Food Glorious Food

Or “Eating in Cuenca”

Okay, let’s just face it.  More than a month has gone by since we were in Spain and my motivation to write about our day trips to Cuenca and Toledo is pretty much non-existent.  So here’s the plan: I will post some pictures in a page labeled “Cuenca and Toledo, España” which you can click on at the top of this post.  And I will get back to writing about our experiences in Cuenca, Ecuador.  Deal?  Deal.

When asked by friends and family how we spend our days as retired immigrants inevitably the answer has a lot to do with food.  We eat at home some but according to Glenn “the accountant” Gano, our eating out budget and grocery budget are generally about the same.  Eating out costs can range dramatically here as can the cost of food bought for home consumption.  Buying and eating local foods are the most economical way to go, of course.

We almost always eat breakfast at home and it usually consists of fruit, cereal and yogurt.  Our favorite fruits are pineapple, mango, Ecuadorian apples (little but sweet), and red bananas.

Red Bananas
Red bananas are the BEST! They are in season right now and are a little firmer with a thicker peel than the yellow varieties. It seems like these bananas don’t get over ripe as easily. We like that.
Strawberries are available all year long but the quality varies considerably. These were a really good buy recently.
These are capulies. They look like small cherries and have the same sized pit. They are a little bitter. Because of the bitterness and the pit, these are not our favorite and we probably won’t buy them again.

Sometimes, we will fry some eggs or make up a scramble with fresh veggies, if we’re feeling a bit peckish later in the morning.

Lunch is the most fun.  More often than not we will be out and about in the city and will stop for an “Almuerzo” somewhere near where we are.  We wrote about almuerzos in an earlier post (“Let’s Do Almuerzo” back on October 24 – check out the archives) so we won’t go into too much detail now.  Recently, we’ve discovered a few new places.

Lunch Counter at Mercado 27 de Febrero
This is one of many little lunch counters in the Mercado 27 de Febrero where we usually do our produce shopping. Soon after we sat down, the seats filled up with locals. Maybe eating with Gringos was on their bucket list!
Almuerzo at Mercado 27 de Febrero
The soup (below) and this plate of chicken, beans, rice, and salad as well as a cup of horchata tea filled us up nicely for $1.75 each.

Soup at Mercado 27 de Febrero

Another inexpensive place we’ve found recently to eat lunch or a snack is “Jhuly’s”.  They serve a variety of empanadas (different fillings and different flours for the dough), humitas, tortillas de choclo, fruit juices and other typical foods.  All the food items seem to be about  80 cents and the fruit juices were $1.25.  You can have yourself a pretty filling meal as you pick and choose what you’d like to try.

Jhulys lunch
Lunch for four at Jhuly’s is quite a spread. You can’t see it in this picture, but the server writes the order on a yellow post it note and leaves it on the table after all the food is served. Then when it’s time to pay, you take the post-it to the cashier and take care of the bill.
Jhuly's Tortilla de Choclo
Tortilla de choclo is a sweet or salty pancake made with a corn called choclo.
Jhulys Humita
Humitas are made with corn, onions, spices, etc. and wrapped in a corn husk.
Jhulys with Joni and Gary
Sharing meals with friends is one of the best parts of living in Cuenca. Joni and Gary are new friends from southern Oregon who visited Cuenca in March.  They helped us eat all the food you see on the table in the pictures above.

When we eat dinner at home, it is usually vegetarian.  The picture at the top of this post gives you an idea of what we have to choose from!  But often we enjoy dinner out friends and dine at a variety of restaurants.

We often have dinner with our friends and fellow singers Rachel and Pete after our Monday night chorale rehearsal.  It is a bit of a challenge to find a good place that is open as many restaurants are closed on Mondays.  We did find this cute little eatery called “Cositas” a couple of weeks ago and it is open on Monday!

Mote Pillo
This delicious looking dinner was only $4.75 at Cositas. The yellow stuff under the chorizo sausage and beef is Mote Pillo (moh-tay pee-yoh). It is made with the hominy-like white corn called mote, eggs, butter, garlic, onion and other tasty things.

Usually, dinners out are not quite this inexpensive.  One evening we went to “Red Angus” to have some good steak and hamburgers.

Filet Mignon at Red Angus
Glenn’s delicious filet mignon from Red Angus
Bread Appetizers at Red Angus
Red Angus served a tasty appetizer of bread with various sauces before our entrees. They also make a very big and delicious lemonade.
Our friend Pete had to work at it but he did finish his double Red Angus burger.  I think it was about a pound of meat.
Our friend Pete had to work at it but he did finish his double Red Angus burger. I think it was about a pound of meat.

On most Saturdays, “Joe’s Secret Garden” serves a set menu of American food.  This is very popular with the Gringos and we will admit to having indulged twice.  The barbeque ribs, coleslaw, baked beans, roasted potatoes and cinnamon rolls for desert were amazing.  The fried chicken was also very nice.  It’s a bit of a splurge but it’s a great outing with friends.

Joe's Secret Garden BBQ RibsJoe's Secret Garden BBQ Rib Dinner

If we had to commit to a “favorite” restaurant, we would definitely go with “Fabiano’s”.  They consistently serve great pizzas and other Italian meals for very reasonable prices.  We often go to Fabiano’s if we are planning to attend a concert in El Centro in the evening.

Fabianos Strombolli
Glenn about ready to dig into his strombolli
Fabianos Interior
The wait staff at Fabiano’s take customer orders on iPads. When you go to pay, you tell the cashier what table you were at and they find your order. A little more high-tech than Post-It notes but both work!

Fabiano's Exterior

Just like in North America, here in Ecuador there are certain foods that are primarily eaten at specific times of the year to commemorate a holiday.  As turkey is to American Thanksgiving, “Fanesca” is to Ecuadorian Good Friday.   Fanesca is a rich soup made from 12 grains and beans (to represent the 12 disciples) and salt cod called bacalao (which represents Jesus).  Typically Fanesca can be  garnished with a hard boiled egg, plantains, fresh cheese, and even empanadas.  Every Ecuadorian family has their own recipe and the three different Fanescas we had were each unique and delicious.

Fanesca from our lovely next door neighbors.
Fanesca from our wonderful landlady, Susana. Tradition has it that Fanesca should be given to 12 of your friends on Good Friday for good luck.

As you can tell, we enjoy eating our way around Cuenca.  We’re sure we would have gained weight in the past six months of living here if it weren’t for the fact that we walk practically everywhere we go, including restaurants.  We’ve actually lost weight due in part to our walking but also because of the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables we regularly consume.  We love it.

One evening, I sent Glenn to get TWO rolls from the bakery to have with dinner. This is what he brought back! Fortunately, we don’t do this very often.

Some of you might be wondering what we do besides eat.  Good question and the answer is – quite a lot.  Most recently, we have been extremely busy preparing for a concert that the Cuenca International Chorale is presenting on April 9.  We both sing in the chorale as well as a smaller ensemble so we have had many rehearsals recently.  Mara helped put together the program and led some extra rehearsals as well.

We also have activities with our church such as playing and singing in the worship band, cleaning the church, women’s Bible study, Men’s prayer breakfast, etc.

Easter Sunday quartet - Low in the Grave He Lay (He Arose)
Easter Sunday quartet – Low in the Grave He Lay (He Arose)

Helping university students improve their English at the Cuenca Cultural Exchange every few weeks is another rewarding activity.  We get together with friends to visit and play games which is huge fun.  And of course, we continue studying and using our Spanish.  A few weeks ago we went up to the local hot springs and soaked in the mineral rich water and had mud baths.

Even with mud, heavy cloud cover and frequent rain, I managed to get sunburned.
Even with mud, heavy cloud cover and frequent rain, I managed to get sunburned.

Don’t forget you can check out our photos from Toledo and Cuenca, Spain by clicking on the page name at the top of this post.  We leave for the US in a week to spend four weeks visiting family and friends.  It is very likely that our next post will be about Reverse Culture Shock!  Until then . . .

What we’ve learned:  Retirement is hard work!

What we need to learn:  Not to work so hard!


6 thoughts on “Food Glorious Food

  1. Still envious of your new life….In Hawaii we always get “Apple” bananas–smaller, firmer, tastier than regular bananas and last much longer. Love reading and dreaming about your posts!


    1. Thanks, Mary! We’re so glad you’re a faithful reader. We’re going to be in Portland at the end of April. Maybe we can get together. I will email you.


  2. I did it: I finally got all caught up on your posts!!! Fell behind some time ago when things got crazy, and somehow kept gettin’ behinder and behinder. Now I won’t be embarrassed when I see you in a few weeks! Mara, it’s a pleasure to read your delightful writing style.


  3. Mara, I love reading your posts because it is just like talking to you. You pause and wait for me to answer your questions just like you were here in person!! I look forward to seeing you and by my calculations it should be this week. I think you said you were states side on 4-15. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful life. I can’t wait to see you in person.


    1. Hi Carmen – Thanks so much for your encouraging words. We are getting closer to Alaska. We’ve been on the road for 2 weeks now (New York, Boston, Seattle, Spokane, Montana, back to Seattle, Mt. Vernon (Wash), Olympia and now down to Portland for a few days. We fly to Anchorage on May 2. I can hardly wait. I’ll come up to SP some time that week at the end of the school day. Looking forward to seeing you soon!


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