12 days as a chef in Colombia

Casa Loma

Casa Loma: a wooden hilltop hostel in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, overlooking the little town of Minca, the mountains, the coastal city of Santa Marta, and the Caribbean sea all at the same time. Sounds like a paradise, yeah?

view from Casa Loma

view from la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range

So when I found an opportunity to volunteer here in exchange for a tent and meals, I was in. And let me just say it’s a good thing the other volunteers and I knew anything about cooking, because we were in charge of serving breakfast and dinner to 20+ guests each day… not to mention the little town has no supermarket and neither the stove nor the oven in our 4’x5′ kitchen were adjustable.

It was a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one  :)

Casa Loma eats

Breakfast mostly consisted of lots of local coffee, fresh juice, homemade arepas and eggs — not too hard. We rotated roles as the dinner chef each night, merely given the rules that the ingredients can be bought in town and to include a vegetarian option. Although I love cook and I do it all the time, when put on the spot about what to prepare for 20 guests (using the very limited variety of ingredients available in town)… my mind went blank! Continue reading

Even a trip to the ATM is an adventure, plus ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’

Gato Negro Cafe

the “gato negro” in front of Gato Negro Cafe

I really should have assumed that there would only be one ATM in the little fishing village of Taganga, Colombia, and that it would probably be broken. But I didn’t, and it was.

The closest one was in Santa Marta, a nearby bustling city I did not really have intentions of visiting. But I was out of money and kind of wanted to eat again during my last two days here so…. off to the city it was.

Public transportation to Santa Marta is in the form of big clattering vans, and unfortunately being the first one in, I got to ride in circles around town while the driver honked and yelled at people until it filled up. After a while I was starting to get the feeling my driver was a little insane. Sure enough after yelling something at another driver he pulled up next to, he jumped out and proceeded to shout and bang on this poor guy’s van. While more incomprehensible yelling followed, me and the Colombian man inside noticed our van rolling forward and heading straight for a wall. We yelled for the driver, who nonchalantly hopped back in just in time to jam the emergency break on, and jumped back out to continue his yelling. It was going to be an exciting ride. Continue reading

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

Continue reading

far from my last post

parque nacional tayrona

Cozy winter stews and hot cocoa no longer – I am now hundreds of miles south where juicy fruit, fresh seafood, and all things made with cornmeal are what I crave. Estoy en el maravilloso país de Colombia!

The highlight of the week I’ve spent here so far would have to be the unexpected adventure of trekking 3 hours to (and then back from) paradise, and enjoying fresh ceviche and arepas on the beach.

I’m a firm believer in the statement “expectations reduce joy,” as taught by my ‘Art of Living’ guru in India, as the best moments (for me) seem to be the spontaneous ones, the ones with no preconceived notions that I can be disappointed by. Continue reading