After 11 days of eating everything in sight in Colombia, we are back in VA and back to the regular eating schedule: no more eating out and no more deep fried goodness! We were slightly disappointed to find out that Colombians are not so keen on spice and that they prefer their plantains green, but quickly found new things to love. Here are a few of our favorite things; sadly, we don’t have that many pictures because we were too busy stuffing our faces.
Best Street Food
Arepas. Although arepas were a staple everywhere we went, their execution varied substantially. In Bogota, they were hard, flat patties with minimal flavor that reminded me of an idly. These were typically store-bought afterthoughts included with the meal, although the bland starchiness was a useful counterpoint to salty broths. Cartagena, however, had mastered the art of the arepa: patties fried to a golden hue, stuffed with eggs, cheese, or meats, and fried again. Think breakfast funnel cake.
We bought fresh-made arepas con huevo y chorizo (egg and sausage) from a woman in Cartagena who was an early morning stop for many of the local workers. She set up around sunrise, one of the first signs of life in the city. She tended to a small charcoal fire over which a container of oil was continuously frying arepas and plantains. Yum!
While those were a delicious breakfast, the arepas de choclo we tried in Salento were some of our favorite street food. The corn is sweet and soft, with a tang of salt from the fresh cheese. This all blends with some melted butter (margarine) into gooey, sweet-salty deliciousness in every bite.
Fruits. Colombia is well-known for its wide variety of fruits and it was difficult to keep track of all the new names and flavors! Michael spent most of Cartagena seeking out his “mango guy” for slices of mango seasoned with salt and a squeeze of lime, while I stayed busy eating papayas by the spoonful. It wasn’t until Bogota, however, that we really branched out, sampling tomate de arbol (tree tomato, like a cross between a mango and a tomato), lulu, guanabana, and more. The highlight was a guanabana juice we bought on the street with our bicycle tour guide, Mauricio. Blended with milk and sugar, we greedily slurped big chunks of guanabana (the only things slowing us down were the large, black seeds). I regret getting only one cup!
Lechon. Stuffed, roasted whole pig. Need I say more? I believe I’ve elaborated upon my love of all things pork before, so it should come as no surprise that a pig stuffed with deliciousness topped my list of street-food faves (okay, the street chicharrones were pretty delicious, too, and I regret not trying more of them. See the theme in my regrets? Under-consumption.). While the flavor was good, the presentation was arresting.
We ate at some fantastic places while we traveled (and some places that, in hindsight, made us say “WHY were we too lazy to go around the corner to the grocery store??”). Here were our top three:
- El Boliche Cebicheria, Getsemani, Cartagena. Hands down the best ceviche we have had, ever. We tried 4 of them and they were all impeccable. This husband and wife team run a small, relaxing restaurant in the Getsemani neighborhood just outside of the walled city. The presentation and attention to detail were on par with high-end, fine dining, and the ceviches were bursting with flavor and perfectly balanced. If I could buy their ceviches by the gallonful, I would.
- Abasto, Usaqen, Bogota. You know when you see those impeccably styled restaurant/dining scenes for food magazines and say “pssssht. nice try magazine, no one can be that pretty and perfectly presented in real life”? Wrong. Abasto was. Not only that, their food and service delivered. We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast and finished it off with a fruit crumble a la mode for dessert! (Best part: they let the fruit stand on its own and didn’t kill it with sugar.)
- Las Margaritas, Chapinero, Bogota. It took us three tries to get to eat here, but we were glad we persisted. Family operated since it opened, Las Margaritas has been serving traditional Colombian food since 1902, and is only open 12-4 Mon-Fri and from 9-5 on weekends. We managed to eat there for lunch before we flew out of the country on Saturday. Their aji was the first truly spicy food we had on our trip (so it took us by surprise!), and we ate our fill of ajiaco, empanadas, and tamales.
Things I will try to recreate soon…
Some things, like the deep-fried arepas, are unlikely to ever make a showing in my kitchen. I fully intend to try my hand at aji, however, as it seems the perfect company to a grilled steak, roasted chicken, or maybe a burger! When the weather cools down, I will be trying these recipes for caldo de costilla and ajiaco. Both of these brothy, meaty soups are perfect for cooler temps and helped keep us warm throughout the drizzly, cloudy days in Bogota.