Expat insights: What might go missing from your Ecuadorian pantry

A couple of years ago, a friend of ours here formed a weekly ladies get-together for the other 3 to 4 other “gringas” living here full-time in Crucita. Our group has grown in leaps in bounds as more expats continue to move into the area and has recently had women attending from the Manta area, San Jacinto and Canoa.  We now meet on the last Saturday of each month.  We eat lots of terrific food and do a white elephant gift exchange.

A roomful of great women at the most recent ladies get-together in Crucita


One of the many benefits of these get-togethers is learning from one another’s experiences as we all continually adapt to daily life as an expat here. One topic of conversion that often comes up is “if I had know I couldn’t find [xyz], then I would have stocked up and brought lots of [xyz] with me!”

Here's an example: Bring DMSO with you if you rely on it for joint pain.


I happened to host November’s get-together and thought since we had so many different expat women in the same room, it would be a great opportunity to come up with a list of regular household things that we “missed” here, either because they are unavailable or hard to find. Of course, if you are living in either Guayaquil or Quito you are less likely to miss as many of these items since there are far more shopping options to choose from. In our case though we provide here a spectrum of common household items not readily found in our area which is between Manta and Canoa.

Bring lots of baking soda if you're used to using it for cooking and cleaning!


We compiled these items into a list so that I can share them with YOU so that you’ll have the benefit of our collective experience and come better prepared! Of course, not all these items are shippable (e.g. “good ice cream”!) but at least you’ll come better prepared mentally 🙂

Don't expect to find many decaf options (for coffee, tea, AND soda)


Ok, here’s our master list:

  • Baking soda (only available in little bitty packets at pharmacies so don’t even bother looking in the baking aisle of a major grocery store). Baking powder, however, is available.
  • Horseradish (you can find wasabi in a paste or powder in Supermaxi, the big grocery chain). One expat slyly admitted to smuggling horseradish root in her luggage and it’s actually growing successfully in her garden. She promised us clippings at one of the future get-togethers!
  • Peter Pan peanut butter (it, along with [I think] Jiffy brand can be found intermittently but brace yourself to pay $6 or more. All natural peanut butter is thankfully available)
  • Tumeric
  • Dry mustard
  • Curry paste (a generic red curry powder is available)
  • Thai flavors
  • Dry mustard
  • Chili powder (you CAN occasionally find crushed chili pepper flakes in a large container)
  • Worcestershire sauce can sometimes be hard to find but we learned it is under the guise of “Salsa Iglesa”
  • Apple cider vinegar (the REAL kind that contains the “mother”)
  • Organic coconut oil for cooking and coconut aminos (surprising given the vast abundance of coconuts. Note: This might be a good business niche for someone!).
  • Decaf green tea (all teas it seems, with the exception of herbal teas, are caffeinated).
  • Decaf coffee, ESPECIALLY if you want whole beans. A note about coffee: don’t be surprised if you order coffee and you get instant. It is more commonly consumed here than brewed.
  • Good Earth brand tea.
  • “Stiff” yogurt (the yogurt here is runnier and is often consumed more like a beverage). I also have never seen any organic yogurt.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese (sure, they sell cheddar at the big groceries but it definitely lacks the satisfying bite you’re probably expecting).
  • Blue cheese (chicken wings just aren’t the same without it)
  • Cottage cheese (another bummer)
  • Whole cranberries (the canned variety are intermittently available and VERY expensive).
  • Quick cooking rice in one of those bags you just toss into your pot of boiling water (although as you might imagine, regular white rice runs rampant and is a staple for just about every dish. Brown rice is available at major groceries)
  • Wild rice (it’s available but is VERY expensive, something like $5 for a small box)
  • Canned peaches in water, rather than syrup (used to be commonly available but can’t be found the last few months)
  • Canned albacore (quite the paradox given that Manta is the “tuna capital of the world”)
  • Canned salmon
  • Sunflower seeds in the shell
  • Canned pumpkin (Never seen it here. A couple of ladies mentioned they have visitors bringing some to them for the holidays. There is a variety of the pumpkin here called “zapallo” but it’s not quite the same but can work for a pie in a pinch).
  • Mint chocolate chip ice cream
  • “Good” ice cream in general – most ice cream seems to be more ice than cream 🙁
  • Chocolate chips can be hard to find and/or more recently became available. A friend who sells cookies here for a living used to buy blocks of chocolate and chop them into chips herself!
  • Graham crackers (no such thing as far as we can tell)
  • Pure cocoa powder without sugar (although we were told  there is one brand now at Supermaxi – Organic Pacari)
  • Twizzlers and Reese’s peanut butter cups are sadly nowhere to be found
  • M&Ms are expensive and often hard to find (there is a knock-off version that is unsatisfying compared to the real thing. Peanut M&Ms are even more elusive)
  • Hot fudge sauce (chocolate syrup doesn’t count)

Wow-my mouth is watering seeing this image...I really miss these!

And here are other [non-pantry type] items that warrant our mentioning:

  • A set of Corelle dishware will cost you $75 and up (compared to less than $30 at Target or Walmart)
  • Pots and pans are expensive and of substandard quality. If you love to cook, it’s worth finding a way to bring your cookware! (BTW, Bar Keeper’s Friend is usually available at Boyaca in Manta)
  • Cast iron skillet (You probably won’t find them here anywhere.  I know of a couple ladies who slogged theirs down and are the envy of many)
  • Another thing worth bringing if you can is bed linens. High thread count sheets are super duper expensive. A scratchy set of king sheets will likely cost you $80 and upwards.
  • Lamps are more expensive than you would have imagined
  • DMSO for joint pain
  • Bio Tear for contacts
  • Eyeglass cleaner
  • Reading glasses (although we were told that the Fybeca pharmcy chain now carries them)
  • Exfoliating facial wipes
  • Boric acid powder
  • Good, long-lasting scented candles

Bring your own cookware if you can--you won't regret it!


Whew! There you have it! There are undoubtedly other household items that weren’t mentioned here but this is a handy starting point!

Another useful observation we’ve all made while living here is that if you find a product that you like, STOCK UP! The store may not have it in stock again for months (or ever, in some cases!).