce.
As often happens with me, I was so hungry I forgot to take photos of the meal. It was very good. It was a lot lighter than Tex-Mex, lighter even than Cal-Mex. I was very pleased. The waiter was very patent with my lack of spanish, which made the experience very nice. As the first person to show up for lunch I was able to pick out a table which looked out to the street. While I was waiting for the check, A milk truck drew up outside.
When I came out onto the street, I saw the same truck parked a little way down the street. A man was walking away with a ziplock bag of milk. As I walked past the woman in the back of the truck was ladling milk out of one of the metal cans into a similar bag, for a waiting woman. I haven’t see the milk truck since, but I really want to buy milk that way.. Hopefully I can find out more about the milk truck after I start language school.
The condo manager had told me about a market where I could get local produce. The walk seemed long since I was unsure of where I was going, but thanks to Google’s offline maps I found it easy enough. The walk back was very quick. The place turned out to be a gutted building with produce stalls arranged in a square. It reminded me of some of the larger markets in Honolulu’s China town. The indigenous women manning the stalls were dressed in traditional dress. They were all very friendly after I greeted each one with, “Buenas tardes, señora, lo siento, hablo inglés muy mal.” I made a walk around the square noticing that many of the stalls were empty. I assume that most of the shopping is done before lunch. On my second round I bought each type of produce that I needed from a different vendor, to spread my money around.
Back at the condo, I tallied up my haul and found that I had spent $4.00 for the produce pictured above.
By the time I returned to the condo, I was far too tired to venture a mile across town to the Suppermaxi, to get the other groceries I needed. I was hungry, but not so hungry as to head out again. Now, had there been no coffee, I would have made the trek. The AirBnb came stocked with a few essentials, including a half a bag of ground coffee, which smelt quite fresh. To stave off hunger for a while longer, I at some raw carrots and two of the pears. Satiated and sure that I had my caffeine for the morning, I went back to bed.
When I next awoke I boiled half the potatoes. I thought I might mash them with some olive oil and spices, since I had no butter. While looking for spices, I found a few packets of take-a-way mayo. That gave me an idea:
Simple meal, but it was just what I needed.
The next morning I ate more potatoes and mayo, before heading out to find the Supermaxi. (yes, I have thought of all the jokes that you have) I was hungry, and it was hard not to stop at one of the bakeries, which seem to crop up very block or so around here, sort of like Starbucks in the US. It was quite an interesting walk. OSHA would have a cow here. But as an ex mariner, it is second nature to keep situationally aware. I managed not to step into any holes or trip on any of the oddly contoured sidewalks. My path took me though many areas of repair. I have a feeling that like I-45 in Texas, the repairs will never end, so one just needs to get used to being careful.
When I was about halfway to the store, I heard an American voice behind me. I dropped back an joined a man and woman who were heading the same direction as myself. We walked and talked. They asked me what had brought me to Cuenca. I told them that I couldn’t live in the US on my pension, so I had decided to become a nomad. They told me that was the story of many of the expats who live here. They told me how many years they had lived here, and asked me how long I had lived in Cuenca. I informed them that I was just past 24 hours, which got a laugh. Once the man left us to head to his apartment, the woman and I chatted about our plans after Cuenca. After 11 years here she has become tired of the cloudy weather and is moving to Mexico. She had lived 30 years in Albuquerque before coming here. I guess that she had had enough sun in Arizona for all those years that it took 11 years of clouds to make her want more sun.
When we cam abreast of her apartment building she directed me how to walk to get to the Supermaxi. Once I was in the area of the store, I realized that once you are out of Centro, the drivers are way more aggressive. It took me a while to make it across the street, to the market. The market is in a mini mall. Before doing my shopping, I walked around the mall looking for a place to buy a space heater. I figure it will take some time for me to get used to the change in temperature from Hawaii. I found a heater, but decided not to buy it. I had been going back and forth about it all day. The cold up to then was just on the edge of bothering me, but not quite.
The Supermaxi is pretty much like any normal grocery store you would see in the US. It is not a mega store like Kroger is tending to nowadays. Ecuador uses the US dollar, so I didn’t have to do any mental gymnastics to keep track of my spending. It wasn’t until I got to the checkout that I realized that the reusable shopping back I found at the condo didn’t have long enough handles to sling over the shoulder. I ended up carrying it back with my hands laced under the bottom. About the time I was wondering if I should have taken a taxi home as the condo manager had suggested, recognized my building.
At the Suppermaxi my bill was $41 for everything above. After I took the group photo, I was upset that my coffee was missing. It was almost the most expensive thing I bought. Later I found it laying on an orange cushion on the window seat. Less the wine, coffee, and olive oil, my groceries only cost $20, including cheese, fresh strawberries, butter, mayo, bread, a 1/4 kilo of bacon, celery, dried black beans, a veggie peeler, and a half a dozen eggs.
With my kitchen provisioned well enough, I decided to cook some of the rice the place came with. I looked up recipes for cooking rice at high altitude, and decided that I would bake it rather than boil it. That is when I realized that there was no measuring cup. I did have a two tablespoon measure for my coffee, which I travel with. I asked “Alexia” (yes, I travel with an Echo Dot.) how many tablespoons were in a cup. It took a while, but I got everything measured out. It was then that I noticed that the oven was out and moisture had condensed on the door window. Quickly I turned off the gas, and ran around the place opening windows. Once the air flow was good, I opened the oven door to let the built up gas escape. I wonder if I should have let the oven heat a while on max before lowering the heat to 165C?
Well, anyway, I was too spooked to tinker with the oven then. I already had my spices, vinegar, and butter mixed into the water. I brought the mixture to a boil before adding the rice. Once it came to a boil again, I set it to simmer for 25 minutes. It was some of the best rice I have ever made outside a rice maker.
Yesterday, I only had one cup of cooked rice. I added it to the black beans I had successfully cooked by adding more water then normal and cooking for an hour more, after an overnight soak. Onion, carrots, and celery rounded out the dish. (It tasted great, but was too ugly to photograph.)