Specialty And Gourmet Foods_ Cuenca Shopping Guide (Part 3)

Specialty And Gourmet Foods: Cuenca Shopping Guide (Part 3)

So, this is becoming a bit ridiculous. This is the 3rd installment in my Cuenca Specialty & Gourmet food series. I just keep finding more and more exceptional places to buy and order ingredients and meal components. View the 1st and 2nd parts of the series.

Numerous quality-conscious entrepreneurs have gone into the business of satisfying the cravings of a very small percentage of the Cuencano population. Some purveyors take this to the next level and have primarily targeted the expat market, which makes up only about 1% of Cuenca’s population. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that many of us can afford to allocate a higher percentage of our budgets to really good food and ingredients now that our rents and other costs are so much lower than before?

Some of the clever entrepreneurial food purveyors were in business before I arrived in 2017. But many others got very good at providing home delivery options over the course of the pandemic. I have compiled a long list of these companies. But for now, I will keep you on tenterhooks while I perfect my ordering-in list. Bwah Ha Ha!

So, today I will cover a few more of my favorites discovered over the past 5 years.

It occurs to me that we expats can be a particular and demanding group when it comes to food. Many of us acquired some pretty sophisticated taste buds during a period when “foodie-ism” made it’s impact on U.S. culture.  

Somebody asked Joe Biden to name the U.S.’s favorite foods. He answered: “Hot Dogs, Ice Cream and Spaghetti.” I think he was appealing to our sense of nostalgia but, who knows, maybe those are his favorite foods. Actually, he described approx 50% of my list of favorites from Mom’s kitchen when I was very young…along with meatloaf, cheeseburgers, pancakes and corn on the cob. And of course, french fries (potatoes are a vegetable, dammit!). And, everybody ate like that where I grew up outside of Chicago – and many still do.  

Chicago has perfected some of the very best, simple, fast food in the world: Pizza, Hot Dogs, Italian Beef Sandwiches, Barbeque ribs, etc. To give you an idea of how much Chicagoans love this kind of food, the owner of a Chicago-based restaurant group, Portillos, specializing in hot dogs and beef sandwiches, sold his business to a venture capital group a few years ago for a Billion (with a B) dollars. 

We don’t have too many east-coast style diners with huge menus in Chicago, but many little joints specialize in just 1 or 2 of these delicious and belt-stretching goodies. These establishments are goldmines for their owners. Chicago’s gargantuan demand for their favorites is almost shocking. Case in point: it’s common to find small restaurant-branded pizzas, burgers and sauces in the frozen foods section of supermarkets for those times when you just can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and order in. Some joints like Giordano’s Pizza (stuffed pizza) will even fly your favorite pie, frozen, anywhere in the U.S. That was one of my favorite birthday presents ever…  

So, why am I sharing all this off-target background with you? Well, I was super hungry and started dreaming about a foot-long Italian beef sandwich soaked in beef juice and a bag of Portillo’s fries. I got carried away as I sometimes do. If this was TV, you would see me drooling on myself.

I think my point is that people like me grew their gastronomic horizons as more sophisticated and varied cuisines entered the scene and these more intricate flavors and varied textures became just as important and urgent as those of my youth. So, fascinating ingredients found in foods like northern Italian, Thai, Szechuan Chinese, Malaysian and coastal Mexican became more like staples as did French, Dutch and Italian cheeses and imported Belgian chocolate, for example.

And celebrity (or at least quasi-famous chefs) became TV personalities and their restaurants became an important form of entertainment for those who could afford them. I think my tastebuds started becoming better educated in the 80’s when I was no longer an entry-level employee, and exploded in the 90’s during boom financial times. Actually, for the U.S. generally, Julia Child kicked off the revolution in American tastes and cooking with her different television shows starting in the 1950’s. She taught us about the delights of French cooking and the rocket ship took off from there.

So, the wonderful news is that we find here a growing number of sources to satisfy more sophisticated tastes as well as for excellent high quality staples that we all know and love.

Below are some options for you to consider as promised in Part 2 of this series. 

As Dad used to say, “Don’t stand on ceremony”. Don’t wait for us. Please dig in.

Casa Yangoe

Casa Yangoe Cuenca

Casa Yangoe is a beautiful, new place in el centro for organic veggies, chocolates, vast numbers of condiments, cheeses, beers & wines.

In a heritage building, near the corner of Benigno Malor and Calle Larga, you can buy locally-made products procured from rural Ecuadorians, artisans and small producers. They are housed in a beautifully restored patrimonial home that opened in February 2021 as a result of a project initiated seven years ago by a consortium of 12 families.

This space has been divided into sections, where fresh food, processed food and handicrafts are sold. In the hallway, there is an organic wine cellar, a place for Ecuadorian cocoa and coffee, and a space for gourmet cheeses.

At the back, there is a cozy garden adapted so that visitors can relax and taste the products that are sold there. On weekends artists perform.

Francisco Abad helps customers get to know the place and explains the origin of each product and how its consumption benefits local families. The products are high quality including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, jams, sauces, condiments, handmade chocolates, wines, and nutritional supplements. There are also toquilla straw hats, clothing, decorative items, and even natural cosmetics.

Dining is also available at the second floor restaurant “La María”, which offers creative versions of Ecuadorian and Cuencano dishes. 

Don’t forget your Yapa! Check out Casa Yangoe’s deal for YapaTree Cardholders.

Where to Find Casa Yangoe

A brief history of Ecuadorian Hornado “Pernil”

Los Perniles and Los Perniles de Gato both serve fantastic hot roast pork and turkey by the sandwich and by the pound.

The history of the baked pig, which is consumed from Carchi to Loja, has its origins in one of Christopher Columbus’ ships, on his second voyage to America. The story goes that in 1493 Columbus brought eight Iberian pigs to the island of Cuba from where they spread to Mexico, Central, and South America.

The Spanish marinated their pigs with wine, salt, and pepper and baked them in wood-fired ovens. Variations were made of this preparation. Food historians say that the local preparation evolved from the Spanish tradition of cooking pigs in wood-fired ovens. And with the interpretations that the mestizos gave to this dish, an Ecuadorian version was created. Products that the Spanish used to season pork were replaced with chicha, garlic, onion and others that were grown locally.

If you want to see how to make it at home check out this video

But if you get raging pernil cravings like me, head to a “chancho” shop where pernil is offered in sandwich form and to take home.  This is absolutely spectacular local food. There are many such places through Cuenca so by all means check out those near you.  

Two of my favorite places are featured below. And the big bonus is they also feature excellent roast turkey by the sandwich or by the pound to take home and enjoy.  

The turkey option was a revelation as it always seemed to me before finding these places that getting real roast turkey here required you to actually roast a turkey so, forget that! You can get pernil to take home too but it never gets that far when I order it… 

Important tip: fresh roast turkey goes fast. Call ahead before you head over to pick up some for your dinner table to avoid disappointment.

Los Perniles 

Los Perniles Cuenca

A tienda that offers excellent pernil y pavo (turkey) is the appropriately named “Los Perniles“.

At Los Perniles, a pound of Pernil will set you back about $10 and includes 10 sandwich rolls and aji. It looks like a tienda filled with lots of comestibles and every kind of “gaseosa” soft drink, beer and liquor. It is owned and run by a friendly proprietor, Don Enrique Morocho, who is very service-oriented. Extremely limited “seating”, so it’s more of a grab-n-go type place.

Where to Find Los Perniles

Los Perniles del Gato

Los Perniles del Gato

Los Perniles del Gato is a bit more like a restaurant with seating and tables. It’s an excellent choice for roast pernil, pavo and pollo (chicken). One of my favorite things is to enjoy a couple of their highly restorative pernil sandwiches and a coco juice while the owner carves off a pound for me to enjoy at home.

Where to Find Los Perniles del Gato

Pacari Chocolate Cuenca

Pacari Chocolate Shop Cuenca

There are many excellent brands of chocolate calling Ecuador home. But Pacari is easily the best marketer of its chocolate products. There is a remarkable selection of their chocolate products in the shop on Paucarbama and you have to see their displays to fully understand the scope and variety of forms in which they sell their primary product. You may also sample some of these in the adjacent restaurant.  Pretty hard to resist sampling there after you scour the shelf displays.  

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Pacari is with their chocolate ice cream. It only comes in a sugar-free version but it is so good that I honestly don’t notice the absence of sugar.  They will be one of my Christmas shopping stops for great stocking stuffers.

Where to Find Tienda Pacari Cuenca

Salinerito Tienda

Salinerito Tienda Cuenca

Salinerito: Local cheese shops with truly aged cheeses

There are plenty of tasteless, watery cheeses to be found throughout Cuenca, many of them in what are called “cheese shops”. Fortunately for cheese snobs like me there are better options with great aged cheeses.  Some varieties do not come under the names I recognize from the U.S. but many of them do and can be found at Salinerito. They have some very tasty & strong aged cheeses. There are a number of El Salinerito locations around town, one much nearer to me than at the address in the Hotel Posada Angel I feature here. But none present their products as well as this one. It’s a fun place to shop and hang out for that reason and because the woman behind the counter is super friendly and accommodating, actually offering to let me taste some cheeses before buying. And to me, that’s important because I sometimes don’t know the names of the cheeses and I need to sample them before buying.  

Some of the cheeses, many imported, which you will recognize include Cheddar, Gruyere, Dambo, Andino with basil, Tilsit, Gouda, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Smoked Provolone.

They also carry some smoked meats, interesting chocolate items, liqueurs, sauces, honey, nuts, candies, specialty sauces, snacks, wines and condiments. And a Christmas shopping tip: they have some festive- looking Christmas food baskets.

They have taken the trouble to post their offerings on a website from which you can order or pre-shop so you know what to look for when you visit the shop.

Where to Find Salinerito

Sunrise Cafe

Sunrise Cafe Cuenca

Orlando Ortiz owns and operates this venerable breakfast and lunch restaurant serving big portions of US-style grub that he learned to prepare during his time as a chef in the U.S. 

Orlando offers some excellent take-home items shown in the photo. Many of them are available as side dishes or elements of the meals he serves. All of those I have tried are very high quality. If you are looking to take home a big slice of diner-style food, Sunrise Cafe is a great option. Order your take-home items while you are eating in the restaurant and they will package them up for you to grab and go and they will add it to your meal bill so you can grab it and go!

Some of my favorites are the deli items like hams, sausage & coleslaw.

Don’t forget your yapa! Check out Sunrise Cafe’s deal for YapaTree cardholders.

Where to Find Sunrise Cafe

Cafe San Sebas

Cafe San Sebas Cuenca

Cafe San Sebas is another favorite hangout for an American-style breakfast and brunch and it seems to serve as many or more Ecuadorians as it does gringos these days. Located on a corner of the charming Parque San Sebastian, it is well worth a stop to see what products they have on offer other than what’s on the brunch menu.

Their website is quite well designed and displays a section called ‘Mercado San Sebas’ with some of their take-home items including multigrain bread, granola, peanut butter, corn chips and other tasty treats.  They have also featured some dairy products including feta cheese, cottage cheese (excellent), yogurt and cream cheese direct from their own farm.

Don’t forget your yapa! Check out the YapaTree Card deal for Cafe San Sebas.

Where to Find Cafe San Sebas

Troya Supermercados

Troya Supermercados Cuenca

Troya Supermercados specializez in nuts, grains and spices.

Troya Supermercados has 3 stores of specialty foods. They are not well known in the expat community but offer a very wide variety of comestibles that can be found on their website. Breads, peanuts, mixed nuts, baking necessities, noodles, lentils and the list goes on and on.  

The location near Feria Libre can be a bit difficult to find as I learned when I tried to drive there and failed to reach it. And it is in a very, very crowded and busy part of town. But I am told by a local restaurateur who shops there regularly that it is worth the effort, especially if you are looking for baking supplies. Neither have I made it to the location on Gaspar Sangurima so I have no report to offer on it. 

But I have visited the smallest one of the three on the corner of Parque San Sebastian several times and I can report that it is chock full of a wide variety of spices and grains.  

The variety and package size of spices are truly surprising. I saw some spices I have been praying for Supermaxi to pick up for years, such as ground Annatto and Spanish Anise. If nothing else, I recommend visiting the shop for a fun diversion next time you are at San Sebastian Park.

Website Example Photos

Where to Find Troya Supermercados

Tienda Nectar

Tienda Nectar Cuenca

Tienda Nectar health food store with a wide variety of organic, natural and vegan products from local coffee to topical mineral-based creams and oils as well as fresh juices and cleanse regiments.

Our recently updated story on this Cuenca institution provides some great detail.  And their website is a marvelous shopping experience in its own right, showing off an incredible variety of products that one can order online.

Formerly a restaurant and health food store, by focusing on the health food store only, they proceeded to add a variety of goods previously unavailable in Cuenca. Over the years, people seeking everything from essential oils, Amazonian tinctures, supplements, and a variety of local products such as homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, raw vegan curry crackers & even massage oils have found their way to Nectar.

The majority of products are from Ecuador. Imported items are purchased through Ecuadorian companies. Their practice is to support small, local producers with fair trade purchasing policies. 

Some of their best-sellers are Franco Organico which has supplied Tienda Nectar for many years. One of their best-selling products is his fudge bars. The sauerkraut and kimchi made by Tania and Yianni are hard to keep in stock and they sell a lot of raw vegan curry crackers made by Susan Schenck.

The staff/owners are very helpful and informative, offering occasional periodic workshops, lectures, and fairs.

Where to Find Tienda Nectar

Wrapping Up

Well, I hope you picked up a few new places from the 9 we’ve listed to shop for your favorite, hard to find foods.

I will devote another article about where to order specialty foods ‘a domicilio’ including both cooked and ready-to-prepare meal components. Watch for our future article on where to order in specialty and ethnic items.  

And please, if you have a favorite, secret or not-so-secret place that deserves some attention, please let us know and drop it in the comments with a quick note about why people should know about it. You can also give your feedback in our Cuenca Facebook Group.

Until then, happy dining!

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