Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Raspado, Shaved Ice Drink Heaven




What works best on a hot day, when your mouth is dry and your body is overheating?
A fizzy drink, that doesn’t quite hit that mark and leaves your mouth dry 5 minutes later.
A bottle of water, that may cool you down for a while but just doesn’t satisfy you.
Well in Cartagena there are vendors wandering around with rickety old carts, loaded with bottles of fruit syrups and big blocks of ice waiting to refresh your spirit.
The drink is called Raspado. It literally means grated or shaved, and in this case it’s the ice that is shaved.
A block of ice is shaved into a bowl by an ancient machine that may have been used to do the same thing in his grandfather’s day. The vendor scoops the shaved ice into a paper cup and a fruit syrup of your choice is poured over the top and allowed to soak in. To finish it off, condensed milk is drizzled over.
It’s sweet and fruity, it definitely cools you down and it so hits the mark.
It is an act of faith that the ice is made from clean water, but as people in the Americas have slightly stronger stomachs than us folk in Europe or North America, no one seems to give it a second thought. I seem to have an iron stomach after so many years of travelling in Asia, so I survived this near death experience, as someone would call it.
The choice of syrups was numerous. I choose mora (loganberry), as they are the only berries that you can buy in Medellin, well apart from unripe yellow strawberries and I’d become kinda addicted to its tart taste.
The condensed milk adds a sweetness that works well on this cooling sweet drink. It went down very well, and it was cheap, which in Colombia makes it a hit.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Cartagena – A Very Welcome Change

To say the food in Cartagena was a welcome change is a bit of an understatement. After 6 months of eating nothing but rice, beans and over grilled tough, tasteless meat. La Costa was a slice of paradise. Why we never came here before is beyond me. It really is.
The city is divided into 2 parts. The old walled city, and everything else.
Everything else seemed like anywhere else in Colombia or the Caribbean for that matter. A large, noisy, chaotic, mad city. My kind of town.
The old walled city is like stepping back in time. Well kinda. It’s a piece of paradise.
It is one of the largest and best preserved old cities I have ever been to. There were very few dilapidated buildings around. Everything was well maintained, streets were clean. Not too much traffic. Actually sometimes I had to pinch myself to remember I was still in Colombia.
The food in the old city is a lot better on average than say in Medellin. As they cater to tourists more, the restaurants are a bit modern looking also. Food is a bit more modern too. No beans, rice and meat here. Well kinda, as the menu of the day on the coast is very different from the interior.
The menu del dia on the coast is coconut rice, fried and squashed crispy plantain, and fried or grilled fish, plus the typical Colombia salad. That never changes.
The coconut rice is cooked with a coconut paste, which is derided from a fresh coconut and fried till a dark brown colour. This is then added to the rice and coconut milk and cooked in the normal way. It ends up a dark brown colour but with a fantastic coconut flavour.
Take a green plantain. Cut it in 2cm thick slices. Deep fry it. Then squash it in a machine similar to a tortilla press, but smaller. Then deep fry it again till crispy. Sprinkle it with garlic salt and there you have a patacon. It should resemble a large gold coin. So named after the money of the Spanish colonial era.
The fish is any that is fresh that day. Either fried or grilled. Sometimes over done, but thankfully most of ours was done just right. All this is finished off with a small salad. It’s a Colombian tradition to serve salad with everything. Ask my mother-in-law.
All washed down with a freshly made fruit juice. Not bad for a maximum of £3.
But Colombians are very traditional, inward looking people and I could after six months that I’d be just as mad here as Medellin. Well maybe not, but you get the drift.
But they do offer other coastal delights in the menu del dia. Plus a lot more different items on their a la carte menus, than your normal eatery in the mountains.
As we were in Cartagena in the off season, we missed the Miss Colombia extravaganza by a week or so. Bummer. We actually saw the “supposed” most beautiful woman in Colombia one day. It’s amazing what a touch of make up can do to a woman. As she looked a little rough in the flesh. She was never my choice, but what do I know, I’m not an obsessed observer.
Anyhows, Cartagena was a little empty. A lot of restaurants were empty, with a few jammed packed. As they were in the best areas of the old city.
One of the best and fun places we ate at, was called “Pizza en el Parque”. The pizza was pretty good, but you just sat on a wall opposite the small hole in the wall. The pizza was delivered to you and put on a stool in front of you. The pizzas were good, beer was cold and the prices cheap. Plus you had the added bonus of watching the world go by as you ate. A favourite pass time of mine. The place had some odd combos. Like pears and apple. Please. But we had a good time none the less.
Also big on the coast is Cazuela de Mariscos. A coconut flavoured stew jam packed with fish and shell fish. The ones we had were thick, flavourful and crammed with fish. Yum yum.
Cartagena is possibly the most expensive city in Colombia, but you pay for the location mostly and it was well worth the extra expense. I just wish we’d gone there years ago. As I’m sure we would have headed straight to la coasta instead of the mountains. Hey ho. We know for next time.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cartagena – There and Back again. A Journey by Bus.


For some strange reason, I had never been to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Shameful I know. Even more shameful is that I had never set foot in the old walled city of Cartagena. I’m told that you have to visit Cartagena or you’ve never been to Colombia.
So as we have decided to leave Colombia and return to Europe. I felt I had to see this wondrous city at least once. I wish I’d done it 10 years ago. What had I been missing?
So on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a trip there. But how were we going to travel there? By plane. As we only decided to go about 72 hours before hand. It would have been very unlikely that any seats would have been available. But as Colombia is hideously expensive to travel in, especially by air. We shelved that idea. So the only alternative was by bus. 12 hours it was then.
Thankfully for this long journey the buses are pretty good. Air-con, not by Malaysian standards, where without thermal underwear and artic socks, you will get a touch of frostbite. That actually happened to me once in a cinema in KL.
We were told by the two bus companies that have the best buses between Medellin and Cartagena, that the journey time was 12 or 13 hours.
We took the early morning bus from Terminal del Norte. Amazingly busy at 6am. I’m sure I haven’t woken up before 7am since we arrived to Colombia back in May. It was difficult to say the least, and I slept the first 3 hours on the bus.
Now, on all buses I have travelled on in my many travels in the world. The buses always stop somewhere enroute for us weary passengers to grab a breath of fresh air, stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat.
Amazingly this driver only decided to stop once. At 9am in the freezing heights near Yarumal. A beautiful town, set upon the slopes of a mountain.
The pit stop we stopped at was a normal place where they sell overpriced bad food. Couldn’t face anything, except a bad empanada and a papa rellena. Why people sell shit food at truck stops amazes me. Especially when it’s so expensive.
This was our only stop of the day. The driver later reckoned he told us to eat all we could, as we weren’t stopping. He finally relented at 3pm, and gave us an extra 5 minutes somewhere in La Costa to buy a few treats.
The trip through the mountains, plains and finally the Caribbean coast of Colombia took us over 15 hours. I was climbing the walls to get off it.
We passed some great towns, like Piedras (Stones), Planeta Rica (Rich Planet). The scenery was pretty spectacular as well, going from mountains to plains to coast.
Thankfully I had my Ipod with me, and was catching up on 3 weeks off podcasts. Got my fill of Premiership football.
When we finally arrived, the heat that greeted me was like a slap in the face. Damn it was hot, and this was nearing 9pm.
After a blissful week there. The return journey over night was blissfully smooth and short.
It took me a week to persuade Lina to travel by night, as she was still remembering the dark times in Colombian history, where travelling by night included the extra entertainment of being robbed by bandits.
Thankfully nowadays under the leadership of this president, those days are long gone. Hopefully never to return.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Arepas


The arepa is more or less one of the only true indigenous foods to come from South America that is still popular today. This native bread originated from the Northern Andes of either Colombia or Venezuela.
They are essentially made from ground corn or maiz flour, salt (sometimes) and water. The dough is formed and then shaped into rounds, however big you want them, and then either fried, grilled or baked.
I do not know anyone who makes arepas the old fashioned way, and I am pretty sure I have never eaten one either. Nowadays, everyone uses a pre-cooked arepa flour. In the good old days, the days of “las abuelas”, to which everyone in Medellin reminisces about. Those poor old abuelas soaked the corn kernels, peeled them, ground them in their large mortars, known as pilónes. This they then dried, boiled and then ground into an arepa dough.
As you can see, it was a time and labour intensive way. So thankfully for las abuelas of today, it’s a lot easier to make arepas. You can also buy ready made ones as well. Even made with yucca flour. I know! Only problem with these aprepas, is that they are lower in nutritive value and it’s protein is decreased by half.
Most people in cities and large towns today buy premade arepas. It’s easier, and less time consuming. As city inhabitants have no time for to spend 5 or 10 minutes mixing the flour with water and salt, and then shaping them,.
I have become less of a fan of arepas as time goes by, except for arepa de chocolo. It’s the only one I like nowadays. They are so sweet, and have some flavour.
Arepas are generally eaten at breakfast time. Grilled, then buttered and a tad of salt on it. Then as my wife likes it, with lashings of quesito smothered on it.
There are countless restaurants selling arepas with all types of toppings, and I mean all types of toppings. These range from a simple cheese topping, to the Antioqeunan. Which as you would imagine comes with beans, platano, chiccaron and slices of avocado as a garnish. Hideous. But we are in Antioquia. Don’t go to a sushi bar, you get a paisa roll. See ingredients above. Not good.
In the area we are currently in, visitors from the city come here to sample a bit of the countryside for the day or night if they have a farm nearby. There is a small outdoor place that has a giant sign saying “Ricas Arepas”. From Friday nights to Sunday afternoons it is jammed packed with those city folk getting their fill of handmade arepas, that little bit of the country life they desire so much. Thing is I’ve eaten the arepas from there. They are ok, but not rica as they claim.
There is another type of arepa,, called arepa de mote. It’s made with the ashes of a fire. They are mixed in with the flour, and it gives the arepa a greyer colour, and some added taste and texture.
There was a story going around about a small town, somewhere in Antioquia, that the entire population came down with some serious illness. After many months of doctors testing, patients getting more and more sick. Noone coming up with anything. Someone discovered that the inhabitants of this pueblo had been eating arepa de mote a few times a day for many many years.
It turned out that the ashes added to the flour, in small doses is actually quite beneficial to the digestive system. But continual doses over a long period of time have the opposite effect.
Thing is, this being Colombia, the people of this town apparently still regularly eat their favourite arepa de mote.
Will they ever learn. I doubt it.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Chocolatina Jet – The Best Worst Chocolate in the World


It really is the best worst chocolate in the world. Not a lot more can be said really. The scary thing is, I have become addicted to it. It is a real struggle not to buy large packs of those small choccie delites. Well maybe we should not call it chocolate, as I’m sure some chocolatiers in Switzerland would take it as an offence. I do sometimes.
The good thing about these small bars, is that you get a sticker in each one, that goes in their album of the animal kingdom. Bad for your health, good for the brain. It reminds me of the dinasour album that I used to try and fill for many years when I was a wee child.
So now the excuse is we are only buying the bars to fill the album. Honest. Only about 150 more stickers to go.
We are going to look like a bar when we are finished.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Hamburgesas de la 80




Every country has it’s after hours food. That really bad food that you love to eat after you’ve had way too many drinks on a Friday or Saturday night.
My weakness was those kebab vans that you always found near pubs. It was a love hate relationship. They tasted soooo good once you lost all your taste buds. But once you were sober you despised yourself for eating such shit. They used the cheapest meat sucked off the bone by a machine then compacted into this oval shape ready to be cooked and then reheated time and time again until it was sold.
In Mexico I used to eat a lot of Gorditas. Deep fried fatty tacos. Just watching them cook you put on a few pounds, and your arteries clogged even before you took your first bite.
In Egypt the countless times I ate a Dynamita. A loaded pita sandwich that had everything bad for you in it. But soooo good…
All of these foods I have eaten and only should be eaten after several drinks. Never have I seen these foods being consumed by sober people. Until I hit Medellin. La 80 is one very long street and at several places along its busy roads are stalls selling some bad nasty food.
Not only are they bad for you health wise, but the portions are huge. The burgers would make any grown Texan cringe.
Did you know that all Paisas are banned from eating contests, because for them it’s an everyday meal.
Las hamburgesa stalls de la 80 are famous for cheap filling food. Only good for eating after way too many beers, but as I said the amount of people young or old, fat or thin cram around these nightly stalls gorging themselves on these monstrosities. Without been intoxicated.
As a so called foodie, I have my weaknesses. And these fatty, greasy foods that are not good for you. I do not know why, maybe it’s being in a city surrounded by bad and badly cooked food, that has weakened me. Please forgive me.
Maybe this is what this blog is all about.
Forgiveness.
Please forgive me for even thinking of going to these stalls without consuming unimaginable quantities of alcohol.
Please forgive me for my repeat visits to try all what they have to offer.
Please forgive me for ordering the special version of everything. Ie the larger version.
Please forgive me for actually thinking that as they have quails eggs they must be sophisticated, and therefore somehow ok to eat.
Please forgive me.
Please.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Versalles – An Old Favourite



I have been eating at Versalles for more than 10 years now. I first discovered it whilst I was staying at a small hotel in central Medellin. The smell of those Argentinean and Chilean empanadas made sure I was a regular visitor.
From then on, whenever we visited Medellin to see family. I always made sure we ate a meal there.
Now, as we are living here, we really have no need to goto into the center. But if we are there, then lunch has to be had at Versalles.
The food is not amazing, not out of this world, but what they do they do it well. Plus the restaurant has a charm that is rarely found in the world these days.
The service is definitely old school. All the waiters wear white jackets and look as old as the place itself. I’m sure some of them have been there since day 1. But even for their age they flit between tables, picking up empty plates, delivering food, greeting customers like old friends. Some of the regulars I am sure are.
The walls have a scattering of photos of Argentinean writers, artists and intellectuals. The restaurant was at the forefront of an intellectual scene in Medellin in the 50’s. I’m pretty sure the décor is today as it was when it opened. Just a lick of paint every 10 years or so. Sometimes I close my eyes and apart from the accents I could be in a small family place in Buenos Aires.
What they specialise in apart from the empanadas is the milanesa. Theirs is a thin piece of beef, breadcrumbed and lightly fried until golden. This is served with some papas ala francesa and a tomato, onion and lettuce salad. Oils and vinegars are awarded separately. As you would expect to find in B.A. you can also have it with a sweet tomato sauce, which is the Napolitana option.
Their menu of the day is always : soup, grilled meat, rice, chips and a salad. Well we are in Medellin, and those Paisas love their carbs. You also get a juice, which changed daily, followed by a bowl of ice cream and a coffee. It is more than you would pay elsewhere, but you do get more, and hey, with great old fashioned service like this its well worth it.
It kinda reminds me of a little of the New Piccadilly that once stood the test of time in central London, until some greedy land developers forced them to close by upping their rent. I hope this does not happen here, as every city needs a place to remind you of a gentler time. And if any city needs that, it’s Medellin.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Fish by the Lake




As we only had orders to keep us busy for a couple of days last week. We decided to make the most of the free time. So we made a few trips around la zona to see this part of Antioquia. It’s amazing really, just by taking a side road you see a whole different landscape.
It was a glorious few days. The scenery in this part of Colombia is truly beautiful. Smaller and smaller country lanes took us deep into the countryside. Field upon field growing all manner of vegetables. Cows relaxing in the fields munching on the grass. Chickens pecking at the side of the road, and dogs sleeping in the middle of the road.
On one of these days we ventured to El Peñol and Guatape. The later is on the shore of a large lake. The small town gets jammed packed on the weekends with day tippers from Medellin. The town is famed for its watersports and its fish, either to eat or to fish.
On our hot sunny Wednesday, it was a little relaxed, but still quite a few people had ventured out there, like us to see the place with a more tranquil feel to it. These small towns that play host to the stressed city folk at weekends change personality over night. Monday to Thursday they are small, nothing happening towns. Come Friday night they are thronging with hordes of party revellers. Everything happens on the weekend. But it is nice to see the otherside of these pueblos.
As I said Guatape is famed for its fish, cheap fish at that, and there are many restaurants that line the shorefront. All have the same menu and prices (more or less). All feature heavily on trout and bagre. (Cat fish). But as we are still in Antioquia, grilled meats and frijoles have to feature on every menu. There is no escaping it.
After a more or less pleasant stroll through the village center, and trying to avoid the restaurant and boat touts. I’m not really into those short trips on lakes for 30 minutes anyhows. And doing it alone would have been really dull. The view from the shore was just as good.
As it was around lunchtime and my belly was telling me to eat. We stopped in one place called “Vaso e’ Leche”, just for the name really.
I went for the catfish, which came floured and fried. More than likely deep fried, as everything is here. Lina had the trout apanado, which is supposed to be like milanesa, but it was deepfried also. Ohh we are in grease heaven.
Deepfrying food is a non cooks way of cooking. It’s a lazy way out. Also so is over grilling meat. We were in a small place a few weeks ago, and the meat was so tough a filling came out. It was tougher than old boots. A phrase to which my dentist, did not understand or find funny.
The catfish actually had a nice flavour even though it was swimming in grease. If I can find some here I will def buy some. But I think a quick grilling will do it justice.
On the route back we saw lots of handmade stalls set up to sell freshly caught fish to those weekend trippers. The few we saw that had fish for sale looked quite fresh, but in this heat, they must spoil quite quickly.
Next time we go, bring the cool box.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Alberto Lechona – Where pigs goto heaven.




We were told about this small joint, which has been sitting in the same spot since 1974 serving wonderful plates of lechona. Which is a Spanish/Latin version of the Italian Porchetta, or my favourite the Balian Babi Guling.
So after a small shopping spree buying the necessary bits and bobs for our home cooking business, we stopped there for a small lunch.
They sell the Tolima version of lechon. The pork is served mixed with rice and a small salad, with a delicious crispy piece of skin on top. You can either buy a pound or half pound of meat. As my belly is growing at the moment and I am trying to stop it reaching out so I can not see my feet, I opted for the half pound version. The waiter looked at me if I was some sort of nancy boy.
Lina had a (large) Tolima tamale. She got a respectful nod form our waiter. The Tolima version of the tamale comes with more meat, less maize. The Paisa version is the opposite. It came with mixed meat of pork (of course), chicken and a boiled egg, which had all been steamed inside a banana leaf.
I like eating tamales, and I helped Lina finish hers, but after a while the maize just gets to me. I think I’m anti-maize, which explains why I’m not a big fan of arepas.
My lechona was perfect. Nice soft meat, crispy skin and was the perfect size, even if the waiter kept giving me dirty looks as he walked past. No tip for you.
So when instead of having one of those huge hamburgers or hot dogs on La Ochenta late at night after a few beers in Medellin, I will be heading to Alberto’s for some delicious porkie treats.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

A Midweek Weekend Away Part 2 - Santa Fe De Antioquia




Santa Fe de Antioquia used to be the former colonial capital of the state of Antioquia. It was founded over 450 years ago.

We stayed here for about a week 10 years ago. Not doing a lot, as there really isn’t that much to do. It’s a weekend getaway for those stressed out souls of Medellin.

We were in need of a few days of peace and quiet. Somewhere to relax and forget about making empanadas and chutneys for a few days. As we had a big order for a delivery on Tuesday, we decided to head to Santa Fe on Thursday. Stay for 2 nights and head back and work our arse off for 3 days.

Santa Fe hasn’t changed that much since we were last here. Just more people were here. The vast majority of the buildings are still standing from the colonial era, and the local council has done an excellent job in keeping the town looking as it did several hundred years ago. Well that’s why people come here.

Santa Fe is in a valley and is a lot lower than Medellin. It is hot and humid. The area produces a lot of great fruits, and these can be brought from stalls that line the road coming into Santa Fe.

So in a hot, humid place every hotel worth its banana has a swimming pool. This is what we or Lina was craving. We felt like a splurge and stayed at the former Governors mansion. It turned out to cost half of what we thought it would. Excellent news. It had air-conditioning and a swimming pool. Sorted.

The plaza is full, and I mean full of bars, restaurants, shops and stalls selling local products like tamarind, to which they make into small sweets coated in sugar.

As we are still in Antioquia the array of eateries all had the same food on their menus. Grilled meats, fish, beans and rice. No matter how far we travel we still can’t get away from it. As with most places in the world that caters for tourists. The food was pretty bad. Colombians seem to have this thing for over cooking their meat. I was pretty scared eating some ribs as I had just had a filling. Eating tough meat on one side of your mouth equals a sore jaw.

We did find one place that did some well cooked food. Even if it did include beans and rice. I was expecting a small piece of tongue, but to get the whole thing with beans, rice, platano, egg and arepas left me feeling like a bloated cow for the rest of the night.

Even though we were kinda sick of the sight of empanadas, we did eat a few of them here. But we opted for what is known in Colombia as “Empanadas de Iglesia” They are nothing special, it’s just they are cooked by old women in front of a church. Hence the name. The old lady had 3 different ones. A cheese filling, a chicken filling and a meat filling. So we brought one of each. As I said they are nothing special, but it was nice to sit in a small plaza feeling the late afternoon sun on our faces.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Santa Fe changes from a small quiet colonial town into a full on party town with the arrival of hundreds of people from Medellin. All the locals are out and about in their best clothes flirting with the new arrivals to see if they can have an even better weekend. A lot do.

It was interesting to see the two sides of Santa Fe from Thursday night to Friday night. It’s a shame we don’t have many of these places that are within a short distance of London. A few places spring to mind but not too many. Brighton being the best of the bunch.

There are a few more towns we shall be visiting over the coming months. But Santa Fe I am sure is the best one in Antioquia.

A Midweek Weekend Away Part 1 - La Carretera Fantasma




We decided to have a couple of days off last week. We were in desperate need of getting away from it and resting. When you are dreaming of chutneys it’s time to escape for a bit. So we decided to head to the former colonial capital of Antioquia. A day of sitting around a swimming pool was in mind.

We’d been there before which was about 10 years ago. Then there was only one route. A three hour journey up, up, up, up, up the mountain and then down, down, down, down the other side.

The people who lived on this route, made some money every weekend selling drinks, food to the weary travellers who were passing by.

Several years ago, the Government of Antioquia decided to build a 4.6km tunnel through the mountain. This cut the journey time to down to just over an hour. This has made a big difference to everyone’s lives. Some good, some bad.

The people of Santa Fe and the pueblos around, and also the travellers who goto the zone for the weekend are benefiting from the tunnel for the obvious reasons.

The people, who have lost everything, are the people who live on the old route. Lost everything they did.

We decided to go the old route to Santa Fe. Mainly as we have a car, and we can stop anywhere. The views on this route are truly spectacular. You have undisturbed views of the valley below. This I remember looking out of the bus window in awe at the beauty of the landscape.

As we started out accent up this winding road. We noticed very early on the lack of traffic. No buses, no cars, no nothing. Not even really any people. It was a weird beginning.

As we proceeded upwards, the road got steadily worse. It is apparent that since the tunnel has been built, no one has been to repair the road. Most of the way it was kinda like being off road. God I’d wished we’d brought that 4x4. Our little Twingo was not enjoying this journey. At one point, half the road had fallen down the mountainside. Some nice chaps had put a few stones around the edge to warn us of the perilous drop. Scary.

There used to be many shops, restaurants, and bars selling lots of lovely stuff for us weekend trippers to refresh ourselves on this journey. Unfortunately, now all those places are now well and truly closed. It was like being in a horror film. We saw so many dilapidated buildings, and others in desperate state of repair. So glad the car never broke down, as I could imagine mad, desperate locals would jump out from the bushes and strip the car bare and leave us with a mad desperate rush to reach civilisation before sunset. Thankfully it never happened.

The lack of people was also evident. It’s as if a lot of people just got up and left. Don’t blame them really. Maybe everyone just moved to the tunnel area. As I imagine a healthy supply of food establishments were there.

When we reached the top and hit the toll. Amazing that there is one there. We asked them how many cars they had had this day so far. We were the 2nd car to pass through. Noone comes this way anymore. They must spend more in wages than they actually make in toll fees. The three staff looked desperately bored.

The route down was just as depressing as the road up. Thankfully the landscape was still amazing. We stopped a few times to marvel at the countryside. So beautiful. It amazes me that places that have had civil conflict have some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. Kashmir springs to mind.

Finally we started to hit civilisation and things went back to normality a little. A few stalls selling fruits, which the zone is known for. Then we joined the road from the tunnel, and hotels sprang up everywhere. All with pools. A hotel in this region without a pool is a dead deal.

We were pretty hungry and thirsty by now, but as we were nearly in Santa Fe we decided to get a bite in the town itself.

We saw a lot of “For Sale” signs on the route. I wonder how many people have deserted their fincas on the old route, or whether they still go there.

If you are looking for a small house in the style of the area, and are desiring serious peace and quiet, then this area is for you.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Lunch at Mondongo’s (again) – Bandeja Paisa.


For some reason, we never managed to eat breakfast today. We were in a rush to get a delivery down to Medellin before 11am. So by the time we dropped off our consignments to their relevant places, we were famished. Where to eat was the burning question. As we were quite close Poblado, and hadn’t eaten at Mondongo’s for quite a while. Well it was a set deal.
I was starving. You could be mistaken that you were hearing a storm coming. No it was my stomach screaming for food.
So it was not going to be the baby portion of their fabulous tripe stew for me, but a Paisa portion. But I felt like a change, as Lina was having the baby portion, I could steal off her plate. So I wanted to see what else they did. I felt like a bandeja paisa.
This I have to admit was not one of the better ones I have had. The minced meat was so finely ground that it was really dry. And how I crave for somewhere to serve me a fried egg that still has a runny yolk. The beans were ok, needed a bit more salt but ok. All in all I’d give it a 6/10.
What I enjoy about eating at Mondongos, apart from eating mondongo. Is people watching. And as we were in the affluent area of Pobaldo, the people are more fun to watch.
Medellin is well known as being the plastic surgery capital of Latin America, and I’ve seen all types of implants here. But to see a 14 or 15 year old girl fresh from the surgery with two black eyes and a heavily bandaged nose really took the biscuit. Is vanity reaching an ever decreasing age here. Maybe it was a present for her Quince años. Beats a trip to La Costa I suppose.
I also noticed a lot of men eating the mini portion of mondongo, and their female companions eating the full blown gut busting portion. Maybe the men are becoming a little vain themselves and dieting now. Where as the women know they can just goto a surgery and have it trimmed off. Maybe this is a public version of matriarcado.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Home Business




We have been out here in Colombia for 4 months now. When we first arrived we kinda had a plan for what we were going to do, which was to open a small place, only serve meals at lunchtime, something relaxing. But as we have found the rents here in this area are very very high.

We found one place, that was very popular in the mid 90’s, so we called the agency and was told the rent was 800,000 pesos a month, about £250. One day we were passing and dropped in to look at the place. We met the owner, had a look around. It was the perfect size, about 10 tables inside and out. Small kitchen, but large enough for what we were planning. Now, I seem to have this power here. I am able to increase the price of anything, just by my presence. He saw me and increased it by 200,000 pesos a month. It was a shame at the time, but I’m kinda glad he did it. The reason is, the zone we live in is really only busy on Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons, or Monday afternoons if it is a long weekend. The rest of the week the area is very very quiet. So you only have 3 days a week in which to make a ¼ of your monthly profit. Hard work. If it is raining, then you are buggered as no one comes up here. So for that I’m glad he was greedy. 4 months later the place still isn’t rented.

The other plan we had, was to cook for people in their homes. The original menu I had to scrap as the majority of the ingredients I couldn’t get, or if you could it was not a regular thing and they were very expensive. So we put together a second menu, using ingredients I could get hold of regularly. We however got a little side tracked. I made a few chutneys to go with the homemade charcuterie plate I devised. A tomato de arbol (look it up) and a mango chutney. These, some people tried and really liked, and wanted to buy. So we made some more and more. Then we made some different ones.

We then made some empanadas in the Argentinean style. These are slightly different from the empanadas they sell here, which either contain minced beef or chicken (or the lack of). Ours are from Cordoba. They contain minced beef, cooked with spices and onions. Then assembled with boiled egg, sultanas and green olives. Very delicious I can tell you.

These sold really well.

So I thought I’d go a bit Middle East, and made some hummus, falafel and pita bread. These starting selling well also, but all on a small scale. Mainly, as we live outside the city in a small house with a very, very small oven. So large scale isn’t going to happen here.

We were then put in contact with a friend of a friend who runs a business making food for cocktail parties, office meetings etc etc.

So we are now supplying her with some bits 3 times a week for office meetings or refrigerios.

It’s becoming obvious that where we are living isn’t working properly. As I said earlier we are living in a small house, 45 minutes outside the city, with a very small oven. So if we want to expand, we have to do two things.

1. Move into the city.

2. Buy a proper oven.

These cost about 500,000 pesos (£150). So not too expensive, and it will pay for its self after a short time. So that is not the problem.

I am so enjoying living here, even with my moaning. But do I want to live here for the long term. Prob not. But as I always say, We’ll see….

Sunday, 27 September 2009

My First Veggie Garden



I have grown herbs and some veggies before, but nothing quite on this scale. The last finca we were staying in, I planted a few rows of veggies and salad leaves but not a lot. Plus there were a lot of plants already there. God I miss the mora…. They all got wiped out in a freak hailstorm the day before we left the place.

So when we rented this place, we made sure we could dig up a little bit of land and plant a few things. We were even given permission to have some chickens. This we haven’t taken up yet.

After some backbreaking digging, we now have two small plots to which we have planted a random mixture of veggies and salad leaves.

The 1st plot we dug is downhill from the house. It’s situated quite close to a pine tree, which gives it some needed shade from the intense midday sun.

Originally it contained broccoli, poblano chilli’s, some picante chilli’s, celery, parsley, beetroot, parsley, runner beans and peas. Most of these we brought one day in a garden centre in la zona. Each plant cost 60 centavos. Quite easy to go mad in there. Lina did.

We had to extend that plot, so we could plant all the little plants that we started off in the seed trays.

These included more peas and runner beans, cayenne peppers, borlotti beans, radishes, caverlo nero, rocket, carrots, spring onions, spinach……

I also ordered a lot more seeds from a Franchini supplier in the USA, but none have turned up. I’m going to try and see if I can get more sent to Orlando and have someone bring them for me. Shame as I really wanted those buggers.

My two sisters and my mum, sending packets of seeds from Blighty, supplied the salad garden. Gracias.

These we started in seed trays and have now more or less transplanted all of them to a small patch next to the house.

After a night having a little hissy fit, they all seemed to have settled in nicely. We even brought some black netting to ward off the midday sun. Remember we are very close to the Equator here.

Also next to the house, we planted a few herbs to keep us going along. Rosemary, thyme, mint, fennel seeds, coriander and cidron, which produces the most aromatic lemony leaves. Great in teas and iced drinks. My bay tree, which I brought at least two years ago, is nestled in our piece of land. It doesn’t seem happy there, so we may have to go and dig it up and bring it here.

I’ve thought about fruit trees and the like, but we may not be here past February, so no point really.

I dug a small hole and have been filling it nearly on a daily basis with organic waste from my kitchen. It is now quite a site. Not ready to spread on my plots, but getting there.

The owner of the farm we are staying in pays a guy to come once an week and cut the grass and do odd jobs on the land. He continually dumps the grass cuttings and the leafs he sweeps up in one big pile. After digging this over last week, I discovered that the bottom has more or less rotted down to become perfect compost. Excellent.

So, now is a waiting game. I hope I have the patience for this. I am looking forward to picking the veg a lot.

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Medellin Food Show

I was supposed to publish this right after the show, but I’m just pretty damn lazy these days….. But better late than never ….
The food show was billed as the spectacular culinary event of the year in Medellin. I’d been to one or two food shows before, and sometimes they are a little disappointing. This one fitted that bill perfectly.
It was held in the Jardin Botanical, which is trying to set itself up as a culinary wonderland. They had closed the Botanical Gardens for this 3 day event. They also decided to impose an entrance fee of 16,000 pesos, which to a lot of people is a lot of money. Grudgingly we paid and entered.
The fair was set up in 3 different areas, quite close to each other. One area was designated to foods from around the world (?). These included Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador and from Colombia, the State of Boyoca was being highlighted.
Another area was for food demonstrations. We were there for over 3 hours and never saw sign of one.
The final area was where the stalls were selling locally produced culinary delights. All everyone was selling were jams, conserves and sauces. It occurred to me looking around that people here really have no imagination. When one person comes up with an idea, instead of going forward from there, everyone copies. As everyone was selling literally the same products.
As we wandered around, we noticed no one was giving tasters. Now, I am a sucker for buying stuff at markets, if I have been able to sample a little bit of it. Maybe they were worried that people would just taste and walk away and not buy anything. We were given lengthy talks on the products, but when we were expecting to sample a little. Alas no. So we did not buy. Shame.
Back to the first area, a restaurant represented each country invited, and they had prepared dishes for people to try. Small tasters I think are the best way to describe it. These were not free, but the dishes we saw were 6,000 pesos each.
The look of the food from Ecuador and Peru did not tempt me, as it was mainly stir-fries. Not very Latin. The Mexican stand was only selling tacos. Lot’s of them. They were really busy. It had been a while since I had eaten a good taco. So looking at the list I had to have a mole and a tinga one too.
It was pure Mexican street food. The taste was superb, slightly less hot than you would get in Mexico, but Paisas can’t take much heat. The consistency was a little too runny, but they had made it in bulk, and to last for a while. Apart from that they were pretty good. The price was a little out of order. $3 for a taco that would normally cost less than a tenth of that back in Mexico. But hey ho.
We only tried a loganiza from Boyaca. It’s kinda like a chorizo but filled with chicarron (kinda similar to pork scratching), and a few other bits of meat. It was pretty damn good, but as was only a taster, not enough of it. It went down well with the beer I was drinking.
All in all it was a pretty crappy fair compared to others I had been to, but for Medellin this was a big deal.
On a positive side it is showing Medellin going slightly forward in a land of inward looking people. But for me it is too slow. I’d say they are where England was back in the 70’s or early 80’s. In some restaurants the decoration is a bit too much. I mean who really wants to eat a whole sprig of rosemary. But on the whole, at least they are moving forward.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Mondongo’s


There is something about tripe that sends me into ecstatic excitement. I can remember my Nan cooking tripe and onions as a child. Not sure if I ever ate it back then, as I was a fussy kid. I still won’t eat brussel sprouts.
Tripe or mondongo in Spanish, hence the name of the restaurant, Mondongo’s.
They do of course sell the typical foods of Medellin. Bandaja Paisa; frijoles; carne asado. But you can get that anywhere. The one and only reason I goto Mondongo’s, is to eat Mondongo.
There are 3 restaurants in this chain. One near to the University where I am studying Spanish at the moment. One in Poblado, and one bizarrely enough in Miami. The Mecca for all Latinos.
The stew or soup that they serve comes in 2 sizes. A normal size, which they call the half size, and a slightly larger version, which would easily make Mr Kresote a content man. As I’ve commented before, I can only ever eat the baby portions, which still leaves me full and content.
It comes with a few accompaniments. A slice of avocado, a couple of small arepas, rice (of course), a slice of fried platano, a bowl of finely chopped coriander, and jars of sweet chilli, and a hotter version.
You can order a few extras, like, chicharron, morcilla and the like.
When the bowl of steaming soup arrives. I gaze at its beauty. This bowl of offal, which some many people find repulsive, sends shivers up my spine. I immediately scatter over some chopped coriander and a good hearty spoonful of hot chilli sauce, lastly is a squeeze of lime. I give this a mix around, and dip my spoon in and fill it to its limits.
What most people hate about tripe, is it’s smell. Thankfully this soup does not smell of anything but goodness. The initial taste is of the freshness of the lime, the herbyness of the coriander and then the spiciness of the chilli. The tripe only shows itself in the texture of its honeycombed body. The small potatoes are only there to beef up the stew, and a good job they do as well. The base of the stew is a rich chicken stock, as most soups here are, even the vegetable soups.
You also get a quarter slice of avocado. Which always gets left behind on my plate. Rice, which I spoon into the soup and moisten it with the soup broth. A banana is present also, to which I have never been able to figure out why, but I eat it nonetheless. It doesn’t make the soup any better, but I like bananas, so I don’t complain. The small arepas, just fill me up, again I like them so they get eaten also.
I sometimes have an extra order of chicharron and fried platano also. I love the crunchiness of fried pork skin and the sweetness of the platano. It’s pure heaven.
I’m still waiting and probably will wait for a while longer for their bean stew. It’s been saying soon for quite a while now. But as soon as it’s available I will break a habit and try something different in the Holy Temple of Tripe.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Almuerzo del Dia – Part 1




Since we had no transport to get us from our first Finca to anywhere, we were dependant on the once a day Chiva. That took us from Tienda La Chiriguaca to El Retiro. It passed by anytime from 8am onwards and returned at 2pm on the dot.
So before we gut the Chiva back home, we always ate Almuerzo del dia in the Plaza. Everywhere I have eaten the menu of the day anywhere in Latin America, it has been the same. Soup, followed by rice, beans and a meat of some description and a drink, normally a juice or a canned one. It’s cheap, filling and depending in which country you are in, either good or bad. Bolivia for example is normally very bad. Where as in Mexico you are normally guaranteed to get something pretty damn good for your few pesos.
El Pilón Guarceño, in the Plaza Principal of El Retiro is my IN place at the moment. Not only because the soups are pretty tasty, and the meals are simple and nicely proportioned. Not because it is 4800 pesos (Less than £1.50p). But because the place is quite odd. But odd in a good way. One side of the inside is a shrine to everything coca-cola, and I mean everything. They have bottles, glasses, cups and cans on show from over 30 countries. There is a massive selection of all the gifts you can win or buy. My last visit there, I saw 8 clocks on the wall. None of them seem to be working.
The other side of the room has a small collection of different objects. There is the religious part. Lots of paintings of Saints and the Virgin. An odd selection of typewriters, and other bits of household objects dating from a more tranquil time in Colombia’s long violent history. It’s really an odd place, but I have grown to like it a lot.
For me Colombia or Locombia does these places well. Odd rarities that are really bizarre, tacky and generally weird. Like the bar that was made of melted beer bottles. Such a shame that place closed down. I had my first Aguadiente there, over 10 years ago.
On a larger scale you have Andres, Carne de Res (see here). This is the epitaph of everything loco that Colombia is.
The menu del dia at El Pilón Guarceño always consist of a soup. This has ranged from sopa de pasta, sopa de yucca, sopa de guineo (very small green platano’s), and meatball soup. All have the same chicken stock base. With the fat glistening on the surface, and it also leaves a little ring around the side as you eat the soup.
The main meal always has beans, rice, a small salad and you can mix it up by having either grilled beef, grilled pork or minced beef. Now sometimes they throw in a slice of platano or/and a fried egg. You can also change the beans for chips if you desire.
There is also a Trucha menu del dia. This is exactly the same. Except you get trout instead of meat, and it costs 6,000 pesos (£2).
I normally do not have the juice and have a pilsen instead. Which the last two times I forgot to ask for, but the girl brought it to me anyhows. I love service like that. Kinda reminiscent to your favourite bar, when the barman automatically puts your regular drink on the bar even before you have reached it.
Since we are in Medellin twice a week now with my Spanish classes. We are eating around the University. Some good, some bad. The worst so far was in an Argentinean place, where we had a very watery Minestrone with only a few veg. Some dried up rolled pork loin. Nice pudding though. The best has been at a Costeña joint, but more on that in a later blog.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Tinto y Buñuelos … The Breakfast of Champions.


After a 90 minute walk uphill then downhill or a 20 minute bumpy ride on an antiquated Chiva. We were always ready for a filling breakfast. Which in El Retiro there are not too many options.
Thankfully from early on we found the best place to drink “un tinto” and eat buñuelo.
A tinto in Colombia is slightly different from Argentina or Spain, where it is red wine. In Colombia, if you ask for un tinto, you get a cup of black coffee.
Buñuelos are balls of salty cheese and flour, fried till they are golden brown and best served hot. So many times I have eaten them cold, and believe me nothing beats a buñuelo straight from the fryer. I have to admit, it’s probably not the best thing to have first thing in the morning, but hey my arteries aren’t clogged up yet. Soon, but not yet. But for 3,000 pesos (£1) for 2 tintos and 4 buñuelos whose really complaining.
Now, this is a particularly good breakfast and it fits the time and place, but it is by no means the best breakfast I have ever eaten. In no particular order the best brekkies in the world I have eaten are :
1. Chinese Breakfast at a small coffee shop in Singapore with the best culinary ambassador Singapore has to offer. Mr Tay.
2. The Full Monty at the Breakfast Club in Islington. Oh how I miss you.
3. Huevos Rancheros, eaten anywhere in Mexico.
4. Nasi Lemak, eaten with some milky coffee in Penang, Malaysia.
5. Churros and Chocolate in Spain.
6. Eggs Benedict, made by myself.
7. Pho Bo, beef noodle soup had at any small shop in Hanoi. I think the cold weather made them so good.
8. Pho Ga, the chicken version of the above.
9. Taco’s eaten at a street stall in Villahermosa.
10. Dim Sum in Hong Kong. Technically not a breakfast dish, but we always had them for a late breakfast, so who cares.
11. Boiled eggs and toasted soldiers when I was a kid.
As I said the above are in no particular order, but if I had to choose one, then Singapore wins hands down. (Click Here) It’s just fantastic. It’s so good it’s actually worth just going to Singapore for it. Although by the time I’d get there from here, I’d probably have starved to death.
I’d like to know what your fave brekkies are.