At first, finding food can seem a bit challenging in San Alejo. The nearest SuperMaxi (large grocery chain) is a 45-minute bus ride away, there are no mercados in town, and the small tiendas that are here are often not open. Despite the challenges, we have managed quite nicely here–mostly cooking for ourselves, eating out here and there, and taking advantage of the treasures in our midst.
Fish and seafood
All three villages (San Alejo, San Jacinto, San Clemente) along this beach are fishing villages. Fish and shrimp are the easiest and freshest foods to come by. Take advantage! Each village has its own fishing cooperative, so all of the fishing takes place in groups. When a boat goes out, everyone comes to help launch it. If someone is fishing with nets close to shore, one line form on the left and one on the right, and they work together to slowly come closer together as they pull in the nets, along with their catch. When the catch is in, by boat or by net, ask how much. We requested 10 smallish fish (someone please comment and tell us what they are!) for $1, but when our group bought 60 fish in total for $6 we ended up with about 85 (they don’t bother to count). Camerones (shrimp) is about $4.50 for a pound (heads off), and langostinos (prawns?) about $6 or $7 a pound. Two blocks north of the main street in San Jacinto there is a fish cleaning stand. There you can buy filleted linguina (corvina) for about $7 for a bag containing maybe 10 filets. And if you don’t want to go into town or out onto the beach, there are always fish mongers on bicycles or in trucks riding along the roads selling their wares.
A few of the little tiendas in San Jacinto and San Clemente carry small amounts of produce. We were able to pick up a pineapple, peppers, bananas, and a few other items to keep us going until we could get to bigger supplies. There are also a few stands carrying produce on the main highway behind San Jacinto. We tried shopping at various times and on different days, and frequently found shops closed. Ask around about hours or just go for a walk and take your chances.
The best place for produce is the Sunday morning market in Charapoto, a 15-minute bus ride away, and absolutely worth the 50c ride. If you buy a lot, you can grab a cab back for $4. The bus that goes along the malecon between San Clemente and San Jacinto carries on to Charapoto. Flag it down, hop on, and grab a seat. There are several stops in the villages and then a fast highway stretch during which the helper comes through and collects your fare. After the rapid stretch of highway, the bus slows and begins letting people off at frequent stops. You’ll know the Charapoto stop when most of the riders get up to leave. The bus stops for a while unloading and reloading so don’t panic. If you’re not sure, just look out the left side windows. You’ll see a market street right there.
Here in the street market you can buy produce of all kinds, chicken, fish, shrimp, meat, queso fresco (we didn’t buy any proteins here so can’t recommend), freshly ground peanut butter, and all sorts of dry goods. For snacks, try warm baked pan de yucca (look for the blue oven, 25 cents each) or a tiny bag of peeled, hot, hard-boiled quail eggs dusted with salt and pepper (7 for $1).
Staples and dry goods
In San Jacinto, there are at least three shops that sell a variety of staples, and more of these in San Clemente. About a block from our accommodation is a tiny shop where we buy milk or a bag of plantain chips periodically. Some grocery shops allow you to wander and pick up your items, others require you to ask for your items and they run around filling your order. One shop in San Jacinto runs both ways. When we tried to ask for something they told us to go in an look for it. We were able to find spices, pasta, tomato sauce, beans, whole wheat bread, oil, etc., at these shops, so didn’t have a need to take the long bus ride (or $20 cab ride) into Portoviejo to a large supermarket. Plan a couple of days ahead, though, as opening days and hours vary.
Though it can be quiet here, there are still plenty of restaurants around if you want to eat out. We tried sopa de queso at Hotel Jacinto (a tasty and filling lunch soup), a pescado plate at the tiny and out-of-the-way Thamara, a burrito salad and quesadillas at the well-known expat-owned The Pointe Restaurant in San Clemente (only open for dinner Mondays and poker on Wednesdays), and really tasty ceviche with plantain chips at Viviana’s. Viviana’s is right on the water and the day we were there we were thoroughly entertained by the young, buff surfers right out in front of the patio
A long-term resident at Cottages by the Sea, our accommodation, orders empanadas from Meyers on Wednesday nights and tongas (a rice and chicken dish in peanut sauce, wrapped in banana leaves) from somewhere else on Sundays. When we returned from the market this afternoon, we found the tonga delivery fellow sitting in one of the common areas with ice on his knee, recovering from a tangle with a car. Since he had a box full of hot tongas we tried a couple ($3 each). They were hot, flavorful, and too much food for one meal. I have some of mine leftover for lunch tomorrow.
On different days at The Cottages, treats just appear. We had chocolate doughnuts with chocolate frosting one day, and warm moist brownies another. I have no idea how to source these, but if you stay at The Cottages, Kimberley just might tell you.