How to eat Cuenca?

Although the name sounds funny, I believe that, at the beginning of 2024, the city of Cuenca is currently experiencing its best gastronomic moment for those who visit us temporarily and also for new residents who have chosen it for its many attributes.

The “cuencana cuisine” has largely ceased to be that vernacular cuisine of family recipes that were kept as treasures and passed down from mothers to daughters. Currently the city offers a number of proposals that combine technique, modernity and influence from other cuisines of the world that have brought as a result a delicious result that maintains the use of local and traditional ingredients with the palette of flavors of our taste memory.

When talking about restaurants I can say that the best thing is that there is something for everyone. From traditional food in the eateries of our picturesque markets to fresh proposals that stand out for their innovation, here are some options of “Where to eat in Cuenca” to enjoy like a local.

For me food from Cuenca is to think of: Fritada, Cuchicara, Hornado, Sancochos, Motepata, Sanduches de Pernil, Tamales, Papas Locas, Arroz de Cebada con Oreja, etc. etc. etc. All of them are pork-based specialties from Cuenca’s menu, some of them even have their own season for their consumption. To enjoy them we can go to: Mercado 10 de Agosto, Mercado 9 de Octubre, Mercado 27 de Febrero, Mercado 12 de Abri, restaurants on Av. Don Bosco, San Joaquin restaurants.

The roasted guinea pig, as you know this is a delicacy consumed in the Andes. In Cuenca the guinea pig is seasoned with garlic, salt, cumin and roasted over the coals, in a “cangador” which turns constantly, achieving an extraordinary contrast of textures and juiciness. This delicacy is accompanied with “papas de cuy” (guinea pig potatoes), hard-boiled egg, mote and chili bell pepper. It is very important at the end of the meal to take a “drake” so that it does not kick. This preparation can be enjoyed at Tres Estrellas, Güajibamba or El Escondite among other options.

One of my favorite dishes of the local repertoire is the “Papas Locas”. This is a succulent potato stew (bolona or cubaleña variety) and pork (umacara or pig’s face and legs) and zambo pepa, it can be found in some markets and in traditional neighborhoods of the city such as San Blas or Maria Auxiliadora. The dish consists of potato and pork stew served with “arroz dorado” (golden rice) and a salad composed of tumbe or panamito beans, carrots and onions. It is usually accompanied with agua de frescos.

A separate chapter deserves the picanteria dishes, by these we mean the “dry” soups and “stews”, each with its own seasoning, but with the same essence. These are everyday, comforting dishes that are engraved in our taste memory. Here are some references for the reader: the Sopa de Harina de Arveja de Arveja from Picantería El Criollito, the Seco de Chivo from El Brujo, in Picantería 10 de Agosto you can find Caldo de Mocho, Caldo de Patas or Lengua al Jugo, Picantería Karina offers Encocado de Pescado esmeraldeño style, honoring the origin of its owners.

The envueltos are also enjoyed in the local menu, an afternoon stroll through the emblematic Calle de las Herrerías in the El Vergel neighborhood invites us to enjoy Chumales, Tamales and quimbolitos accompanied by chuspa coffee or our favorite beverage.

Changing the scenario and thinking about contemporary restaurants, there are extraordinary establishments to captivate the most sophisticated palates. I must emphasize that the attached list does not rate or rank them based on any criteria or score. But it would be a fun exercise to share which ones were your favorites. The following is the list:
El Mercado, El Jardín, Rosee, Bogoli, ITA, Mansión Matilde, Tiestos, Latida, Dos Sucres, La Maria, Café Libre, La Chicheria, Amapola, Negroni. They all share a common goal, which is to leave the best memories of our city.

So next time you know how you can enjoy yourself like a local.

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