Where do Cuencanos, Ecuadorians and expats alike, buy their food?
The market scene in Cuenca is lively, vibrant, and bountiful, with large bustling produce and meat markets scattered around town, along with a fantastic organic coop (a whole post of its own to come), clean and bright supermarkets, micro-mercados here and there, family tiendas on every block, vendors on bicycles, and squatters selling their produce on the street and even from wheelbarrows.
A great place to dip into Cuenca’s fresh-produce culture is the 3 de Noviembre market on the corner of Coronel Talbot and Mariscal Lamar, a couple blocks north of Plaza San Sebastian at the west end of El Centro. Smaller, less bustling, and maybe a tad friendlier than the larger operations, this market also features vendors who post signs with the names and prices of their produce, which provides a good introduction to what’s available, what it's called, and how much it costs.
The two big produce markets in El Centro are 10 de Agosto, in the southwest at the west end of Calle Larga, and 9 de Octubre in the northeast at the corner of Sangurima and Hermano Miguel. The former is a sprawling two-story building, while the latter is a slightly more compact three-story affair. Both have numerous vendors selling fruits and vegetables, meat, grains and beans, bread and pastries, and sundries; both have plentiful stalls serving juices, almuerzos, and prepared foods.
A good place to try prepared market food is at Comedor Marianita at 10 de Agosto. Marianita manages the comedores booth, while Mario serves the drinks and collects the money. Mario spent seven years working in New York, so he speaks pretty good English, is very friendly, and will introduce you to the pleasures of Marianata’s food. Here, a big plate of chicken, rice, and salad is $1.25.
The Feria Libre is an enormous (several acres at least) open-sided mercado on Avenida de las Americas near Avenida Remigio Crespo, on the western side of the city south of the river. All the westbound and northbound buses stop here; a new bus terminal is being built right next door. This isn't a cute little mercado; it's a huge hard-core produce market that sells everything you can imagine, including live animals: chickens and chicks, pigs, guinea pigs, even goats.
You’ll also see produce sellers squatting on sidewalks, especially outside and around the indoor markets, and on street corners. This is technically illegal, so from time to time the police force them to move. Some squatters make it easier on themselves by selling their produce from wheelbarrows. They’re sort of an upscale version of squatters: When it’s time to move along, they just roll away their wares.
Captions, top: The markets in Ecuador give a new meaning to "dry-aged" beef and poultry; middle: Marianita prepares lunch at Mercado 10 de Agosto; bottom: You can buy chicks, chickens, rabbits, and other live animals at the Feria Libre.