Comiendo en Cartagena

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A month has now passed since I touched down in Colombia, and one of the real beauties of living here in Barranquilla is its location. An hour or so out of the city you can find small hillside villages, the glitz and glamour of exclusive beachside resorts, world-renowned national parks and some of the best diving to be found on the continent. Last weekend saw me headed to Cartagena. Declared part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1984, Cartagena is a gorgeous city with beautiful Spanish colonial buildings, a nugget of the Caribbean coast seemingly frozen in time.

A mere two nights was not sufficient time to fully explore the beautiful old city, and I feel sure I will return again many times to fully explore what the city has to offer. My first trip did however offer up something very special - a trip to one of the islands off the main city, the Isla de Rosario. Once we reached the island, of course the question on everybody's lips (perhaps mine the most), was - "What's for lunch?". 

To be brief, this fellow below:
Now some people might think it weird, or cruel to hold a live creature in their hands (or fingertips) just before they proceed to chow down on it. But hear me out. I think with all the convenience of supermarkets today, where you can buy cleanly wrapped, pre-packaged portions of meat and fish, it's easy to lose sight of where the produce initially comes from. So when presented with the opportunity, I took the chance to get cosy with my lunch. An hour later I found my new friend served along with the traditional sides here on la costa, coconut rice and patacones (double fried plantain chips). 

A traditional Colombian costeño lunch was followed by a trip to the less traditional, but no less loved chain restaurant of Crepes and Waffles. Absolutely huge over here, Crepes and Waffles guessed it. There is a huge variety of savoury crepes to choose from, as well as great salads and filled pittas. After such a huge lunch, I opted for the lighter salad bar option, which permits you the freedom to fill your own plate with delicious and nutritious nibbles such as vegetable quinoa, roasted aubergine, many nuts and seeds, eggs, all the vegetables you can think of. And then obviously there's room for waffles for dessert, which I ate with such enthusiasm I forgot to take a photo (apologies!). But let me reassure you - nutella, hazelnut ice cream and waffles make a damn fine combination.

What is also particularly great about this chain restaurant is their employment ethos, where they hire a solely female workforce, providing work opportunities to single mothers who would have perhaps otherwise struggled to find work. So, you can eat your waffle and feel good about it. Excellent news.
(Read more about their employment ethos here : it's in Spanish, so test your language skills...or use google translate).

Sunday was the last day of our brief trip, and allowed me to retry some of the dishes I briefly mentioned in my last post, starting with a traditional costeño breakfast of arepas con huevos. Perfect for those of us who want a bit of protein with our carb, this is a normal corn arepa, opened and fried with an egg cracked inside. And why not double the dose of that morning protein with some ground beef in there too? Although I'd already tried this coastal speciality, I hadn't had it made by this woman:

Frying her arepas in 35-degree heat on the beach, I felt like she was a woman who knew her stuff. While everyone else seemed to be able to sit in the blazing sun with their breakfast snacks, I waited to get inside to enjoy the blissful fried ball of egg and meat in peace and cool. 

Before we hit the road, we thought it only right to get some lunch on the way home. Lunch in Colombia is a large affair, often consisting of a soup, rice, beans or plantain, and meat - meaning dinner is often a lighter snack rather than another huge meal. Although not what I'm used to, it is more a nutritionally sound form of eating, giving your body time to digest your biggest meal of the day, rather than just snoozing straight after it. And I would need a lot of time to digest what El Pibe was about to provide!
A typical cheap eatery over here, nothing on the menu exceeded COP 20,000 (about £7), and although the owner himself is Argentine, El Pibe serves up nothing but good, hearty Colombian fare.What better place to try what is arguably the dish of the country, Bandeja Pisa? Known to be notoriously large, I felt this dish might defeat me somewhat, so opted for the 'Bandejita Paisa', the supposedly 'half-sized' portion.
Half size? Come off it! Kidney beans, rice, arepa, chorizo, ground beef, plantain, fried pork rind and a fried egg make up this beautiful dish. And yes, I ate it all. A full-size portion though? Give me a few more months practise and then let's see how I go.

Back in Barranquilla, I'm continuing to eat new things daily. Strange animal parts, exotic fruits I've never seen before, a variety of deep fried, delicious snacks...and I've got so much left to try. Who knows what's next?!

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