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.

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