Posts Tagged ‘colombia’

A Colombian Lunch in Two Parts

Mazorca in Colombia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Part I

When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was already swarming. It was a Sunday, and it seemed as if half the city had flocked to the northern outskirts to eat themselves into a gut-busting stupor. We wound through the open-air building, packed with rickety wooden tables and plastic chairs, all full of families grabbing food off large silver trays piled with glistening cuts of meat and puffed up whorls of chicharrón, potatoes and flat white mounds of yuca. A happy clamor drifted across the simple concrete floor and low walls, mingling with the smoky scent of barbequing beef.

Once we’d snagged a table nestled in the very back of the long hall, we divided – half our group to hold our spot, the other to order food and wrestle the trays through the crowd. The wait seemed everlasting. It was already edging past 3 p.m., and my stomach was growling, the morning’s arepa and scrambled eggs feeling frighteningly distant. I worried the salt shaker between my fingers, wondering if a few grains might sharpen or dull the pangs, when David’s dad swooped to the table bearing a basket of grilled corn on the cob, thick yellow pearls scrubbed with black char, butter, and salt. Mazorca. The kernels were sweet and slightly powdery, almost popcorn-like. He also set down a pitcher of refajo, a mix of pale Aguila beer with sweet Colombiana soda, and we poured a round into our small plastic cups.

Colombian picada (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Arepas de choclo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And then, like an answered prayer, the food was there. Soup, slightly thickened and a little bitter with herbs, with tender strands of chicken and a few vegetables – just enough to whet your appetite for the giant tray heaped with fist-sized cuts of beef, charred from an open flame and dripping with juices. » Continue reading this post…

Bite the Piranha, Eat the Amazon

Green parrot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a time and a place to drink gallingly black instant coffee from a plastic cup, and it’s here and now, at the Marasha Reserve, sitting on a wooden dock and looking out across the lake. The sun is just glimpsing over the tops of the tall, green trees, the breeze is still cool and causing the water to ripple like the skin of an octogenarian’s hand. Sharp, squawking parrots cut the morning’s silence, while fat red birds with pompous blue crests on their heads warble from branch to branch.

Carlos, our guide, has just speared a fish, and he holds it out for us to see. The prongs slit cleanly through its silvery side, and its useless, flapping gills are panting. Inside is ruffling the most gorgeous red. Soon, it will be deep fried and eaten for breakfast with crisp arepas, scrambled eggs and milky hot chocolate.

Anchors away! (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

No smoking in the boat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Life jackets (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For weeks before my trip, people had been telling me how dangerous the Amazon was, and I’d been properly worried. There’d be mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and dengue, malarial and parasitic water, deadly frogs and spiders, poisonous trees and fruits, snakes that swallow you whole and alligators prepped to pounce.

Parrots (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A walkway in the Amazon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Fried pirarucu with platanos, beans and rice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But the longer we spent in the Amazon, the less likely it seemed to kill me. In Leticia, Colombia’s main outpost before the wild, the city droned with beat-up motorcycles, a soothing hum in the relaxed, tropical atmosphere. The pastel streets were full of open storefronts selling neon plastic junk, beachwear, and souvenirs, and men and women manning little metal carts with kebabs and hot dogs, sweet fresh juices and fried empanadas for sale. Stray dogs lounged on every corner, and though they were mangy and beat-up-looking, they didn’t give a second glace as you stepped over or around them.

Stray dogs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Drying laundry (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As in much of Colombia, the restaurants all offered a daily plate lunch: Fried fish or grilled meat served with platanos, rice, beans, and yucca, and always accompanied by freshly pressed natural juice and a soup made with yesterday’s leftovers. » Continue reading this post…

Some Kind of Beachside Romance: Colombian Shrimp Ceviche

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Colombia, David says, ceviche is an aphrodisiac. On the beaches of Santa Marta, dark, lanky young men walk up and down the shore bent over from the weight of Styrofoam coolers. Big straw hats protect them from the sun, which is powerful, especially around noon in this tropical city. They walk from beachside group to beachside group, offering to prepare ceviche for you towel-side. They flip open the lids of their coolers to scoop little pink shrimp into a paper cup. With quick-fire flips, they douse it with squirts of lime, garlic water, ketchup and mayonnaise, serving you the whole mess with a packet of Saltines.

Red onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Chopped onion (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

They walk up and down the beach all day, opening and closing their coolers, scooping shrimp and squirting ketchup, while the hot sun just gets hotter. David wouldn’t let me try any of the beachside ceviche. Because in Colombia, ceviche also gives you food poisoning. Some aphrodisiac.

Camarones (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ceviche with shrimp (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Colombian ceviche (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Limes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had to wait another year and a half to try Colombian ceviche, when David offered to prepare it as an add-on to the Chopped competition turned epic feast we held during family vacation. » Continue reading this post…

An Egg in the Hand (Post Script): Arepa e’ Huevo & Aji

Fried arepas (Eat Me. Drink Me)

After all this talking about Colombian food, the least I can do is leave you with a recipe.

One morning in Santa Marta, as I was recovering from a particularly retch-worthy day before (don’t drink the water…), we breakfasted on arepas e’ huevo. A typical arepa is a flattened, relatively bland disc of dough that’s been cooked in a skillet with just a little oil. Then, it’s topped with a slice of white farmer’s cheese and spicy ají.

But an arepa e’ huevo is something entirely different. This is an arepa, deep fried once, then stuffed with a raw egg and deep fried again. Double deep fried. Waistline death by delicious excess.

a satisfying stack of arepas (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I watched a few YouTube tutorials on making these arepas, and decided that it was going to be either impossible or phenomenal. Though watching someone deftly slip an egg into a tiny arepa glistening with hot oil is supposed to inspire you with confidence, it had the complete opposite effect on me. So I told the friend coming to dinner that depending on the way the experiment turned out, we might just be having ají for dinner.

In the end, inviting a friend to dinner turned out to be my saving grace. There’s too much to coordinate on your own – making sure the arepas don’t stick together in the oil, holding one open and dropping in the egg, sealing the hole shut with dough and frying it again. But the process is fun, and at the end of it, you’ve worked up quite an appetite.

Dropping an egg into the arepa (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas con Huevo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

My dimly-lit Berlin kitchen might be pretty far from a breezy seaside town on the Colombian coast, but just one bite of these delicious, rich, and dense arepas brought me right back.

Hot arepas con huevo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas con Huevo with feta and aji (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas e’ Huevo

For the ají:
2 chiles
1 yellow onion
3 tbsp. » Continue reading this post…

Learning to Speak Spanish Part III – Comer

mojarra (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Sometimes when it’s snowing in Berlin, like now, and I look out the window at the white flakes fall, I can’t help but wish I were back in Colombia. Here, we breakfast before it’s light outside, coffee cups clutched close – necessary as much for their warmth as for the caffeine that propels us into our workdays.

In Colombia, breakfast was typically arepa with steak and eggs, café con leche for me, tinto for him and always, always freshly pressed juices. And I don’t know whether it was the joy of waking up late every day, of having somebody make me breakfast, or of eating outside at a plastic patio table with a balmy breeze ruffling against my skin like a kiss – but there was an ease in these mornings that I miss.

It all seems so long ago now, and I suppose a month and a half is a long time, when you’ve been subsumed into your routine, where you have a workday and projects and you see the same people on the weekends. It’s becoming hard for me to recall what Colombia was, except for the faint burn line still on the back of my legs and the memory of a taste.

gallina with rice and yuca (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Most meals in Colombia exist with this balance: meat, potato, yuca, patacones and aji. Often there was rice, and if it all seems very starch-heavy, it was. There were meals where I found myself craving something green, eating everything from the parsley garnish to the raw onion and tomato salad meant to add an acid bite to fried fish.

And here I’ll digress for a moment to talk about the fried fish, mojarra mostly, which we ate copiously on the north coast. At one small outdoor restaurant in Santa Marta, where all of the tables were covered in thick green plastic, the fish was fried to such a crisp that you could even eat the fins. » Continue reading this post…

Learning to Speak Spanish Part II – Besar

Colombian fruit salad (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I don’t think I need to explain why I learned my second Spanish verb. First, you want, and want is sweet, but a kiss – a kiss is even sweeter.

There were plenty of other sweets in Colombia. Small rest stops lined the road from Bogotá to San Gil; sometimes these were open-air stores, sometimes just a flapping tarp above a long wooden table covered with piles of candies, pastries, and fruits. There were wafers sandwiching white, nutty nougat and small plastic cups of arequipe, a creamy caramel just begging to be spooned into your mouth. There were bins full of milky ice cream bars. There were garish pink- and yellow-stained sticks made of pure sugar to celebrate the New Year. On the beach, women and men wandered up and down past the open tents hawking cocadas from the stack piled high atop their heads. They were sinfully good – thick shavings of freshly-grated coconut slathered with caramel.

fruit in colombia (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Colombian citrus (Eat Me. Drink Me)

But perhaps even better than all the sweets were the fruits. In Colombia, you could try a different fruit every day and never run out of days. Besides your array of typical tropical delights, Colombia is home to a number of fruits that aren’t found anywhere else. There’s zapote, borojó, curuba, mamoncillo, annona, and chontaduro as well as passion fruit, guava, mango, apple, pear, blackberry, strawberry and more than six types of banana. There’s the pitalla, a little yellow grenade with creamy white insides and peppery black seeds – which apparently explodes your intestines when you eat too many of them. Or the uchuva, known in English as physalis – plump, firm, and thin-skinned and wrapped in papery, veined leaves.

Colombian Fresa (Eat Me. Drink Me)

fresa jugo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

But my favorite by far was guanábana (soursop in English), if only because each time I saw the giant fruit with its green prickled skin, I could follow up with a modified rendition of the Muppet song. » Continue reading this post…

Learning to Speak Spanish Part I – Querer

lengua in traditional colombian salsa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I learned Spanish verbs in this order: to want, to kiss, to eat. And I learned them not because I had a sudden interest in educating myself or for any other practical purpose, but for the only reason anybody learns anything when there isn’t any reason to.

We met buying jewelry. Or rather, I was buying. He was selling, working with a Mexican who made the pieces – rings, necklaces, and bracelets shaped from silverware. I thought – it’s me! Food and jewelry combined! – and I don’t know, I was feeling exuberant and chatty and the weather was uncharacteristically balmy for Berlin and we started talking. And now I’m learning to speak Spanish.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time practicing at the source, so to speak. After spending Christmas in the US, we flew to Colombia for three weeks to visit his family. On our first real night in Bogotá, he said, “my uncle is coming for dinner,” and I thought, You can do this. It’s good practice. Your five Spanish classes are totally sufficient to say ‘Hi! I am fine! My Spanish is bad!’ But apparently, when you say, “my uncle” in Colombia, it means, “my entire extended family.”

So that night, I met everyone within a hundred mile radius – aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, an uncle’s wife’s sister. And maybe my Spanish wasn’t as good as I thought, because “No hablo mucho español” didn’t get me very far. I was asked a number of questions I’m not sure I answered correctly, learned to dance vallenato, and had my first taste of Colombian cooking – lechona, pig skin stuffed with pork, rice, peas, potatoes and spices and cooked in a brick oven all day until the skin is crackled and the rice suffused with the fragrance of pork. » Continue reading this post…