Feria Libre - your neighborhood fresh market
In addition to the large indoor public markets of San Sebastian, Centro Mercado, and the Mayorista, Loja has established one-day "free fairs" for local shopping convenience.
You can depend on vendors in these local pop-up markets to offer a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Depending on the particular market, and to some extent on the time of year, you might also find meats and fish, eggs, rice, grains, and dried beans; plastic housewares; coffee; and general items like toothbrushes or flip-flops. There may also be vendors offering hot ready-to-eat foods, like grilled plantains, empanadas, cuy on a stick, arepas or other snack items.
Vendors include actual farmers bringing their products direct to the consumer and also some small traders who buy wholesale and then resell. The result of limiting the number of pass-through transactions means that prices paid by consumers can be some of the lowest in the city.
The size of these markets vary according to time of week and neighborhood. Some are relatively small affairs with perhaps 20-30 sellers. Others are quite large with hundreds of marketers. Some of these fairs have a section devoted strictly to organic produce.
Most of these free fairs are limited to mornings. For example, the sign for the Época fair states it runs from 5 AM to 1 PM. In reality, merchants are often still setting up their booths at 7, and tearing down to go home by noon. Choose your time to attend somewhere between the declared times. To get the best choices of the best items I suggest going early. For the best prices you might go closer to closing but the choices will have been picked over and possibly lesser quality.
Speaking of prices, some sellers will be firm in how they cost their offerings and others will be willing to negotiate. If you feel the suggested price is high then you can try bargaining, or just move along to another booth. Usually there will be more than one seller with the same product.
If you shop regularly from the same merchant then you may discover a yapa slipped into your bag. A yapa is an extra - a bonus - and might be just a little more of the same item or something completely different so it's like a sample to try another product. If you are offered a yapa then consider yourself "accepted" as a good customer.
A shout out to the Loja municipality which is in charge of these fairs - they do a good job of cleaning up after the booths come down and sellers go home. The city workers' efforts are much appreciated.
In other posts I will talk more about other options for procuring food, such as the big public mercados, informal sales, supermarkets, smaller mercados, local tiendas, and traveling sales vendors. But here I wanted to highlight the feria libres for the important role they play in bringing the best and freshest to your neighborhood.
Tuesday: Celi Román covers surrounding sectors of San José, Lojana de Turismo, El Pedestal.
Wednesday: Clodoveo Jaramillo citadel for the sectors Clodoveo Alto, El Forest, Borja and others.
Thursdays (every other week): The traditional Jean Fair is held in the market area of Nueva Granada, Las Pitas sector.
Friday: Esteban Godoy neighborhood, for the Daniel Álvarez sectors, El Electricista citadel, and Ciudad Alegría.
Saturday: La Tebaida sector (several hundred vendors), and another in the La Pradera sector (about 50 merchants).
Sunday: San Sebastián, located on Olmedo, Catacocha and Leopoldo Palacios streets, has upwards of some 700 spaces; another fair is in Época (next to the Church of the Divine Child); and also one in La Banda.