Coastal Colombian food

Coastal Colombian food

One of the first things someone warned me about when I arrived in Bogota was that ‘people don’t come to Colombia for the food…’ and after a few days of the hotel buffet  (which was provided at training) I was definitely not questioning this statement.

Our meals were made up almost exclusively of rice, corn and meat, all consistently unseasoned. A Colombian girl on the course explained to me that locals prefer ‘neutral tastes,’ and that when she traveled to the US she thought everything tasted too much like garlic. I’m not gonna lie, I was worried.

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And my only foray into Bogota’s local cuisine didn’t exactly reassure me. 

Unfortunately, apart from a disgustingly hungover McDonald’s, and the oddly traditional cheese and hot chocolate combo, I couldn’t justify skipping the free food to go and discover the culinary delights that Bogota was surely hiding. 

Since arriving in Santa Marta I’ve been able to branch out, and things are definitely looking up.

Here are some highlights so far:

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“Calle hambre” as 18 con 5 is affectionately known, or Hunger St. 

 

  1. Salchipapas

When I first heard people talking about salchipapas I heard ‘Salty papa’s’ and pondered not for the first time on Colombians obsession with papi/mami references. Turns out salchi is short for sausage, and papa means potato, (or the Pope) and they’re even more fun to eat than they are to say.  Salchipapas are a layer of chips and sliced fried sausages, covered in salad, a thousand-island kind of sauce, and topped with grated cheese (and shame, so much shame.)  In Cartagena you can get a version with fried plantain instead of the chips. This feels a lot more Colombian and less like you’re just eating sausage and chips. 

  1. Paparellenas

Can you see a theme emerging already? Potatoes are definitely a big deal over here, and if you’ve ever tried paparellenas you’ll understand why. Literally translated to stuffed potatoes, paparellenas are a delicious ball of fried mashed potato, stuffed with minced meat, chicken, chorizo, egg or a combination of the above. Siiiii papi. 

papaface
A Colombian guy once said to me “who needs a boyfriend when you can have food”… I told him that I wasn’t sure they were mutually exclusive. BUT I think he had a point, because a) this is a ball of fried mashed potato stuffed with chicken, chorizo and egg, b) It even has a face, and c) He was kind of a dick. 

3.Patacones

Patacones are mashed-up,  fried plantains, which are served as a side with almost every Colombian meal. Street food vendors also do stuffed versions of these with juicy shredded beef. As far as I can tell these don’t have their own name, although patarellenas would make a lot of sense. 

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6 months on,  and thanks to Calle Hambre, my legs are definitely not this skinny.  I’m ok with that. 
  1. Arepas

Arepas are a big staple of Colombian food, and are a magical blend of corn and cheese. You can get them on the street, in hipster gringo places, and pretty much everywhere else in between. My favourite so far has been in a place called Barbacoa in Santa Marta where they pile on rice, two types of meat, salad and pretty much every other topping known to man. Arepa con huevo is a popular Colombian breakfast, and if you’re lucky the egg will have been cooked inside the arepa. Basically witchcraft. 

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While random remixes of the happy birthday song aren’t uncommon in Colombia, this tablecloth was because our staff Salcocho-fest turned out to be a surprise birthday lunch for me organised by my co-teachers. 
  1. Salcocho 

Soup is also a big deal in Colombia, which is kind of surprising given the heat.  Salcocho is the traditional soup which has different cuts of chicken and beef, with root vegetables and corn, and is served with rice. They even have a kind of chicken broth for breakfast, which is the most comforting thing in the world once you get past how weird it is. If you order a menu del dia (menu of the day) it often starts with a bone soup, which as well as being all kinds of good for you, is delicious. I’m told that eye soup is also a thing but haven’t had the chance to check that out yet!

I’ll keep my eyes peeled…

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Lunch for one… 
  1. Almuerzo

Almuerzo literally means lunch, and again, surprisingly given the heat, lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Colombia. To get a taste for local food and to make the budget go further, getting a set almuerzo, or menu del dia is definitely the way to go. It starts with a soup,  followed by  some kind of grilled meat with rice, fried plantain, beans or lentils, and a fruit juice or ice tea. This usually costs between 4-10 thousand pesos depending on where it is on the authentic-to-gringo scale. As a general rule, if there are plastic chairs, concrete floors and no written menu but lots of locals, it’s going to be good.

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At a gringo cafe in Taganga…Twice the price and half as tasty… But definitely more photogenic. 

7. Pargo rojo

Go to the kind of beach restaurant that consists of a tin roof on wooden poles, and where the closest thing to a menu is pointing to the fish you want.  My favourite so far is the first restaurant on Playa Grande in Taganga. Tuck into some fish soup from a plastic bowl while you wait for a fish so crispy you can eat it’s face.  Usually served with patacones, salad and coconut rice. (Arroz con coco is definitely the most Caribbean flavour on the coast. I found it to be way too sweet when I first tried it, but once my palate adapted to how much sugar is in everything over here I learnt to like it.)

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The best thing about Playa Grande…The ceviche guy knows me. 

8. Ceviche

While most people may warn you against eating seafood from a bucket when it’s 30 degrees, as far as I’m concerned you can’t beat beach/street vendors for ceviche. Less than £2.50 for  plastic cup full of prawns, chopped red onion, coriander and lime juice. Some people add ketchup and mayo, someone needs to have a word with them. 

9. Lobster

Cabo de la Vela in Riohacha is one of the only places in the world where I’ll ever be able to afford to eat lobster two nights in a row. And it’s no coincidence that it is one of my favourite places in Colombia. For about £7.50 you can get a whole lobster in a delicious creamy garlic sauce. Who needs running water when you have this kind of luxury?

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Mi amor…

10. Fruit

Although not technically a meal, I can’t finish this post without mentioning the fruit in Colombia… You can get fresh fruit juice almost anywhere, and as usual the best place to look is on the side of the road. Chunks of watermelon with ice, mango blended with milk, and maracuya, (giant passion fruit) are my favourites, but I’m not very adventurous.

If you want to branch out, lulo, guyaba and gyuabana are examples of fruit that only exist in this part of the world and are impossible to explain. Tomate del arbol has the best name (tomato of the tree) but isn’t as exciting as its name.

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I’ll just leave this here….

 

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Discovering Azeri food

Discovering Azeri food

 

As is often the case in my life,  before coming to Azerbaijan one of the main things I was excited about was the food. While I will always bitch about the Turks for putting mint in my Tzatziki, I can no longer deny my love of Eastern cuisine.

Staying in Baku and being sucked into the expat bubble, I was getting a little bit frustrated eating steak and sushi every night with all these undiscovered culinary delights on my doorstep (first world problems, I know.) Luckily, over the last few days I’ve had the opportunity to branch out a bit more and sample some local gems.

Here is a guide to some of my favourite Azeri treats.

Dolma

dolma.JPG Don’t tell the Greeks, but Azeri dolma is my new favourite thing. Vine-leaves stuffed with lamb, but with less rice than the Greek ones (or none at all) They’re so subtly aromatic and juicy and the natural (slightly ripe tasting) yoghurt goes perfectly with them. They’re often served in a little pot with a lid on, and dipping fresh bread into said pot is my new second favourite thing.

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Even if this leaf-based omelette thing  tasted like crap, I’d have to love it with a name like that. Luckily, it tastes amazing and is actually really good for you. More herby than a western omelette, Kuku is traditionally Iranian, and can also be made with potatoes or chicken. You’d have to be kükü not to love it!

Qutab

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Qutab are like little tacos, either filled with meat, greens, cheese or pumpkin. I first tried them from a little doorway vendor in the old town, and they are still my absolute favourite. People say there is camel meat in them, I’m pretty sure this is like an Australian drop-bear thing, but even if I have been eating camel all along, if this is what it tastes like then I’m OK with it.

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Probably one of the most unappealingly named dishes in the history of the world (I think lobscouse may just about beat it to the post, go Wales!) I didn’t have high hopes for plov. Expecting some kind of gruely slop I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a plate of rice cooked with apricots and lamb. The oil from the lamb and apricots  stops the rice being too dry and the sweetness of the fruit really compliments the lamb. In Azerbaijan they have a special breed of sheep which has a big fatty sack (sounds fit, right?) and they traditionally put chunks of this fat in dishes to make them extra yummy. It may help to not think about what you’re eating. Alternatively, man up and accept that if you’re eating a dead animal in the first place you might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.

Paklava

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I’m definitely not going to start debating the origins of baklava, but the Azeris spell it with a P and seem to eat quite a lot of it. For those of you unfamiliar with this eastern delight, it consists of layers of nuts and pastry drizzled in syrup, and unfortunately for my waist-line, it can be bought by the kilo…

Chai and  jam

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While I was doing my research for this trip, I read a famous Azeri saying ‘When you drink tea, you don’t count how many cups.’ While I didn’t really catch the proverbial element of the saying, I was sure that it meant I would feel right at home here.

As most Azeris are Muslim, even if they don’t practice, chai houses are far more popular than bars among locals . Traditional chai houses, like the kafeneion of Greece, are typically the male domain, and excepting the touristic cafes in Baku, women would not be allowed to enter.

Chai is served with sweet homemade jams, and often with a selection of paklava, dried fruit and nuts. I was intrigued by the little chocolate cubes we were served in a cafe on the boulevard, only to find that they were in fact portions of Mars bar!

Where to eat:

Cizz-Bizz in Baku’s old town ticks all the boxes. Squeezed in among tacky tourist restaurants, Cizz-Bizz is surprisingly cheap, and most importantly attracts a local crowd. The plov was incredible, and the service was not as bad as most places we visited. Order a variety of dishes and eat meze style.

Xalca is part of Baku’s new carpet museum and has a trendy bar vibe. I popped in for a glass of water and ended up staying for a feast. I did not regret it.  Best dolma of the trip and great views of the boulevard. Funky Azeri mugham music was a little bit too loud, but definitely better than the Abba megamix that they changed it too, probably for our benefit!

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And most importantly…Perspective photo ops.

Kotosoupa (Chicken soup)

Kotosoupa (Chicken soup)

Making my favourite soup… Perfect for a cold autumn night and post-travel comedown!

The Glossa

Continuing her segment on Greek recipes, Kiki Rees-Stavros presents us with a traditional Greek chicken soup. Enjoy!

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This soup is so good that Greek-American rapper So Tiri wrote a song about it (to the catchy tune of ‘I don’t wanna know’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIH9cTsc7JA ). I consider this recipe the consolation prize for having to put up with a Greek ex-boyfriend’s mother. Although it was probably the only good thing to come of the relationship, having perfected this recipe I can now say that it was a year well spent. Inappropriate oversharing aside, this soup actually tastes like cuddles and will make your life.

Ingredients

1 white onion

3 sticks of celery, 1 medium carrot (optional)

4 chicken wings

2 eggs

1 lemon

Salt and pepper

Olive oil (obviously…)

Directions

Ideally for this recipe you need a big broth pan, but failing that, just grab the biggest pan you have. Dice the…

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