GringoPost | Ecuador: Challenge to mercado belief: going early Wed/Sat assures freshest food

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Challenge to mercado belief: going early Wed/Sat assures freshest food

When expats discover that I authored a book entitled Relocating to Ecuador: Eyes Wide Open, they ask me all kinds of questions about life in Cuenca/Ecuador. Some of the most common questions are about mercados. Typically, they've already heard that you get the freshest food by going *very early* on Wednesday or Saturday, when vendors get new product deliveries. For those who are truly looking for thoughtful and informed answers, I typically challenge that “early riser notion” with the following:

Imagine that you're a seafood vendor who sells from a booth at a mercado.

First, let's accept five premises for the sake of discussion:
1) That you get wholesaler seafood deliveries on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
2) That those deliveries are comprised of seafood that's fresher than what you already
have (a big assumption)
3) That, if at all possible, you don't want your booth to *ever* run out of a given product,
because you can't make money from it if you don't have it
4) That you never want to have to throw out spoiled seafood; that's disastrous to the bottom line
5) That you're a savvy merchant who has learned how to manage the above

Given those assumptions, I propose this is how you would conduct business:

1) You will always try to purchase enough seafood of all types to last you until the next delivery, which means on the day before next delivery, the seafood from last delivery remaining in your booth will be 3 - 4 days off the delivery truck (who knows how long it spent from ocean to when you received it, and if and when it was adequately refrigerated)

2) When you receive your next delivery - let's say it's a Saturday - you know better than to just put that just-delivered seafood at the bottom of the display in your booth. Because you've learned that savvy customers will insist on "buying off the bottom" of the display. (Every grocery person who has ever lived always puts new product on the shelf *behind or under* the older product; but such grocers also have to balance that policy against the fact they have high inventory turn-over (much higher than a mercado vendor) - and the boss doesn't want any product on display to run out, unless it's a promotional item at the end of its run).

Rather, you will *hide that just-delivered product from public view* until last Wednesday's delivery is sold out or almost so; because you don't want to be throwing out last Wednesday's seafood at a total loss.

3) Only when last Wednesday's seafood is sold out, or nearly so, will you start putting your Saturday-delivered seafood out for display. Thus, people who get out of bed "with the rooster" early Saturday morning to get your freshest seafood...actually get Wednesday-delivered seafood, not Saturday-delivered. And the people who come late-Saturday-morning-on will most likely get your fresher Saturday-delivered seafood.

So, what do I suggest - not buying mercado seafood?

Nope. I've concluded that identifying and getting-to-know mercado vendors that are most conscientious about freshness is the way to go. How do I do that? I start with asking other expats which vendors they've had the best luck with re: freshness. Then I get personal: I ask those vendors what their names are, and start calling them by their name (they are astonished!). I give them my name, and remind them of it each visit until they've got it - ideally, they start calling me by name as well.

I'm convinced that, by doing that, when I ask them which of their seafood is freshest, I get honest answers and am less likely to get "Gringo-ed". And believe me, they know which of their inventory is oldest and freshest, or they don't last very long in business.

"My" seafood vendor has even gone to a cooler in the back of her booth and pulled out seafood that was not on display. Also, without hesitation, whenever I ask which of her five types of shrimp are best ("Qual es mejor?"), she responds instantly and emphatically by pointing to the favored bin. And I've never been disappointed in the quality of any of her seafood.

So, do I have any corroboration for my take on all this? Yes, by asking numerous restaurant owners where they buy their meat, seafood and produce. Most say "the mercado". When I ask if they only shop early Wednesday or Saturday mornings, they look at me rather incredulously. They say, no, they re-stock *whenever they need to!*. BUT, they don't buy from just anybody. They've worked at buying only from the vendors with whom they've established a relationship and who they trust to give them fresh product.

TIFWIW: take it for what it's worth.

Terry Roberts: .

City: Cuenca