Cuenca Ecuador Supermarket – Supermaxi El Vergel (Episode 11)

Esta mañana (this morning), we visited Supermaxi El Vergel supermarket/grocery store to get some of our staple supplies like soy milk, mushrooms, apple cider vinegar, crackers, wine, etc. We also buy trash bags, laundry detergent, canned goods, spices, tofu, condiments and other packaged items at Supermaxi.

We typically buy all of our fruits and veggies at the mercado, but the mercados don’t carry everything and we really like Supermaxi El Vergel. It’s clean, reasonably priced and feels like a Safeway or Kroger back in the states. Oh, and the people who work there are all really nice and helpful.

Check out our other video about Mercado 27 de Febrero Organic Thursday Market in Cuenca Ecuador for more info on mercados.

We hope you enjoy this tour of Supermaxi El Vergel. We’ve also included some Spanish language learning opportunities for you.

Please LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE this video, and SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel.

Tour of Supermaxi El Vergel

La Sombrilla

Sombrilla Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

It’s often sunny and rainy on the same day…and in the same hour…in Cuenca, so Amelia always has her umbrella (sombrilla/paraguas) handy.

There is technically a difference between a sombrilla and a paraguas in the Spanish language. A sombrilla is specifically to provide shade from the sun, while a paraguas is specifically to provide protection from the rain. A sombrilla doesn’t have to be water resistant, but a paraguas does.

However, Amelia uses the same umbrella for both. I always wear a water resistant hat and carry a rain jacket (un impermeable) in my backpack. You just never know when it’s going to rain.

Supermaxi El Vergel – Cuenca Ecuador

Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

We love the Supermaxi El Vergel that’s near our house. It’s super clean, it has most everything we need, and the employees are very friendly. We buy most of our produce (fruits and veggies) at the mercado, but we buy almost everything else at Supermaxi.

When we were researching our move to Cuenca Ecuador, we couldn’t find a video of the inside of Supermaxi so we didn’t know what to expect. We assumed it would be similar to a supermarket in the states, but we didn’t realize it would be just like a supermarket in the states.

If you take someone from the states and plop them down in the middle of Supermaxi El Vergel, they wouldn’t know they were in Ecuador (except that everything is in Spanish).

Health & Beauty Aisle at Supermaxi El Vergel

Aisle Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

This is the health & beauty aisle in Supermaxi El Vergel. It looks a lot like a Walmart, Safeway or Kroger.

They have most of the brands that you see in the states, which means most are tested on animals. We try to buy things like deodorant and skin care products at one of the small organic stores around town. Most of them carry cruelty-free products, but they’re more expensive (as you’d expect). We’ll share videos of them later.

The prices on most things are lower than you’d pay in the states, but some things are similar or higher. For example, sunscreen is a lot more expensive here, almost twice as much! Alcohol, processed foods and paper products are about the same price as the states.

But food is a LOT less expensive here. Produce is about 1/3 to 1/10 the cost as the states. Plus, the fruits and veggies are much higher quality and MUCH more flavorful here. We usually get avocados, mangos and papayas 3 for $1. We can get 10 bananas for 50 cents, a huge bunch of Swiss chard or spinach for 50 cents, and 5 pounds of delicious yellow potatoes for $1.

We were spending between $600 and $800 per month on groceries in Denver. Here, we spend between $100 and $200 per month, and the quality is far superior.

Vegan Foods at Supermaxi El Vergel

This is another thing we had a hard time figuring out before we moved here: are vegan processed foods available? And the answer is yes, they are.

Vegan Milk Alternatives at Supermaxi

Almond Milk Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

You can get both soy milk and almond milk, but that’s about it for milk alternatives. They don’t have a GMO label, so we’re assuming they’re GMO-free since all products containing GMOs must be labeled here (see more on that below).

You can also get vegan yogurt (yogurt vegano), but yogurt is a lot different here. It’s a creamy liquid that you pour out of the container instead of eating with a spoon. It’s not thick like we’re used to.

We haven’t found any vegan butter yet. They do have several different types of dairy-free margarine, but we don’t eat that so we go without butter. Instead, we use avocado, peanut butter or jam on our toast.

Yes, Supermaxi Has Tofu

Tofu Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

They also carry a few different types of tofu, but they don’t always have all of them at the same time. They don’t have a GMO label so we’re assuming they’re non-GMO, but they’re probably not organic. That means pesticides were probably used, but no genetic engineering.

The smoked tofu (tofu ahumado) is very flavorful and a nice addition to stir fries. The regular tofu is just like tofu in the states and the density is equivalent to firm/extra firm. The baked tofu (tofu horneado) with basil was also delicious.

Vegan Meat Substitutes at Supermaxi

Vegan Meats Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

They also have several different types of meat substitutes for hamburgers, hotdogs and sausage. We haven’t found any TVP (textured vegetable protein) yet, but lentils make a good substitute for that.

We don’t buy many meat substitutes anymore since we eat a mostly WFPB (Whole-Food Plant-Based) diet so we don’t visit this section very often. It’s used to be located between the conventional processed meats and the butchered meats, but they have since moved them next to the soy milk behind the guard desk at the entrance. They moved the tofu there, too, so all of the cold vegan products are next to each other.

Vegetable Broth at Supermaxi

Vegetable Broth Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

Supermaxi doesn’t carry liquid vegetable broth (at least we haven’t found any). But they do carry cubed vegetable broth (caldo de verduras) that dissolves in water.

HOWEVER, this vegetable broth from Nestlé contains trans fats in the from of vegetable shortening. We no longer buy this for obvious health reasons.

Apple Cider Vinegar at Supermaxi

Apple Cider Vinegar Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

ACV (apple cider vinegar) is a staple in the vegan kitchen, and Supermaxi carries a few different brands of it so you won’t have to go without that.

They also carry several different types of oils and vinegars. We rarely cook with oil, but we use a lot of vinegar on salads and in recipes.

Super Affordable Quinoa at Supermaxi

Quinoa Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

Most quinoa comes from Peru, which shares Ecuador’s southern border. That means it doesn’t have far to travel so it’s much cheaper here. This large bag of quinoa is only $1.12!

Quinoa has gotten so expensive in the states that we stopped buying it, but it’s back on the menu here!

Spices at Supermaxi

Spices Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

We cook with a lot of spices, so we were happy to see such a large spice selection at Supermaxi. There are some independent spice shops in El Centro that we also visit for some of the rarer items, but we’re able to find almost everything at Supermaxi.

The spice package labels are in Spanish, so remember to take your translation app with you. Supermaxi offers FREE WI-FI so you can look things up online, too.

Vegan Cereal (as of Oct 2018)

SuperMaxi Vegan Cereal

One of our YouTube viewers asked about vegan cereal options at Supermaxi. They have a large healthy cereal section, but most have oil and/or animal products of some sort. However, this brand is completely vegan and oil-free.

Rolled Oats at Supermaxi

Rolled Oats Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

We ate rolled oats (hojuelas de avena) nearly every morning back in Denver, either cooked or uncooked, so we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to get them here, but we can!

They have several different brands and types of oats: conventional, non-GMO and organic. We prefer the non-GMO kind because it’s a lot less expensive than the organic. We have even found steel cut oats on occasion. Last time Supermaxi had them, we bought 5 containers!

Zapallo (Squash) at Supermaxi

Squash Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

One thing that is sorely lacking in Ecuador is squash. This is the only type of squash that we’ve found. It’s called “zapallo” which literally translates to “pumpkin,” but it certainly doesn’t taste or look like a pumpkin.

Zapallo tastes like a cross between a yellow squash and a butternut squash. And it looks like a cross between a pumpkin and an acorn squash. Here’s a picture I took in the mercado, where they sell it by the slice:

We use zapallo in our stir fries a lot since it’s so low calorie and filling: 100 grams has only 24 calories and 3 grams of fiber! That means you can eat it guilt-free! It also has a very mild flavor so it takes on the flavor of the spices in your recipe.

Organic Produce at Supermaxi

Organic Produce Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

Supermaxi has a small organic produce section with lots of delicious options. Ecuador doesn’t allow GMO crops to be grown in the country, so the quality of non-organic food is already much higher, but you can find lots of organic fruits and veggies here, too.

Mercado 27 de Febrero also has a special organic market every Thursday morning and there are several organic popup markets around town, if that’s uber important to you.

Common Sense Food Labels in Ecuador

Nutrition Label Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

While we continue to struggle in the states to make food labels easy to read, the little South American country of Ecuador has already done it. Every packaged food has this easy to read label indicating the amount of sugar, salt and fat contained in the product.

The highest level ingredient goes on top and the lowest goes on the bottom. The options are high (alto), medium (medio) and low (bajo). They’re also color coded for extra easy understanding: red is high, yellow is medium and green is low. It’s so simple it’s hard to believe the US can’t figure out how to do it.

Ecuador also has the standard nutrition label that looks just like the labels we see in the states, except they’re in Spanish and the amounts are all metric. You won’t often see serving sizes in cups (tazas) or ounces. They’re either grams or milliliters, which makes it a bit tough for us Americans, but we’re learning.

GMO (GE) Food Labels

GMO Labels Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

While Ecuador doesn’t allow GMO crops (more accurately called GE or genetically engineered crops) to be grown inside the country, they do allow some products containing GMOs to be imported.

We were never sure if this Kikkoman Soy Sauce contained GMOs back in the states, but I think it’s a safe bet that it does. Thanks to Ecuador’s mandatory GMO labeling, all products containing genetically engineered ingredients must sport this “contiene transgénicos” sticker.

Again, it’s so simple that a tiny developing country in South America can do it, yet GMO foods are still not labeled in the states. Gee, I wonder why.

Checkout Lines at Supermaxi El Vergel

Checkout Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

Supermaxi has similar checkout lines to grocery stores in the states and they also accept credit cards. You just need to go to the customer service desk at the front of the store near the express lane and get a free Supermaxi card. You’ll need your passport or cedula (government ID card) to get it, but we just keep a picture of our passport on our phone for these types of circumstances so we don’t have to carry it all the time.

One thing that’s different with the checkout lines here is that you can’t push your shopping cart through the line. The carts are too wide to fit so they stack up at the entrance of the checkouts and you often have to move them out of the way to reach the checkout conveyor belt. Occasionally, someone gathers up all the carts and puts them back, but it can become quite the obstacle course until that happens.

If you have too many bags to carry, the baggers have a special cart that they load (you can see it behind the lady in the photo above). Then they’ll wheel it out to the parking lot or one of the waiting taxis.

Bag Check at Supermaxi El Vergel

Bag Check Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

There is a bag check with a security guard at the entrance of the store. You’ll need to check any bags or backpacks you have (except your purse or empty grocery bags) and he’ll give you a little claim tag so you can get them on your way out.

The guard is standing off to the side in this photo so you can’t see him, but someone is always there watching the bags and checking them in for customers.

Our Supermaxi Haul

Groceries Supermaxi El Vergel Cuenca Ecuador

Everything you see in this photo cost us a little less than $30. The wine was the most expensive thing, and it cost about $7. They have several descent wines from Portugal, Spain and Argentina that are less than $10 per bottle.

Share the Love

We hope you enjoyed the video of Supermaxi El Vergel in Cuenca, Ecuador. If you want to know if they carry something that we didn’t discuss in the video or the blog post, let us know in the comments and we’ll look for it the next time we go.

Please remember to like, comment and share our video, and also subscribe to our YouTube channel. If you’d like us to make a video about something specific or if you have questions, please let us know in the comments.

Spanish Words & Phrases

la sombrilla – the umbrella (for sunshine)
el paraguas – the umbrella (for rain)
un impermeable – a rain jacket
Pasión por el Rojo – Passion for the Red
los muebles – the furniture
Bebida de Almendra – almond milk
Medio en Grasa – medium in fat
Bajo en Azúcar – low in sugar
Bajo en Sal – low in salt
Alto en Sal – high in salt
Tofu Ahumado – Smoked Tofu
Contiene Transgénicos – Contains GMOs
Caldo de Verduras – Vegetable Broth
mani – peanuts
la avena – the oats
hojuelas de avena – rolled oats
las papas – the potatoes
el aceite – the oil
la sal – the salt
el apio – the celery
el zapallo – the pumpkin/squash
las champiñones de ostra – the oyster mushrooms

Links to Info & Places We Visited in the Video

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