Colombian eats: la costa caribe

fruit cart in Cartagena
The Caribbean coast of Colombia – a place where the buildings are as colorful and varied as the tropical fruits, and the comida típica (typical food) is, well… starchy and fried.

Colombians sure do love their sugary fruit and jugos naturales (fresh fruit juice blended with water or milk and sugar) and I can see why. Living in the relentless heat of the coast – Cartagena especially – I found myself craving nothing but the hydrating juice and sweet flesh of a peeled-to-order mango on the street for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But when you’re eventually craving something savory and substantial and want to stay on cheap backpacker budget, your options turn to fried street food (tasty, but not sustaining) or the comida típica. This varies by region of course, but generally means ‘el menu del día’ (whatever the day’s menu happens to be), consisting of soup and juice with a plate of rice, french fries or patacones (fried plantains), “salad” (a few pieces of lettuce, maybe a slice of tomato if you’re lucky), sometimes beans, and your choice of chicken, beef, or fish. I surely like to try the typical food everywhere I go, but not many meals go by here before I feel my body thirsting for something green and not simmered in a pot of oil.

Even so, I continue to be in love with Latin American flavors — queso fresco, avocado, plantains, fresh salsas, beans, citrusy ceviche, arepas, tamales and everything else made with corn. Remember the pan de yuca I was so excited to discover the recipe for after I travelled to Ecuador? Yep, found them made fresh every morning in the supermarket I am currently staying 2 blocks from. And these guys are macho-sized – more like croissants – but just as tasty as I remember :)

Cartagena eats

As for street food, the arepa (corn flour patty) seems to be the most prevalent. But the varieties are many – from deep dried and dripping in grease, to grilled and topped with guacamole, cooked with an egg inside or stuffed with chicken and cheese – one arepa is never the same as the next. As a huge fan of all things made of corn meal/flour, I knew I would be keen on the arepas when I arrived in Colombia. But little did I know one of my arepa experiences would qualify as ‘the best thing I ever ate’…..  more on that in another post ;)

Other common street snacks are empanadas (made of cornmeal and usually fried, although I found a little window selling soft baked calzone-like pockets.. mmm), pandebono (similar to my beloved pan de yuca but made with corn flour in addition to cassava, queso and eggs), potato fritters stuffed with cheese, bollos (similar to tamales), grilled plantains stuffed with cheese, chorizo in a “bun” of fried plantain, paletas (popsicle-shaped ice cream bars flavored with fruit, arequipe (caramel), coconut or chocolate), tinto (shots of super-sweetened coffee), and of course the deliciosos jugos naturales. Many of the exotic fruits in Colombia don’t have names in English, but I recognized some of them from my travels in Ecuador. Some of my favorites are maracuya (passionfruit), lulo, and uchuva (the orange bite-sized balls in the photo below).

I’m sure there will be more foods to explore as I leave the coast and move south, and my tastebuds are ready!

Taganga eats

In regards to eating healthy while traveling in a country that doesn’t offer the most nutritious of diets (not saying America is any better), I must express my appreciation for kitchens in hostels. Being able to go to the supermarket and buy a head of lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, can of beans and eggs makes for simple any-time-of-day meals that are a relief for my body and my wallet. And when a girl I met from Iowa taught me how to make ‘Navajo tacos’ one night, we prepared them for a group of new friends along with fresh passionfruit caipirinhas :)

Casa Loma breakfast

And then there was the time I was a chef at a hostel. It’s a good thing the other volunteer and I knew anything about cooking, because we were in charge of preparing breakfast and dinner for 20+ guests in a 4’x5′ kitchen…. no big deal right?

Without doubt though, those 12 days living and working in a little rainforest paradise have been the highlight of my trip so far. But that story is for another post!

Hastaaaaa luego!  –mich

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