Today, we visited Sabatino’s Artisanal Market here in Cuenca Ecuador to get some organic peanut butter, vegan fudge, bread and other stuff. Then we stumbled upon a music festival at Otorongo Plaza celebrating 80 year anniversary of a local music conservatory. We ended our day in the life at Fratello for a delicious lunch and belly dancing performed by Academia Profesional de Danza Clásica “Tersícore”.
People & Places
Yo Soy Groot (I Am Groot)
American pop culture is very, well, popular here. American TV commercials, movies, music, billboards, fast food restaurants and even graffiti art can be found everywhere, just like this tribute to the loveable Guardians of the Galaxy character, Groot. Even Yoda and Darth Maul can be found brandishing their infamous lightsabers.
Graffiti is a prevalent blemish on an otherwise clean city. In an effort to cover some of it, graffiti artists (probably the same ones responsible for the unsanctioned graffiti) are hired to paint large murals like this one. Most of these murals have remained untagged so it appears to be an effective deterrent.
However, if they really want to curtail the non-artistic graffiti, they need a national registry for spray paint, and a minimum age to buy it.
Tomebamba River Walk Cuenca Ecuador
The Tomebamba riverwalk in Cuenca, Ecuador is one of the most beautiful cobblestone paths on the planet. It’s lush and green, and lined with flowering trees and bushes. It follows the Tomebamba river from Otorongo Plaza on the west side of El Centro to Parque Paraiso on the east side.
There are also several restaurants along the path with amazing views of the river and patios that are perfect for people watching.
Bike Lanes a Plenty in Cuenca, Ecuador
Bike lanes are being added all over to make the city more bicycle friendly. They want to encourage more people to ride their bikes to work and school. The main reason for this initiative is to reduce the increasing traffic congestion and pollution, but also to improve people’s health.
Like most developing countries, Ecuador is seeing a rise in diet and exercise related health problems as people transition away from their traditional starchy fruit, vegetable and whole grain diets with minimal meat, to the western diet that’s high in processed foods, fast foods, sugar, salt and animal products.
With economic growth and easier access to cars, motorcycles, smartphones and TV’s, Ecuadorians are also spending less time walking and exercising. As a result, “Over the past decade, Ecuador has experienced a higher burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, ischemic heart disease and pneumonia, which are now the leading causes of death. Overweight and obesity are widely prevalent across all age groups.” [source]
It’s additionally distressing to hear unhealthy gringos doling out nutrition advice. Ecuadorians are being told to eat less of their traditional low-fat, starchy diets that have kept them lean for millenium. Instead, they’re being told to replace their traditional foods with more meat, dairy and eggs…the very foods (along with processed foods) that have already created a health epidemic in western developed countries.
The “diseases of affluence” like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, etc., are largely due to the increase in saturated fats and calories from animal products, combined with a more sedentary lifestyle. The best advice we gringos could give the Ecuadorians is to ignore the western nutrition advice and go back to the way they used to eat. Oh, and put down the smartphone and go for a walk.
Magnolia Café in Otorongo Plaza
Magnolia Café in Otorongo Plaza (Plaza del Otorongo, en español) on the east side of El Centro has a descent veggie burger, delicious papas fritas (French fries) and reasonably priced Club Verdes. They also have a really nice covered patio with a good view of Otorongo Plaza that’s perfect for people watching.
Be sure to ask for your papas fritas “sin mayonesa,” which means “without mayonnaise.” Most of the restaurants that we’ve been to in Ecuador serve papas fritas with mayonnaise instead of ketchup, and it’s usually served in little bowls so it gets thrown out if you don’t eat it. Ketchup is called “salsa de tomate” and mustard is called “mostaza” so ask for that instead.
Sabatino’s Artisanal Market Cuenca Ecuador
These popup markets aren’t vegan, but they do have lots of vegan options, like bread from ArteSana and organic peanut butter and vegan fudge from Franco Orgánico.
Franco Orgánico at Sabatino’s Artisanal Market in Cuenca Ecuador
One of our favorite vendors at Sabatino’s artisanal market is Franco Orgánico. He sells the most delicious natural organic peanut butter, vegan fudge, sweet potatoes, vegan crackers, coffee, squash and other things. He’s fluent in English and loves to tell us about his foods. He also sells in Loja and Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador.
Franco’s peanuts come from an ancient species of peanut that look and taste different than what we’re used to in the states. They have a different shape, they’re softer and they have a milder flavor. He makes his peanut butter by grinding the peanuts without any other ingredients. No preservatives, oil or other mystery chemicals. It’s all natural and delicious!
Fresh Bread from ArteSana
Our favorite bread vender at Cuenca’s popup markets is ArteSana Panadería y Pastelería (bakery and cake shop). Not all of their products are vegan, so be sure to ask. But most of their bread is vegan, like their delicious sourdough bread and chia seed loaves. Tell Kelbert Amelia And JP sent you!
Music Festival at Otorongo Plaza
As we were leaving Sabatino’s, this single parade float was passing by so we followed it to Otorongo Plaza. Ecuador has over 500 holidays a year, so it’s common to see small parades and festivals on the weekends, as well as during the week.
The music festival at Otorongo Plaza was celebrating the 80th birthday of the Conservatorio José María Rodríguez here in Cuenca. The sign on the float reads: 80 years – The accordion area pays homage to the conservatory. Accordions are a popular instrument in Ecuador, and you’ll often see them being played on street corners for tips (propinas). These are teenagers playing them on the float.
We’re pretty sure this float was part of a larger parade up the hill from Otorongo Plaza in El Centro because a lot of people and marching musicians came down the stairs while we were watching.
Amelia and her Café at Magnolia
We decided to grab a seat on the patio of Magnolia Café to watch the festivities and enjoy una taza de café Americano (a cup of Americano coffee).
Dancing at the Music Festival
Unfortunately, the video and the pictures of the music festival came out blurry due to an equipment malfunction. We were really disappointed because the dancing and dancers were so beautiful in their vintage dresses. 😔
Taxi Ride Back to Fratello
After we left the music festival, we walked across the river to Fratello, but it had started to mist and the temperature had dropped so we went home first to get some warmer clothes.
We normally walk everywhere, averaging more than 5 miles per weekday and 10 miles on the weekend. But to save time, we took a taxi back to Fratello, which is about 1.5 miles from our house.
Taxis are very affordable here. As you can see from the little yellow and green meter on the dashboard, we were almost to Fratello and it only cost $1.37. It was less than $2 with tip for a 10 minute cab ride. We’ve been told it’s common to tip 10 to 25 cents, but we usually round up to the nearest cincuenta centavos (50 cents).
We also like to practice our Spanish with the cab drivers. It’s a good use of time and they usually like talking about their city and lives in Cuenca. Don’t be surprised if they ask you personal questions, like how much money you make, if you’re married, have kids, how many kids or why you don’t have any kids. Children are a central part of the Latin culture and it’s common for Ecuadorian couples to have 3 or more kids, so a lot of the conversation revolves around children.
Fratello Vegan – Cuenca’s Only Fully Vegan Restaurant
Fratello Vegan is one of our favorite restaurants in Cuenca. They have delicious vegan comfort food, like pizza, burritos, empanadas and ice cream. It’s a little off the beaten path, so you probably won’t stumble upon it by accident. However, it has a beautiful view of the Tomebamba River from its outdoor patio.
While the patio area is covered and they have heaters, it can get a little chilly there on an overcast or rainy day, so be sure to dress in layers and take a jacket.
Helado Vegano (Vegan Ice Cream)
Helado (ice cream) is extremely popular in Ecuador. You’ll often see lots of people walking down the street eating an ice cream cone, and it seems like every street has una heladería (an ice cream shop). However, while most heladerías have at least one vegan option, Fratello is the only fully vegan heladería in Cuenca.
And they make the most amazing vegan ice cream! I had the chocolate mint ice cream and it tasted just like a peppermint patty. Amelia had the wine ice cream and it was delicious, too.
Belly Dancing at Fratello Vegan
Fratello also hosts a variety of cultural, health and vegan related events. Today, we were treated to a belly dancing performance by Academia Profesional de Danza Clásica “Tersícore”. The woman on the right is the instructor, Caterina, who teaches classes in the ATS style of belly dancing.
Amelia is taking belly dancing classes from Julio at The Tribal Fusion House, a different instructor who is part of the Tribal Fusion style of belly dancing. I’m not qualified to discuss the differences, but both look fun and beautiful to me.
Amelia Enjoying a Belly Dancing Class at Fratello Vegan
After the kids and professionals performed, Caterina taught a class and Amelia was very excited to participate in it. It’s the first time I’ve seen Amelia belly dance and I was really impressed, especially since she’s only been taking lessons for a short time. You can watch the full video below.
And she’s almost 50 years old! After 2 years of eating a plant-based, vegan diet, she has really rolled back time!
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We hope you enjoyed our adventure to Sabatino’s Artisanal Market, the Music Festival at Otorongo Plaza and Belly Dancing at Fratello Vegan in Cuenca, Ecuador today. 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
yo soy Groot – I am Groot
orgánico – organic
¿Cómo se dice? – How do you say?
Panadería y Pastelería – bakery and cake shop
sin mayonesa – without mayonnaise
salsa de tomate – ketchup
mostaza – mustard
papas fritas – French fries
80 años: el área de acordeón rinde homenaje al Conservatorio – 80 years: The accordion area pays homage to the conservatory
propinas – tips
una taza de café Americano – a cup of Americano coffee
cincuenta centavos – 50 cents
Vamos al restaurante Fratello – We’re going to the Fratello restaurant
Está a la derecha un poco más lejos. – It’s on the right a little further.
¿Sabe Fratello? – Do you know Fratello?
helado – ice cream
una heladería – an ice cream shop
¿Cómo está la empanada? – How is the empanada?