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.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Best Bandeja Paisa – The Search Continues

Bandeja Paisa, is Antioquias typical dish. It’s a monster of a meal. It makes an all you can eat buffet look like its on a diet.
Unfortunately, I cannot eat a whole one now, so I have to go for the girlie option and have the kiddie portion. This still leaves me feeling like John Hurt in that dinner scene from Alien. It’s a dish where after eating it, and if you can finish it, you will need a good few hours of siesta time. It’s really suited for weekends or holidays, where you can sleep it off for a few hours.
The basic components of a Bandeja Paisa are rice, black pudding, chorizo, platano, fried egg, minced beef, potatoes, beans and chicharron. (Fried pig skin) and another piece of meat, and for the healthy part a small salad. In some places you will either get all of the above or at least 90% of it.
When I first came to Colombia over 10 years ago, I used to eat a whole portion of this, but as I have said, I can now only manage a mini portion. I think travelling in Asia too much has reduced my stomach greatly. Not a bad thing.
To say the portion sizes in Colombia are a little on the hefty side is an understatement. I know of many people who share a plate of food between two, and are stuffed afterwards.
I have eaten Bandeja Paisa in many places now, but the one I like the best is at Rancherito, a chain of restaurants that sells typical food of Antioquia. Lot’s of grilled meats, beans, chorizos. (The Colombia chorizo is quite unlike the Spanish version. It’s not spicy at all, and is very, very fatty.) morcilla, arepas etc etc. You can find them in most parts of Antioquia, but most of them are close to Medellin.
The quality of the food is always good, and it was normally the first place I would eat at after arriving into Colombia. After more than 12 hours travelling there is nothing like some good morcilla and chorizo to get you into the holiday mood.
For the real hardy people you can have calentado, which is a breakfast dish. But basically it is the Bandeja reheated for breakfast. After eating that, you’d have enough energy for anything for the day. A breakfast of champions.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Was the House Upset ?

Well we have moved from our small rural finca to a slightly smaller but yet closer to civilisation finca. The new one is just outside El Retiro on a paved road. So the new small car will not get trashed on the off road conditions to our old place.
I was sad to leave, as the peacefulness there was incredible. But it was so peaceful and so far out of it, that the whole time we were there we got nothing done. Not good. So hopefully here, we should get something’s done. All to be revealed soon(ish). Maybe.
The new finca is in a closed lot. We have 59 neighbours, a few security guards to keep the unwanted out. So we are in a private countryside estate. Very pinchada or posh. Some of the fincas, ours included are small, old and basic. Some of the others are pretty grand, with lush gardens. Thankfully the majority of these farms are only visited on the weekends, when their owners escape the noise of Medellin for some countryside peace. So during the week we have peace and quiet. We’ll see how noisy it gets at the weekend. Not much me thinks, as the nearest farm is still a few hundred metres away.
This finca does not have name, just a number. So we have called it Finca Dalat, as the area reminds us of Dalat in Vietnam so much. We loved Dalat, so hopefully we will love it here.
The day before we left Finca Cañaveral, it was hit by a hailstorm. The little buggers were the size of my thumbnail. The devastation they caused was amazing. All of the veg I had planted was wiped out. The fruit trees took quite a battering, even the banana trees were pretty beat up.
Now the question I have been wondering is this. Why did the hailstorm only hit our farm? And do you think as I do, that the finca was sad to see us go, as we have put life back into the old place. Even if that was by only tidying up the place and the gardens.
I like to think this, as sometimes when I woke up in the early hours, I could hear the house speaking in its quiet hushed tones. The quiet creaks would always send me back to a peaceful and deep sleep.
So, I am not upset with the finca even if it did have a little baby tantrum that we were leaving, and destroy all the veg I was going to uproot and take with me. It just means I have to replant and start again.
As is life in Colombia. It’s all about being game for anything, and not letting anything get you down. Otherwise you won’t last….