We had many expectations when we set out for South America. Delicious food was not one of them. We had both spent way too much time eating rice-and-bean combos in Latin American countries to leave home expecting much better.
Half of our big fat Colombian surprise proved to be just how wrong our preconceived notions were. On the sidewalks of Cartagena (the arepa at the top of the blog), in repurposed colonial homes in timeless Villa de Leyva, on side streets of Medellin, in our gritty boho neighborhood of Bogota, we ate – and drank – very very well and often for astonishingly little money.
Consider this fish plate we lunched on at The Abuella – “The Grandmother” – a hole in the wall in our Alto Chapinero neighborhood of Bogota. Yes, it is fried on the outside but hiding inside the most moist, succulent, perfect white fish ever.
Less humbly, this artisan coffee was brewed from single-hacienda beans grown by a generations-old family enterprise that also picked, trucked and roasted the beans (with a Dietrich coffee roaster from Sandpoint!) before brewing them in the ancient Usaquen neighborhood where we drank this Joe. Price: $3 per cup.
There were drinks made from fruits we had never tasted before, ceviche stewed in every possible juice, tonic delivered to G&Ts via a wand to keep the bubbles under control, hot chocolate Louis declared the best of his life. We found wine stores that could have been air-lifted from any trendy US neighborhood.
We skipped the fried ants and tripe soup and never found time for one of the 10-course culinary spectacles served in the gastronomic temples, but we sampled other local specialities like paisa and ajiaca and learned to make the Colombian staple, patacones, in our Spanish school, stomping and turning the green plantains flat with our feet before they were cooked into rich thin pancakes that we smeared with salsa.
We ate and drank on the streets, on rooftops, in ancient colonial haciendas repurposed into modern restaurants and tasted fruits we had never even seen before.
One night, we dined with eight other random travelers in a chic Bogota penthouse apartment, thanks to an AirBnB “experience” that lasted five hours and introduced us to eight other globetrotters including a professional chanteuse from Buenos Aires and a Parisian businessman running the Colombian factory of France’s oldest glass company.
In short, we ate and drank and ate and drank until the other half of our big fat Colombian surprise was that … uh, we left Colombia feeling a bit like the Botero paintings we also enjoyed so much.
Which would be the other half of our big fat Colombian surprise.
FROM THE PARTOUT TOOLBOX:
The companion food expectation for Doris upon setting out for South America was that she would experience more than her share of Atahuallpa’s revenge, the Incan counterpart to Monteczuma’s payback for European invasion. Lifelong, her very worst cases of traveler’s diarrhea – including one that required emergency medical care – took place in Latin America.
In an effort to avoid what felt like the inevitable, she took the Pepto Bismol plunge described in this New York Times article and detailed in this 1985 paper in JAMA (with thanks to Jeannette De Wyze for the heads up). Yes, this did require stockpiling 420 bismuth subsalicylate tablets for the 77-day trip just for her (Iron Belly Louis took a pass), but Target online came through with bottles of 40 for $1.99 each, which make great forms to keep packed shoes in place.
Halfway through the trip, so far so good.
TOP TIP: Don’t drink the water. Don’t even brush teeth with it. Travel doctors and experienced travelers swear this is the best technique for avoiding touristic intestines. If that doesn’t seem safe enough, take a look at the bismuth research.
COMING SOON: Cartagena – Colombian Eye Candy