Food in Cuenca

Cuenca has a lot of typical dishes that we’ve been making sure that Jen tries this week.  Of course we went to one of the markets for fresh juice but we also had some roasted pork – complete with crispy skin.

Lunch at the MarketPlate of PorkPork

Most restaurants in Cuenca have a multi-course lunch special for between $2 and $4.  We splurged and took her to a $3.50 place.  Most specials start with some popcorn or mote (cooked corn kernels, similar to hominy) and a soup.  Our soup was chicken vegetable.

First Course

The main course is almost always rice, protein, vegetables (usually corn or some kind of potato) and a piece of fried plantain.  Our main was chicken fingers with rice and a salad of corn and beans.  The chicken was awesome!  A typical condiment served with meals here is a spicy sauce called aji.  You also always get a glass of fresh juice.  Some places will give a small dessert at the end – this restaurant had small dishes of apples stewed with cinnamon.


Brandon and I also tried our hand at cooking a few traditional dishes for Jen.  My food photography skills are not stellar – but I promise these all tasted good!  We made chifles (Brandon’s specialty) which are just plantain chips served with a salsa that I think I’ve made a dozen times now – it’s so easy!  1 red onion, 1 green or red pepper, 1 hot pepper, cilantro, juice of 1 lime, a little salt and a little oil – and that’s it!  You’ll see it along side all of our Ecuadorian experiments.


We also made a few egg dishes.  This one is called tigrillo. It is boiled and mashed plantain cooked with scrambled eggs and cheese.


And this is my favorite – mote pillo.  I made this mote pillo by just sauteing green onions and mote and then adding in a few eggs and cheese.  Of course with salsa on top!

Mote Pillo

And a visit to Cuenca wouldn’t be complete without at least one stop at one of the many heladerias (ice cream shops).  There’s a shop called Mixx that had my favorite flavor combo – chocolate ice cream with chocolate cake in it with a scoop of Bailey’s ice cream on top!


Parks, Museums and Jennifer!

My little sister Jennifer arrived on Tuesday to hang out with us for two weeks!  Besides bringing us a few requested items (peanut butter, peanut butter M&M’s, new fitbit for Brandon) she surprised us with some Garrett’s Chicago Mix popcorn!  It didn’t last long.


We’ve been showing her around Cuenca and taking her to some of the museums and parks in the area.  There are a ton of museums in Cuenca and almost all of them are free.  My favorites are the Museum of Modern Art and Banco Central.  Banco Central is the largest museum and has a bunch of stuff in it including art, the history of the different cultures in Ecuador, and money in Ecuador.

Museo de Arte Moderno

Banco Central

Behind Banco Central is an Incan ruin called Pumapungo.  It’s pretty big and besides the ruins, has a lot of different plants and animals.

Pumapungo from the top

Me in Pumapungo

Brandon in Pumapungo

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that my favorite part of Pumapungo is the Belgium Waffle stand hidden in the trees.


We also went and checked out some more Incan ruins a few hours outside of Cuenca called Ingapirca.

B&E with J at Ingapirca

Sun Temple at Ingapirca

We hiked to a hill behind the ruins to see what we deemed the Original Mt Rushmore.  Can you see the “Inca Face”?

Inca Face

Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping in Cuenca is a bit different than in the U.S.  There are a few grocery stores here that look just like a typical grocery store in the U.S. but for the most part, the grocery stores in the city center are small and have a large selection of dry goods and then smaller (or non-existent) sections of refrigerated goods, fruits, and veggies.  The place to go to buy your fruit, vegetables and meat is one of the “open air” markets.  There are a two that are within walking distance of our apartment, but one that we like more than the other.

Outside of Market

The inside is very clean and open and it is organized by levels.  Fruit and veggies on the main floor, meat downstairs and prepared food booths upstairs.

Market 1

Market 2

The juices here are awesome and made fresh right before your eyes.  A glass (and not a small one) of fresh juice will run you $.50 – $1.

Juice at Market

On the fruit and veggie floor, we usually go from booth to booth asking prices and checking out which produce looks good.  There are different varieties of produce than we have in the U.S. and quite a few different fruits that they only use for juicing.


Here’s a blurry shot of me negotiating, which is definitely part of the shopping experience.


Because the markets are so close to us, we usually end up going 2-3 times a week to pick up exactly what we need for cooking and snacking.  Here’s an example of a grocery haul from a few days ago.


We paid a total of $5.25 this time.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • 1 pineapple for $1
  • 10 bananas for $.50
  • 3 green plantains for $.50
  • a bag of onions ~10 for $.50
  • a bag of green peppers ~7 for $.50
  • a bag of hot peppers ~10 for $.50
  • a bag of limes ~12 for $.50
  • a bag of tomatoes ~5 for $.50
  • a bunch of green onions for $.25
  • a bunch of cilantro for $.25
  • a bag of garlic ~12 peeled cloves for $.25

Most of the produce stands sell bags of produce for $.50 to $1.  A lot of the vegetables are $.50/bag and the fruit $1/bag but it just depends on what is in season and who is giving you the price.  We probably are getting “gringo prices” on some of the stuff, but we honestly don’t mind because it still seems pretty cheap to us!

What have we been doing?

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Ecuador for almost a month now!  So what have we been doing in Cuenca? Whatever we feel like! The best part of fun-employment is only doing things that you want to, which honestly, has been a lot of relaxing so far.

We’ve been taking Spanish classes in the mornings for the last 3 weeks.  Here’s a shot of Brandon with his teacher Rafael and one of me with my teacher Belen.

Brandon and Rafael

Erin and Belen


I’m really glad that we decided to take Spanish classes, although it’s a little weird having homework again!  Both Brandon and I improved a lot over the last few weeks and it’s been great learning more about the history and culture of Ecuador.  And it’s also been great for restaurant recommendations!

Most days I either workout before or after class.  I’ve either been doing body weight excercises or yoga in the apartment or running/walking in Parque de la Madre.  The park is so nice!  There are always a few people working out there running on the track or using some of the stationary equipment.

Track at Parque de la Madre

Exercise Equipment at Park

Besides Parque de la Madre, Cuenca has a ton of other parks that museums that we’ve checked out.  There is also a great bike path next to one of the rivers that runs through town that we walk on most days.

Erin on Stairs

Bike path


We (and by we, I mean mostly Brandon 🙂 ) have also spent a lot of time over the last month watching the World Cup.  This is really the first time I’ve ever watched much soccer and while I am enjoying it, I like it a lot more now that there is only 1 game every few days instead of 3 games everyday!  There have been a few rainy afternoons here that have been perfect for watching soccer or Netflix.  I *might* have already blazed through season 1 of Nashville and be well underway with the first season of Homeland…

All of our free time has been great for catching up on reading and wish lists.  Brandon is working on project that he’s wanted to do for a while and I decided to learn some basic coding and am working my way through some Codecademy tutorials.  I also volunteered at a local nursing home a few afternoons.  We’ve also been spending a bit of time doing research for our next adventure since we leave Cuenca in a week!  We still have a few more things we want to do while we are in Cuenca and are planning on getting them crossed off the bucket list next week when my sister Jennifer visits us.  Towards the top of the list is heading back to a little Belgium brewery that we found.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Brandon at Jodoco

El Cajas National Park

This past weekend we had the pleasure of visiting one of the main attractions in the greater Cuenca area, El Cajas National Park.

El Cajas National Park is located approximately 30km west of Cuenca. It’s full of picturesque mountains, lakes, lagoons, and rolling hills.  The name ‘Cajas’ is apparently derived from the Quichua word “cassa”, which means “gateway to snowy mountains” (thanks Wikipedia). While we did not necessarily come across any snowy mountains, it was beautiful nonetheless.


We woke up at 6:00 AM, as we had been advised to try to get there earlier than later, to ensure we didn’t get wrapped up into “The Mist”, which Cajas is allegedly notorious for. Apparently on many afternoons, a fog/mist will roll through, making it nearly impossible to see the trail ahead of you. Wanting to avoid such situation, we heeded the warning and arrived early.

Entrance to Cajas

Luckily, with our early arrival, it felt like we had the park to ourselves. Outside of spotting a local ‘pescador’ (fisherman) on one of the many lakes in the park, we didn’t see anybody until we were pretty much back at the park office. We saw more llamas than we did humans, which is a win in my book. Though, I made sure to give them a little space, as I was nearly trampled by a herd of them while on the Inca Trail a couple years ago.


While the weather wasn’t perfect, it was still a gorgeous hike. All in all, the hike took us approximately 3 hours, and took us through a variety of landscapes. Sometimes through odd looking forests…


Sometimes through scenic open expanses…

Open Expanses

And sometimes the trail even called for fording rivers…

Fording Rivers

It was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning.