Shopping Goes from Mundane to Adventure In Ecuador

When we first arrived in Ecuador, shopping for food and household items that were vaguely familiar, became an almost weekly, if not daily theme.

When shopping back home, it was a routine that required very little thought.  I parked in the same general area,  walked directly to our preferred brands,  and placed them into the cart with barely a glance, often going off memory rather than a list. Shopping trips were simple, mundane and mostly uneventful.

Our regular weekly items had already had the labels scrutinized, so no need to wonder what chemicals we were choosing to ingest.  Many brands were chosen from long formed habits, like Tide Laundry Detergent.   My mother always used it and it was something I continued using through my life.  It is one of those, ‘if it works, don’t fix it’ products.

Other brands I began choosing due to personal priority shifts.  For example, I will not buy margarine of any brand, even though growing up it is all we had.  When I made the decision to forego eating plastic, it took a little trial and error to find a brand of butter that we both found acceptable and affordable,  eventually settling on a brand that became an everyday item to us.

Other food items changed as our financial situation changed, and as our son grew up and moved out.  We were able to choose pricier, creamier brands of ice cream as a treat, knowing that a teen was not going to devour it in 10 minutes directly from the container.  Again, with some trial and error, a little ingredient label reading, we were able to settle on a new favourite brand and it fell into the same humdrum shopping routine.

Then, we moved to Ecuador and all that changed.  What I realized, exactly one day after arriving in Ecuador, is that our mundane shopping experience was to turn into an adventure with some trial and error, language learning opportunities, and searching expeditions.

When stumped on finding an item, our search would even include a shout out to the online  community forum with a ‘Has Anyone Seen’ post.   I had all but given up on finding molasses when a shout out to the locals lead me to a local health supplement store where they routinely sell it.

Also, some items are just not located where you think they should be.   I had a hard enough time wrapping my head around eggs being on the shelf.  In fact, this is the first time I have seen where you can buy your eggs where you can buy a motorcycle.

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Routine shopping had become anything but.   We had no point of reference. No hereditary choices from mom.  We couldn’t read the all Spanish ingredient  labels.  “Who knew that Worcestershire Sauce is the same as Salsa de Ingles?” Deciphering what cut of beef was being displayed before us became a task so disturbing we rarely buy beef to this day.  To me,  the cuts looked to be hacked off the cow randomly with a machete, into misshapen pieces of red meat.

Because our mundane routine turned into this eyebrow raising adventure, our list of ‘mule me in’ products grew to be 8 pages long, front and back.  If anyone said they were coming to Ecuador, we would immediately refer to our list and then send them a breakdown of the items we simply must have brought in.

Searching up and down the aisles, looking for a glimpse of a familiar name, and once finding it, buying it  all up like some special treasure has been found, became common place.  This news was shared by posting a photo on the forums making the announcement and in short order, the entire stock would be bought up!   Clamato Juice comes to mind; whenever Supermaxi would bring some in, it would not last more than a couple days.

If the exact brands we want, could not be found, we would gravitate to anything vaguely familiar.  I am positive we chose to use Ciclo Laundry Detergent solely because the colours are the same as Tide; a little bit of comfort sitting on the shelf when I walk into the laundry room.

The baking soda search took a long  time to figure its sold  only in special places, in very small quantities, at nearly the price of gold.  In fact, it is so restricted I was leery about mulling some boxes back in my suitcase.  Thankfully, they did not even bat an eye, and now my cupboards contain extra boxes.

I  have never in my life had the need to stockpile  baking soda. But, very little of life in Ecuador can be described as mundane or routine.  Living here tends to shake things up a bit.

I really want to share one of the most unique items found in one of the most unusual places. While on our second tour of old town Quito, we visited an artisan store  built into the tunnels of the eldest church in ‘old town’ (1500s),  and there, on a shelf, was Rhubarb Jam -of all things!

As a Canadian Girl, I love rhubarb, growing it, eating it and creating fabulous desserts with it. It was one of the few things I still miss moving to Ecuador, along with a regular supply of blueberries.

Outside this landmark church (look to the right side of the church pic), you will see little doors.  Inside these doors, shops are built into the old tunnels of the church.  

I have one view inside the ‘Tunnel Tienda’. It was much like a labyrinth of hallways leading into larger openings where some of the coolest local artisan crafts can be purchased. The products line the tunnel walls, as well as the openings, in unique displays.

It was in one of these mazes, that I found Rhubarb Jam. You really just never know what you are going to find.

My advice to anyone arriving here is to embrace your new found adventure of shopping for groceries.  What was once mundane, becomes an experience. Rather than a source of frustration, it can be a source of humour, wonder, and confusion at times.   Use it as an opportunity to try new products, to learn new words, to wonder into store fronts just to take a look. Use the search expeditions as a means of exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country; you will not be disappointed.

We are now 5 years into our Ecuador adventure, and I am happy to say, that the original 8 pages of our “mull list” is now down to just 10 items; one of them being Shake n Bake -of all things!  Oh, those bad habits are hard to break sometimes!

Happy Shopping Everyone!

6 Responses

  1. Loved your story of your grocery shopping expeditions, Dodie. I read it out loud to my husband this morning and we got such a laugh. We look forward to meeting you and your husband in the near future. I received your email this morning regarding my inquiry of what time of year and prior booking notification. We’re just starting our adventure with getting our passports, which will take 8 weeks to get. Getting so excited and we’re so ready to start a new chapter in our lives, understanding there will be challenges, and looking forward to a more layed back way of life and connecting with a people and culture we will soon come to embrace. Take care.

    Cheers to you and yours,
    Susan and Russ

  2. Hi Dodie !
    Wish we could figure out how to send you Shake n Bake !! I’ve tried but there is no reliable way. Darn !
    Loved your story !
    Laree and Carla

  3. The one item I missed when I lived in Ecuador was raw hulled sunflower seeds. That was what I always asked people to bring to me. Now that I am back in Canada I hardly every buy them. Go figure!

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