2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cuenca Foods

I've had major computer problems, but I'm in no mood to go into that today. Last week we had five absolutely beautiful days of gorgeous weather--clear skies, sunshine, and no rain. Most of this week has been rainy, although the sun did come out later Wednesday afternoon; and today, Friday, has been quite sunny. It's really difficult to believe a ten day weather forecast for Cuenca on the Internet. The forecasts are bizarre. Two sites--like MSN--predicted the chances for precipitation, which depended on the day of the week, to range from 70-90%, well into late next week. Meanwhile, two other sites gave a forecast for the same time period which ranged from 15% to 30% chances of rain. In other words, we will know the chances for precipitation on any given day, only when that given day arrives.

I braved the drizzle and the on-and-off showers determined to walk to the indigenous market for an assortment of fresh fruits. I was told that on Wednesdays, the market expands to three to four times its daily size. I went hog-wild on a variety of fruits. The prices by American standards are so low. The women were selling, and I was buying! I bought eight gigantic bananas today for 25 cents total. I picked the really green ones, so they would take awhile to ripen. Strawberries of a large size, and globe-type grapes were a dollar a pound. I know I overpaid for these. Mangoes were 50 cents a piece. Mangoes and strawberries are difficult to find in the market at this time, so I paid for these products without any real haggling. The ladies were not willing to budge one iota with me on these particular fruits. I know when I left the states, mangoes were selling for 50 cents each. However, those mangoes were half the size of the ones I purchased here in Cuenca. These larger mangoes, during this time of the year when they are plentiful, sell four for five dollars or sometimes a dollar each in places like Super WalMart or Meijers back home. I don't know why mangoes are so rare at this time in Cuenca. Still, I know I paid too much. I thought I got a good deal on kiwis, which was ten for a dollar.

Communication in translation can at times go awry, and in one situation I gave three women a good laugh when I could not comprehend exactly how many grapes I was getting for a dollar. Knowing I was being ridiculous in a reaction to our mutual lack of clear communication I said, "What! One grape for one dollar." After the ladies had their laugh and chuckles at my expense, the one woman weighed the grapes out and showed me exactly what a dollar would get me. The old saying once again held true, "A picture is worth a thousand words." One thing expats say after they have been in Cuenca awhile is that they no longer compare prices with American prices, but instead compare them within the Cuenca market of competition. When expats return to visit in the states, the sticker shock is abhorrent.

I purchased five Ecuadorian fruits that were extremely inexpensive by my expectations. I was able to purchase the equivalent quanities of eight to ten of these fruits for a dollar. The best of these is granadilla--gold to orange in color and about the size of a tennis ball. Crack them open with your fingers and eat the sweet-tasting liquid pulp and seeds as if drinking from a dipper. The narajillan is much larger than the granadilla and is green in color. It has a citrus taste that is like a cross between rhubarb and lime, and often it is used in making many fruit juices. Fruit juices are found everywhere in almost every restaurant and made fresh. The narajillan is another favorite of mine as well. Another version of the narajillan is the naranjilla (naran xiya), which means the "little orange". I have no idea why it is referred to as a "little orange", since it is a little larger than a ping-pong ball and actually looks more like a small not yet ripened tomato. But like these other fruits discussed in this paragraph they have a skin which is like a solid shell that is broken open with the fingers, and like the narajillan, the naranjilla has a green liquified content for consumption, but with a stronger citrus taste.

Guayaba is yellowish green in color, and about 1/4th the size of a granadilla, but larger in size than a naranjilla. The guayaba is an Ecuadorian breed of the guava family. I don't recall ever eating guava. Unlike the other fruits discussed in the previous paragraph, the guayaba is not filled with a liquid type of pulp. The texture and taste reminds me of avacado. Avacados are also consumed widely in Ecuador.

The(toma te de arbo'l) looks like an oval-shaped tomato, only with a tougher skin. It is considered a fruit, but then so is the tomato. I must give credit to the building security guys. They identified the fruits for me, and wrote out each of the fruit's names. A lady, who lives in the building and who also speaks English, was entering the building as we were working on our fruit identification project. She explained to me that (toma te de arbo'l) is like a tomato only sweeter, and is not used in salads. She said my particular picks were not yet ripe, and I should wait a few more days before eating them.

These tropical fruits are used not only for fruit drinks, or just simply eaten as picked, but also are used in the making of jellies, jams, marmalade's, ice creams and gelatos. They are also used in many recipes for the flavoring of dishes, the mixing of tropical alcoholic drinks, and the making of liquors--some of which would be unique to Norte Americanos. These fruits are loaded with many natural vitamins and minerals. The staples of plentiful fruits and vegetables in Ecuador make for a very healthy diet.

Ecuador is the banana capital of the world. It exports more bananas than any other country, and 1/3rd of its banana production is exported to the United States. More importantly, Ecuadorians still control their banana production, as opposed to the big three conglomerates of Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte.

As I said, I went hog-wild on fruits. I bought a colorful, striped, reusable shopping bag for 50c to carry my treasures back to the condo. Common sense would have dictated that I take a taxi back, but I was insistent that I would walk back despite the heftiness of the bag. I really needed the exercise. It was chilly when I left the condo, but the rain had stopped. Off came my jacket, and my long-sleeved, over-the-head, light-weight sweater-like garment. I took on the challenge in my blue tee-shirt, and made it all the way home in a sweat. The walk made for a good work-out, especially the last block up the steep incline to Cuadro Dos. Only if it would have rained heavily would I have surrendered to the use of a taxi.

Chicken in Ecuador, like Chicken back home, is said to be produced with the use of hormones. Cattle supposedly is still free of hormones, and most cattle is grange-raised on grass. There are health professionals who theorize that grange-raised cattle is much healthier than corn-fed cattle. The theory is that corn-fed beef may be a major dietary contributor for a great deal of the coronary problems among the modern American population in United States; while our ancestors avoided such coronary problems by eating grass-fed cattle. Usually restaurants make a distinction between "pollo" (chicken) dishes, and carne (meat) dishes. However, the meat is frequently not identified. Sometimes when I ask, I find out-sometimes not. For all I know, I may have already had cuy (guinea pig on one of the sticks laden with meat that is charbroiled over an open flame pit so common in the squares, carnivals, and by-ways of Cuenca).

Wednesday evening, I ate at a local neighborhood eatery. The vast majority of these restaurants are family-run. The husband ran the operation, his wife did the cooking, and his daughter of about eleven was there to help as well. Generally, in these neighborhood restaurants they don't frequently have gringo customers. I have found that the family will prepare a meal and want very much to please you with their preparation. The meal was quite good. A typical Ecuadorian meal served with rice, potatoes, beans, carne (in this case beef). There seems to be no end to how Ecuadorians can prepare their endless variety of potatoes, and they are always good. I need to find what these beans are called. I normally don't like beans of any kind, other than pork and beans, and the red kidney beans my mother used when she made her excellent chili. These beans are larger than the kidney beans, and very tasty the two times I've had them. Unfortunately, guys have a more difficult time digesting plant protein than women, so the after-effects of lower intestinal distress had to be tolerated.

The family just beamed when I complimented them on a delicioso meal. The young girl was always smiling the way children so often do in Cuenca. I gave her a fifty cent piece after I paid the bill. She thanked me, and excitedly bolted off her stool to immediately run to the kitchen to show her mother what I had given her. The price for the meal was a total of $4.00, and that included a grande beer. The bottle of beer was much larger than a large draft back home. I took half of the beer home with me, so I could finish it later. Another favorite of mine is the fried plantain, which looks like a very large green banana, and is served with many dishes in Ecuador, and can be prepared in many different ways.

What I have shared with you to date about the foods of Ecuador is barely skimming the surface, not only in foods that are unique to Ecuador, but also in the way in which they are prepared.

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