I’ve been blessed this year with several travel opportunities, the most recent one being a trip to Colombia. I literally returned yesterday and sat down to write my blog, because of how excited I have been about my visit to this beautiful country.
I have a lot to say as usual but I want to get right to the food. Since the trip was very short, I made sure to delve right into local foods once I got there. After all it's the best way for immersion, isn’t it?
I went with a friend and our first stop was, Bogota. We were told that Ajiaco was a must try, so we found a restaurant that specialized in it named, Dona Elvira. We learned quickly however from our waiter that this traditional Colombian soup is made with chicken. Lucky for me, our waiter was vegetarian and offered to bring us the non-meat version of this delicious stew. Now that he had earned our trust, we asked him to bring us his other favorites and that’s what he did. In a few minutes, we had in front of us platters of Arepa, two different kinds of vegetarian soups, and yummy sweet potato balls called Papa Rellenas.
All of this came with a spicy, piquant type of salsa called Aji. Everything paired so well together and each dish separately could also be eaten as a snack.
Accompanied with our meal was also Colombian’s favorite drink, The Coco Limonade, a refreshing blend of coconut milk, limejuice, sugar and crushed ice. The drink had a consistency of a slushie and a smoothie and an amazing sweet & tart taste. I can’t tell you how many of these we had in the duration of our trip, but I can tell you they are addictive.
We weren’t in Bogota very long and our next stop was Cartagena, where the weather was hot. Being by the water, I expected that I would have an easier time getting my hands on some seafood, but I didn’t realize that seafood IS the predominant food here. Of course I was ecstatic. For the first time, I felt like I had an advantage with my dietary preferences. Cartagena is biased to pescetarians.
Our amazing food journey in this city started with a wonderful restaurant in the Getsemani neighborhood called La Cevecheria. As the name suggests, the place is known for its ceviche. We obviously had to try the ceviche flight of shrimp, fish and octopus ceviche served in small portions nicely prepared in mango, lime and ketchup sauces.
After that we ordered the Mother Teresa Fried Plantains, which came highly recommended. We were served a uniquely crafted, delectable dish of stir fried shrimp and vegetables in a gooseberry sauce, smothered over fried plantains. Oh and let me not forget the melted mozzarella cheese. I have never eaten anything like this and I can say with conviction that this may be one of the best Latin dishes out there. I was beaming after our meal and my friend could tell just how content her pescetarian travel buddy was.
The next day, I ate the Fried Morraja which is essentially fried sea bream, another Colombian delicacy. A gorgeous piece of whole fish served on a plate with Patacones (green plantains), ensalada and the most flavorful Coconut Rice. Those three I learned are staple sides for most meals in Colombia. Now I love pescado and I especially love pescado frito (fried fish). I mean I grew up eating fried fish several times a week. But I’ll admit that I’ve been used to eating fried fish that’s usually heavily marinated with Indian spices, so I welcomed this lightly-sauced fried fish for change. And I also realized how much I liked it!
For your sweet tooth, I would actually recommend the Colombian Cold Coffee. Yes, you heard right, and that’s coming from a non-coffee drinker too. Our hotel owner really urged us to pay a visit to the famous Juan Valdez Café and try any Café Frio (Cold Coffee) drink, apparently a Colombian specialty. I sort of went into the café kicking and screaming but I also knew that one can’t leave Colombia without trying their coffee. I ordered the iced Nevada with a shot of caramel, and let me say that one sip of that creamy drink is enough to convert you to a coffee drinker for life! I don’t know much about coffee or what was in that drink, but I plead you try it if you visit there.
Colombians are simple people and their food showcases that simplicity. But that does not stop them from being creative. Their food can be bland, but that’s exactly why they have concocted so many amazing dipping sauces and salsas, meant to enhance your foods. I love that concept, because it leaves spice proportions in your hands. I liked being able to decide how salted, spicy or tangy I want my food. I loved everything I ate on my trip, and I absolutely cannot wait to find a Colombian restaurant in Chicago. Mas por favor!