Cuenca Days are the most exciting and lively time of year in our adopted city. Cuenca’s independence from Spain is celebrated on November 3, and the weather is typically fine — perfect for strolling around El Centro and enjoying artists, musicians, and dance.
Of course, what would be a holiday without the food! Street food is often a part of the celebration, so let’s celebrate in style, with health in mind —con la salud en mente.
Street food can be a minefield of deep-fried, high-sugar stuff that may taste good at that first bite, but leaves you with a grease-coated tongue and blood sugar surge — no wonder you’re reaching for the antacid when you get home! No te preocupes, don’t worry; there are plenty of healthy options!
Top Tips For Healthy Eating: Cuenca Days 2018
- Don’t go hungry. A smart strategy is to eat first and go exploring on a full stomach — it’s easier to avoid greasy junk food.
- Breakfast: start out stoked with some satiating protein: scramble up a couple of eggs with onions, tomato, and whole grain bread. Non-meat options include avocado toast on whole grain bread or peanut butter with banana on whole grain. A cup of oats or unsweetened muesli with Greek yogurt and fruit is a delicious choice — best fruits include high fiber kiwi, banana, mango, papaya, pineapple, and berries.
- Now that you have a full stomach, head out and explore and identify locations offering foods that fit into your healthy diet for later on. Very healthy and tasty options include grilled chicken on a skewer, beans and rice, fresh fruit, chochos and salsa (lupin beans and chopped tomatoes and onions), ceviche — what are your favorites when you’re looking for tasty but healthy fare? Feel free to add a comment below.
- Dine at your favorites! Instead of street food, dine at your favorite restaurants. Many are open throughout the weekend. The food courts at the mercados are typically open throughout the holiday. I love the encebollado (fish soup) upstairs at Mercado 10 de Agosto on Calle Larga y General Torres. This thick seafood broth brims with chunks of fish, and served with corn nuts and pickled onions, this soup makes a satisfying meal, and inexpensive too.
- Drink plenty of water, the most refreshing of liquids. Eat fresh fruit! Street vendors sell refreshing piña (pineapple) and sandia (watermelon).
- Empanadas. A street fair wouldn’t be a street fair without sampling some local foods, and an empanada, either vegetarian or chicken, is a good option (see if you can find a baked one, instead of deep-fried). Humitas, steamed corn cakes in cornhusks are simply delicious. Llapingachos are potato patties stuffed with cheese and grilled. Corn on the cob! A great snack, as long as you don’t drench it in butter (fat) or mayo (more fat) and salt. Grilled corn has a delicious flavor all its own.
- November 2 is the Day of the Dead and overlaps with the Cuenca Days festivities. On this holiday it’s traditional to celebrate with a cup of the holiday’s traditional colada morada — Ecuador’s spiced berry and purple corn drink, and cute guaguas de pan (bread babies). These are celebratory treats to enjoy without feeling like you need to lie down!
Instead of This
- Salchipapas. The most highly engineered, least nutritious foods on the planet. Deep-fried, salted fries with deep-fried fake meat (they call it sausage, but it’s really just fake meat), drenched with fatty mayonnaise and sugary ketchup. You’re talking about 800-1000 calories in one bowl. Skip it.
- Fried dough. This comes in many forms, from churros to donuts, typically dusted with powdered sugar. Some are coated with chocolate, others topped with cream. This is the deadly combination of fake fat, white flour, and sugar.
- Ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs. You can be sure that if they’re on the street, they’re “mystery meat” and liable to give you that stomachache later on. They fall into the “been there, done that” category of junk food.
- Fried onion rings. Just like what they do to those poor fried potatoes, vendors take a healthy onion and transform it into a fat sponge. Besides the excess of low-quality fat (probably GMO soybean or other cheap refined oil designed to the take intense heat) the sodium content is through the roof! Just three onion rings have about 200 calories and 1,000 mg of sodium, about half of what’s healthy for the entire day.
- Sweet drinks. Lemonade and juices are typically full of sugar, and just a 12-ounce cup has more than 150 calories. Too much sugar is dehydrating, and alcohol calories add up fast.
Finally, there’s far more to a street fair than food. The artists and musicians are so fabulous, and just walking around and enjoying the crowds is sometimes the best entertainment, don’t you think?
Remember, “diet” is not a four-letter word signifying deprivation. No, your diet describes the foods and beverages you typically eat and drink to stay healthy, energized, and at a weight that suits your comfort level. Here in Cuenca, the city of muchas gradas, just walking around town can be an aerobic experience. Enjoy the holiday and your health.