Thursday, June 13, 2013

Parting is Such Sweet & Sour

Memory is a funny thing. Everybody’s works a little differently. Some people have those famous photographic memories, where recollections from past experiences are stored in images, like a big mental photo album. Other times, a smell or scent can be the trigger. For example, every now and then I catch a whiff of something that transports me right back to nap time in pre-school. I know, it’s a little weird, and I can’t explain it, but I’m absolutely sure that whatever I’m smelling is something that used to be served up in the kitchen at Lakeshore Children’s Center. Unfortunately, after more than two decades of trying, I still haven’t pinned down exactly what that smell is.

Many of my memories are actually linked to music—I tend to associate most songs with some time or place or experience. It could be the first time I heard a song, or the first time I actually listened to it. As I enter my final week of living and working in Colombia, I’m proud to say that this country has provided me with hundreds of memories, and thousands of songs to remember them by. 

With that in mind, this post is the first in a two-part series about Memory and the Senses. The next post will be dedicated to audio, but before I get into that, I want to write about my other favorite sense—taste.

Over the past few years I’ve posted a few “fine” dining guides based on my experiences around the world. So, now that I’m getting set to depart from Colombia, it's time for me to look back on all the mouthwatering experiences that will keep this country near to my heart and belly. In no good order, here goes...

The Taste of Goodbye - Flavors of the Colombian Coast

Restaurante El Country - Let’s start with the basics. A working man in Colombia needs to know his way around the comida corriente* scene. These almuerzos ejecutivos are inappropriately named, as there is nothing “executive” about them—more like middle management, at best. The good news is that even on a Peace Corps budget, I can afford to eat out for lunch everyday, as long as I stick to corrientes. My favorite quick lunch spot in Barranquilla is Restaurante El Country. A simple sancochofollowed by pollo asado with rice, lentils, tajadas, and a metal glass filled to the brim with agua de panela. YUM!

Donde Angie - Technically, this restaurant is called Donde Angelica, or something like that, but that hardly matters. Just remember, when you’re on the main road entering Campo de la Cruz, pull over on your left just before the church and order lunch (they’re not open for dinner). Donde Angie is actually the best corriente spot I’ve come across, but since it’s an over an hour from my house, they have to share the honors with Restaurante El Country. The tastiest sancocho comes included with any of the almuerzos**, which are all well-seasoned and divinely-priced at 5,000 COP. WOO-HAH!
Patacón Relleno - Patacón, derived from platanos, takes many forms here in Colombia. My favorite style is smashed and fried and stuffed with miscellaneous goodness. The best patacón relleno that I’ve come across is at the food cart across the street from Uni-Norte. HANDLE IT!

Arepas & Arepas - Like patacón, there must be a dozen different food items that people call an "arepa." At the risk of pisisng off a whole bunch of Colombians, I have to admit that I find that vast majority of products in this food group to be mildly overrated. The major exception is the stuffed, hotpocket-esqe wonders at Arepas y Arepas in the Alto Prado neighborhood of Barranquilla. At about the size of a decent hamburger, 6,000 is truly a player's price. AND ONE!

Deli Hassan - I don’t hang out on the north (expensive) side of the city that much, but when I do end up near Calle 84 on a Saturday evening, I like to wrap up the night with a trip to this outdoor culinary gem. In Colombia “chuzo” can mean two different things—one good and one bad. The “bad” kind (in my humble opinion) is known as “desgranado,” and looks like a hot mess of horribleness (see pic below on left). The good kind (see pic below on right) is what you might recognize as a good old fashioned shish kebab. Deli Hassan serves up a mean chuzo en palito, and they’re still open when the club closes. HI-YO!

Empanadas - These things are more common in coastal Colombia than plastic chairs, and that is saying a lot! Unfortunately, most of the empanadas here are fried instead of baked. Luckily, I found a placed that bakes them—a little hole-in-the-wall located on Calle 76 at Carrera 38 in Barranquilla. GETITBUDDY!

Brasas Caleñas - A few months ago, a new eat-spot opened up around the corner from my house. Late one night I stopped by to see what I could line up for a quick and cheap fourth meal. What a find! Two pieces of “broasted” (fried) chicken with french fries—for 5,000 COP*... BOOM!

Cafe Bonzai - You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and sandwiches are something that we take for granted in the U.S. I’ve come across two excellent sandwich spots in Colombia. Unfortunately, neither one is in Barranquilla, where I live. Cafe Bonzai, just off the beach in Taganga, serves up some high quality, creative sammies on the best bread I’ve tasted in-country. SMACKTHAT!

Crepes & Waffles - You may have notices that vegetables haven’t figured much into the equation so far. As a transplant to the Colombian coast, I sometimes get a bone-deep craving for something green. My favorite place to scratch that itch is a the scrumptious salad bar that makes Crepes & Waffles the savior of so many vitamin-deprived Peace Corps Volunteers. TOUCHE!

La Placita - Thanks Dana and Allison for showing me the wonders of La Placita, located just off the Parque de los Novios en Santa Marta. UFFF!

Mazzino - There’s a whole lot of pizza in Colombia, but most of it is mediocre. Fortunately, there’s two spots in BQ that come through every time. The first restaurant, Mazzino Pizzeria, has seen plenty of love in this blog, because we play music there on Saturday nights. What I didn’t mentioned is that they offer tasty stone-oven artisan pizzas. My favorite? The simple tomate y albahaca. MUAH!

20 de Julio - This panaderia/pizzeria is a great late-night option. Real deal pizza by the slice at 2,5000 COP per portion. Also, this is one of the few spots that understand the importance of crushed red pepper flakes. BOOMSHAKALAKA!

Sushi+ - After some debate, I can confirm that this spot is actually called “Sushi Mas.” To be honest, as I write this, most of the blood in my body has been diverted to my gut in an effort to digest the maki I just treated myself to for lunch. I opted for the spicy tuna roll and the Emperador Roll, which is salmon and queso crema on the inside, unagi and durazno on the outside. ICECREAMPAINTJOB!

La Terraza Del Dragon - When I lived in Cape Verde, my house was just a few short blocks from the Chinese Restaurant (honestly, I think it was actually called “Chinese Restaurant”). This lead to my near downfall, in the form of a few dozen dumplings consumed per week. Well, La Terraza Del Dragon is not close enough, cheap enough, or good enough to eat there multiple times per week, but it is by far the best option for Chinese food that I’ve come across in the country. The title of this post was inspired by the pollo agridulce that I fall back on about once a month. I knew I had stumbled upon authenticity when an actual Chinese-looking person handed me an actual paper menu. YAHTZEE!

Agave Azul - While we’re on the topic of Santa Marta, I have to give some love to this spot—by far the finest Mexican food that I know of in Colombia. In a country where avocados are practically a dime a dozen, you’d think that good Mexican food would be easy to find—alas, it has proved to be elusive. Thank you Agave Azul for making the Colombian coast taste a little bit more like California. ORALE!

Babaganoush - My final selection is this recently-discovered restaurant in Taganga, billing itself as a “cocina internacional.”**** They live up to the name, with offerings that run the gamut of deliciousness, from the Mediterranean and beyond. I can personally vouch for the hummus, falafel, tom kai gai, and beef carpaccio. Not bad for the toughest job you’ll ever love, right? DON’T HATE!

Donde George y Suzy - OK, so this is not a restaurant, but the finest Italian food in the country comes straight out of the kitchen of our Country Director, George Baldino. You can take the boy out of Brooklyn/Napoli, but you can’t take the marinara sauce out of the boy! SALUTTI!

Patillazo - Two words: watermelon, juice. How did we not think of this before?! At least once a week I stop on the street to fill my cup, and the hotter it is in Barranquilla, the better this drink tastes. Recipe: Mix 1 part watermelon chunks & juice, 1 part hunks of ice. Let ice melt. Add sugar to taste. As far as I know, this is only beverage I know that you can eat and drink at the same time. In the spirit of the Peace Corps’ “Third Goal,” please believe I’ll be whipping up a batch of this at our family’s 4th of July BBQ this summer. YESSIR!

El Bistro - Rounding out the beverage category, we have the eye-opening (and sinus-opening) mojitos de gengibre found in this posh corner of Santa Marta. 2x1 Happy Hour only makes a good thing better. CHEERS!

Sparkies - Last but not least, all praises due to the best Colombian candy. Endemic to this beautiful country, these chewy treats should not be overlooked as a poor-man’s Skittles, although that doesn’t sound half bad. Available in several flavors, in different sized bags to fit the up-and-down budget of a Peace Corps Volunteer, I believe that Sparkies should be included in our government issue Med Kits. HOOAH!

My House - Many of you reading this may have gotten the wrong impression from reading this post. Honestly, my life here is not all peaches and cream and creme bruleé. The truth is, the backbone of my diet has been the consistently delicious home-cooked meals that Chavela serves up every evening. Even when I do eat out, I can count on my host-mama to guardarme my fair share for when I get home. Whether I eat it when it’s hot, or as a midnight snack, or the next day for lunch, it always hits the spot. We came to an understanding very early on in my stay about higado, riñones, ojos de vaca and all the other viscera that I have a hard time swallowing. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing on the culinary front, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you Chavy!!! 

It’s amazing how much food you can eat in a year, even when you’re balling on a budget. Thankfully, my taste buds will help me look back on my time spent in Colombia with the fondest of memories.

Pura Vida,


*comida corriente - very loosely translated as "short-order" or "quick" lunch.

**almuerzo - lunch

***1 USD equals about 1,850 COP, depending on when you're reading this.

****cocina internacional - international kitchen

1 comment:

  1. My dad back at home makes watermelon juice! So it's nice for me to see it here as a taste of home :)