Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cooking in Cuenca

Some have asked about cooking here:  how to find ingredients and favorite foods, cooking at our altitude (8300 ft), what to bring, what we miss.......

We are always delighted to stumble upon yet another cooking ingredient that we didn't think we could find here.  Recently, we found cardamom and dates in a spice shop! 

You just got to ask around and keep looking for some things. 

(These pictures are items from SuperMaxi.  Imported, so you will pay more with the tax.  The perfect tomatoes are from one of the people's markets.)

We don't have special, serious diet requirements, except that we do work on eating more produce and whole foods...which is easy to do here.  Produce is inexpensive and top-quality (so is the ice cream!)

Chicken here does taste different to us, as compared to chicken in the US...really tasty!  Easy to buy chicken parts/feet for broth, too.

**Note from Nancy:  Chicken and cow feet broth are pretty routine now in our kitchen, happy to report.  It just got easier, but wow!, those first times...

 Eggs are fresh, and depending upon what kind of chicken (or duck or quail or whatever) laid them and what they ate, eggs are VERY tasty indeed. Eggs are not refrigerated here.   Some have orange yolks, they are our favorite.  For awhile, we were able to get really fresh eggs from a friend's Mom, until the chickens became stew.  Some of these eggs were blue and green, yolks a brilliant orange.  We always cracked them into a saucer first to check that they were still eggs and not the beginnings of a chicken!  The eggs at SuperMaxi seem to be just fine...just like those from Safeway, except probably fresher and without hormones or other bad stuff. 

An Ecuadorian cooking friend of ours shops each day in the markets.  If she wants chicken for the family, she buys a live one so it's extra-fresh.  If you'd rather not, you can get good, fresh chicken all ready to cook at SuperMaxi, the Coopera, Ital-Deli and the other meat markets.

Finding familiar cuts of beef can be hard...sometimes we haven't a clue what the cut is.  We usually go for the lomo fino (filet mignon) rolls for steaks. The other cuts can be tough, unless you add to a slow cooker or tenderize it.  Beef is generally pretty lean and usually grass fed.

There are several expat blogger/cooks here and all have shared some lessons and we are grateful!  We're still learning, too.

Mick and Kathy recently wrote about some ingredients they have found.  They are from the US South, and they were missing some key items, like grits.
We learned about several items from them that would be nice to chantilly cream (good alternative to cool whip).  You can read more here:

Nancy W also shared some southern treats she's found ingredients for, here:

Karen and Randy discovered some items:

So did Jason and Donna:

Sharon has blogged about her experiences cooking and finding items related to her gluten-free diet.  More here:

Patty shared some valuable info on how to cook at our altitude, here:
More info from her on veggies and fruits:

Someone shared that they just cook or bake something until it's 'done'...we usually do that as well, as our oven isn't that trustworthy.  (Ovens are not common here, by the way.)

You will find you will cook more from scratch here than you did in the US.  It's harder to find processed food or low-sodium or MSG-free items. 

Takes time, from scratch, but we think it's worth the time and trouble.

We managed to make a delicious beef stroganoff with Bob and Rox one night!  Yes, all ingredients we needed are here:

We have been cooking and eating more quinoa...also easy to find here. You can add it to your morning oatmeal or make quinoa fritters!

Here is Barbara's easy recipe:

1-1/4 cups water
1 cup quinoa (washed very well)

Bring both to a simmer, cover and cook 20 to 25 minutes until it's light and fluffy. This can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Side note:  Some days it takes less time to cook (for some reason), so watch the pot.

Probably the only things we really miss are a good spicy curry and Thai food.  But, you can find most ingredients here to 'fake it'.
Friends from Texas brought us a special treat of Penzeys' Vindaloo (curry spice mix) and it made our day! We'd been trying to fake it and our experiments weren't even close.

Since Ecuador is known for their chocolate and coffee, easy to find good types of both in the markets at good prices.  Buying Ecuadorian products will save you money, as imports are more expensive with additional taxes. 

Be sure to try out all the local new-to-you items and try out some 'foreign' produce.   Loretta and Bill's blog has a good summary and pictures of fruits and what to do with them.  We still refer to this entry all the time:

There are some good cooking classes offered here, too. 
We learned alot from Leslie's!  Her classes are really fun.

Another good idea is to hit the bookstores for cookbooks.  At Carolina's, you may find cookbooks in English, but another fun experience is to go for the Spanish books!  You can learn all the Spanish words for cooking terms and ingredients which will come in handy as you shop and cook.
Be sure to search all the blogs and forums for even more info! 

Bien Provecho!


If you don't feel like cooking, there is some good food in the restaurants here!

CA Kitchen's latest...

Asian salad with lomo fino.

Smoked trout.

Very yummy!

Speaking of food... 

We're really looking forward to a Thanksgiving feast with friends!  We have so much to be thankful for here in Cuenca.  Good food, good friends, and so much more.

Happy Thanksgiving to our US friends and family and to all others who celebrate tomorrow. 


  1. Hi guys. Have you considered using a pressure cooker to cook items at high altitude? We're moving to Cuenca at the end of next year, and bought a PC to use and get used to. It takes tough cuts of meat and makes them like butter and delicious. It takes no time to cook rice and beans. In any case, love your blog.
    Rick and Barb

  2. Hi Rick and Barb,
    Several of our friends do use a pressure cooker, especially for beans and meat. At this altitude, it's hard to cook some things, as the boiling point is lower than the 212 degrees at sea level.
    For rice, some use rice cookers, but I still cook rice like I used to, but with a little more water or broth and it works just fine.
    Some friends have also mastered the art of baking here...lots of trial and error for them in the beginning, but their pies and cakes are divine!
    Thanks for the nice words and thanks for writing.

  3. Thanks for this post, R & N. Very helpful. I use a pressure cooker to make pot roast. It works well here but I use a natural tenderizer as well in the liqui,(such as a papaya with onion broth - some people use a can of beer) and later add veggies the last 15 min. I cannot say our Ecuadorian beef has been"like butter" as in the US but it has been very delicious and fairly tender. That grass fed healthy beef is not as marbled with fat so tends to need something to tenderize it. Life's a trade off
    {:-D But Life in Cuenca is wonderful - these are just adjustments, like fine tuning. Sharon