Category Archives: colombia

south american dinner

Chris’s mom hosted a local book launch at the library this past Wednesday, so we attended and listened as she talked about her visit to Chaitén volcano in Chile, which the novel is based around (it’s an eco-thriller). Chris snagged a recipe for some delicious chocolate-chili cookies (probably to be posted at a later date) and also won a bottle of Chilean wine. We decided to make it into a South American-themed night a few nights later and concocted a couple of dishes out of one of the recipe books we acquired in South America. As we didn’t spend much time in Chile, we couldn’t do a Chilean night, but thankfully the Colombian cookbook we had offered a few delicious opportunities.

We hauled out our Spanish copy of Secrets of Colombian Cooking (we recently discovered it was originally publish in English then translated for the author’s home country – here we figured we were getting an inside Colombian scoop!) and settled on Pollo Sudado, as it looked fairly easy (though time-consuming) and had pretty common ingredients. It’s a lot of FLURRY OF ACTIVITY then wait then FLURRY then wait, but in the end, it tasted like something we would’ve had for lunch in a Colombian restaurant, which was a good sign.

Pollo sudado

12 chicken thighs
1/3 c onion, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mustard
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 c onions, sliced
2 c tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp achiote (we used turmeric; see below)*
1 cube chicken bullion
1.5 lbs (about 12) potatoes

In a big bowl combine the chicken, chopped onion, 2 tbsp of oil, mustard, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and pepper. Mix well and let sit for 30 minutes.

In a big pot over medium heat warm 1 tbsp oil and saute the onions for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, the other 2 tsp of salt, Worchestershire, achiote, and bullion and fry for 4 more minutes.

Add the chicken mixture and 1 cup of water or chicken broth. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the potatoes, cover again and cook until the potatoes are finished, about 20 minutes.

It says to serve with white rice, but we thought the potatoes were enough. It’s very South American to have two or three carbs in a meal at the same time, though.

*We didn’t have any achiote spice, so we just used turmeric. It might have a slightly different flavour, but tasted close enough for us in the end.

How can you top a delicious dish like this? How about with a wonderful version of the dessert that appears on nearly every South American menu – arroz con leche (rice pudding)? This dessert was possibly the best arroz con leche I’ve ever had, and I LOVE rice pudding. It takes a long time to make – an hour of soaking, at least 40 minutes of cooking, then cooling time – but it is worth every second (and it’s easy). The spices saturate everything and the rice is so soft that it melts in your mouth. It recommends serving it cold, but I love a nice warm rice pudding. Either way, it’s really good.

Oh, and how was the wine? It was OK – a little on the dry side, though the finish was nice. To be honest, the food kind of drove out thoughts about the wine. At least it was a good instigator!

Arroz con Leche

1.5 c rice, washed
1/4 c sugar (the recipe calls for 1/2 c, but we found half of that was enough)
2 sticks of cinnamon
6 cloves
1 tsp salt
2 c whole milk
1 c sweetened condensed milk
1 c cream
1/2 c raisins (optional)

Mix the rice, 6 cups of water, and the cloves and cinnamon in a bowl. Let it sit at room temperature for one hour. Do not stir.

In a pot over medium heat, place the rice, water, and spices, 1/4 c of sugar, and the salt. Cover, lower the heat to medium-low and cook at a simmer for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the water is gone. (It only took about 40 minutes for us, though it overboiled at first.)

Uncover, add the other 1/4 c of sugar, the milk, the condensed milk, and the cream. Mix with a wooden spoon, cover, and cook at a simmer for 5 minutes.

If desired, add the raisins and cook for another few minutes.

Uncover and let sit until desired temperature reached.

arroz con leche


the drink

I’ve been woefully deficient in my drink reporting during this trip. So here we go on some of the more intriguing and tasty and odd drinks we came across on our travels.

First up is Paraguay with mosto – sugar cane juice. It doesn’t look that great, but man does it taste good. I guess it’s kind of like brown sugar in water (that’s more or less what it is), but it’s so good, with an indescribable quality to it. We could find it easily in Cuidad del Este, but it was harder to find elsewhere.

Bolivia was next, giving us the apple and quinoa drink seen here. It’s really thick and really tasty. Usually served in the morning piping hot, it’s breakfast for some here. I’ll post a recipe for this after this drink post (it’s going to be long enough).

With Bolivia came coca (chewed everywhere here conspicuously and a bit more on the sly in the mountains of Peru) and from that, coca tea. You can just add hot water to coca leaves if you want (I also put a little sugar in) or use packets that are sold everywhere. In fact, in Peru, after every meal three kinds of tea are offered (in a home and on my hike) – anise, coca, or XXXX. With no sugar, it’s a wee bit bitter, but it definitely gives one a bit of a rise. One of the women I hiked with loved putting some in her thermos in the morning and having well-brewed coca tea for her elevenses.

Bolivia also gave us a thick, red drink (also hot – everything in Bolivia is hot, due to the fact that it always seems cold here…) called apí, made from corn and cloves and cinnamon. Seems like a perfect winter (or mountain!) drink.

Into Peru, we had pisco sours here and there – the official national drink. Pisco is made from grapes and is fairly strong. It’s like brandy, in its own way. The drinks are made with lemon juice, bitters, syrup, and egg whites frothed up on top.

Peru also brought us into contact with the radioactive-looking Inca Kola, which outsells Coca Cola in the country. It tastes like bubble gum and is fairly sweet, but for many Peruvians who have left their motherland, it is a symbol of what home has in store for them. You could buy it heavily marked-up in Buenos Aires in the Peruvian restaurant alongside the cheaper, locally-made (?) bright yellow sodas.

I also tasted the drink that has garnered the most comments in our photo album – essence of frog. Yup, I ate frog. Or rather, drank it. It all starts with a live frog taken out of an aquarium right on the cart. It’s killed, skinned, and blended in some water, then poured through a sieve. Other ingredients are added – beet and carrot juice, half a banana, quail egg, water, honey, carob extract, maca (a powdered root), and love – presumably to take away the frog taste.

How did it taste? Christine took one sip and pronounced it to be like juice made with swamp water. I say it tasted like sinister fruit juice – familiar flavours with something lurking in the background that you just can’t place. I thought it was worth the experience, even though it may have been the catalyst that made me violently ill that night. On a bus. Bad place for that, by the way.

Rounding out the trip were warm drinks again, this time from Colombia. In Bogotá, the hot chocolate is well-known, as it is served with cheese that is supposed to be put in the chocolate. I had been anticipating this chocolate since I had first heard of it in Ecuador, though I was a little disappointed when I actually tried it. I had imagined a delicate blend of flavours, but when I tried it (and it was a nice place, though who knows…) the cheese didn’t mix that well and just sank to the bottom. Looked pretty, but disappointing on the delivery. Too bad.

The coffee, however, was definitely up to snuff. First of all, you could get flavoured instant coffees in the stores – Irish cream, coconut, and a few others. They weren’t bad.

The real treat was the tinto as it was called – coffee drunk on the streets. People walked around with big thermoses and tiny cups selling hot, sweet coffee to anyone who would buy all over the country, even on the beach up north. It didn’t taste different as Sumatran or Vietnamese coffee did when I first tried them as Colombian coffee is what is drunk back home, or was when I was growing up, but it was still really good.

Last and certainly not least, we tried every type of beer that we could find on our journey – I’d say we tried around 50 or so. We found a few gems, but I have to say the quality overall dropped once we left Argentina. Even their base beer, Quilmes, was a step above most other beers on the continent, and some of their regional lagers were terrific. If you’re interested in taking a peek, you can see them in South American Drinks along with all of the other things we used to quench our thirst on this continent.

something heartier

For the last entry on Colombia, I’ll cover the main courses. To be honest, this was probably the least exciting part of colombian food, but it was still pretty good, depending where you went.

Lunch was fairly standard fare, though we had a much greater selection in Bogotá than in Cartagena or Santa Marta – there were more cosmopolitan, experimental places (not terribly so, but enough to put a little dazzle in your lunch, rather than the Ecuadorian style meat-rice-potato combo). Lunch usually consisted of juice, soup, and main course. A salad may be included, and dessert could often be had in Bogotá – not so much in the other cities. Also, the non-capital cities tended more towards simpler drinks than fruit juice – soft drinks, water, or a delicious drink made of cane sugar and water whose name I can’t recall at the moment. One constant that kept up the tradition we had found all over – it filled you up!

Dinner was pretty much the same as lunch – a selection of typical, cheap plates. Being that it was near the end of our trip, we were stretching pennies, so we didn’t go in for any of the fancy dishes, always settling for these standard dishes. Still, you got soup, some veggies, a good helping of delicious beans (our favourite part), beans, rice, and french fries. It filled you up. The meat was less than inspiring, but it had been all along, and actually, the Colombians could cook meat decently (we’ve have some pretty bad stuff in some places). They also tended to have liver on the menu, which I really loved. At times, it was even done with tomatoes, a great way to take the edge off if you’re a liver-hater. The flavours blend quite nicely!

We did get one special lunch when we were in Cartegena, on the way back from our mud volcano adventure. Fresh-caught fish with the typical trimmings, only this rice was cooked in coconut milk. We had both been really hoping to have more of this up on the coast, but apparently it’s only in the higher-priced restaurants, because this is the only place we got it. The fish was delicious and the rice was heavenly – each bite tasted like a coconut-flavoured angel. Probably the best rice we ate on the continent.

I’ll finish off with a signature Colombian dish – sancocho. Really, it’s just a soup full of STUFF – meat, vegetables, yuca, and a few spices – but everyone does their own and I always enjoyed it. Another recipe that I’ll post when I get the chance to translate it, although it has a list of ingredients as long as your arm. It’s the kind of thing your grandma always makes because she has an entire day to prepare a soup.

All of it was good though, especially after the disappointment of Ecuador. I’m glad we finished here, in Colombia. It wasn’t quite everything I had hoped it to be, but it was damn close, and it kept me satisfied.

breakfast time!

Breakfast has been an interesting affair down here – up to Colombia, it existed, but typically the same things were eaten as at lunch and dinner. At least, the same ingredients were used. Rice, eggs, french fries, vegetables, empanadas (well, salteñas in Bolivia) – all of these were fair game for breakfast.

In Ecuador, however, things changed. People still sometimes have those things, but coffee, eggs, juice, and bread is much more common. The bread is called Pan de Ambato and can be found at any breakfast restaurant. I loved it. It was often served with the slightly salty white cheese they use so much with everything. I have a recipe and will post it if I have time to translate it. I can’t do off-the-cuff so well anymore!

In Colombia, we lost the bread, but arepas made their way into our diet. They can be eaten at any time of day (and are!), but are often found hot at breakfast. They’re as if cornbread and pancakes had a baby (that’s from Chris. She has a way with words). You can buy them just plain (often from bakeries like this) or with cheese cooked between them. If you get them this way, it’s usually fresh off the grill with a little butter and salt on them. Wow, was this good, way better than I thought. I hope we have a recipe for that somewhere…

Lastly, yogurt made an appearance in a big way, starting in northern Peru. All different flavours as well, different to us, but that’s because they were done with local fruits. Mulberry/blackberry and custard apple were two new ones for us (in addition to ‘regular’ flavours’), and Christine took a shine to a cinnamon oatmeal drink, as it was called. It was like thin oatmeal and really quite tasty. So many good ideas down here only available to us for a short time! Such is travel.

snacktime in colombia

Colombians like to snack. At least, that’s the impression I got from walking around snacking here. There was a lot of non-heavy food available that was obviously not meant to fill your belly (and some that was a little heavy). Here is a short list of what we encountered and scarfed.

Pastries and sweets! There were some terrific bakeries here that make some top-notch desserts. Tarts, small cakes, éclairs – we tried a couple of things from a little place around the corner from our hostel and were not disappointed in the least.

Fried plantains were a favourite of mine from the first time I tried them in Peru. They’re almost always available on the street, they’re crunchy, they’re salty – perfect in my books! Plantains are not sweet, either, so they’re not the dried-banana taste which, though I love them, can get to be too much sweet when I eat too many. (Granted, too many is a LOT of banana chips.) I don’t know if I could eat too many fried plantains.

Ants were not a snack that I would indulge in too much, but we tried them anyway! As you may guess, I was the instigator here. They only come from one province in the country – not the capital – but we found a store selling them and decided to try them. Hormiga culona, as they are known. They tasted meaty and buttery. I wasn’t a huge fan – that richness was a little too much for me. It may not have helped that we were sampling them for breakfast.

Street pancakes – as I have no idea what else to call them – were paper-thin pancakes smeared inside with your choice of toppings then handed to you, about to drip. The fun was eating it without getting it all over yourself. Typical toppings were chocolate, raspberry, manjar blanco, and cream. Definitely snack food, as they were not filling at all. I enjoyed my cream and raspberry.

Cartagena yielded a large number of snacks that we came back to day after day. These women (there were a very small number of men) would hang out just inside the old city in the shade with carts carrying glass jars filled with different kinds of candy. Many of them were coconut based, but there were others. The picture, starting upper left, going clockwise: coconut with guava flavours, a molasses and sesame ball, coconut with pineapple flavour, peanut brittle, and ‘chocolate balls’ (made from corn flour, nutmeg, and powdered cacao bean). The coconuts were delicious and there were many more flavours. The peanut brittle was like good peanut brittle, but I love that stuff, so I ate it with gusto. The sesame balls disappeared quickly as well. The chocolate balls were the real surprise. They tasted like Christmas – it was the nutmeg. There was a lot of it, at least at our favourite vendor (we tried others and it was much more subtle). There was no sugar – the cacao was pure. Really, really tasty candy. No wonder we went back every day!

Of course it wasn’t available anywhere in the country, but we did sample some origin chocolate sold in the airport. I don’t recall where in Colombia it was from, but it was tasty. This one was with little bits of passionfruit, which was absolutely delectable – little sweet, tart bits with every bite of yummy dark chocolate. Very much worth picking up, as everything here was!

colombian fruit

Well, this will be the last South American fruit entry, unfortunately. We’ve seen (and tasted!) a lot and it’s been a wonderful time. Colombia still held new fruits for us, surprisingly, and some were really different!

First up was the feijoa. Apparently very healthy with tonnes of Vitamin C, this crunchy fruit was a little tart and kind of tasted like a tart, hard cucumber. I enjoyed it more than Christine (that tart/sour thing again), though I don’t know if I’d eat it regularly.

Next up was the mamey, which was quite sweet. A little mealy, it was like a very sweet sweet potato. We only tried it once, as neither of us was terribly into it.

Mamoncillos, on the other hand, were one of my favourites. These little marble-sized fruits were a thin, sweet membrane of fruit (rather like lychees) covering a large seed and boy were they tasty. Christine likens the taste to stringy, sweet clouds – very soft. Great for sucking on while laying out at the beach reading a book. I ate bags and bags of these.

Asaí berries could be bought at markets, so we bought them. They are not, however, meant to be eaten straight – we encountered a few fruits like this. Typically, these fruits are used in juices (like the noñi) or are boiled and frozen (this is how the asaí berries are typically eaten. The berries themselves have a leathery covering and are REALLY sour. You know how cartoon characters pucker when they eat lemons? You do that for real when you eat these. The frozen juice treats made from them are delicious, however, having just a touch of sugar and a lot of water added.

Lastly, the insidious plum label reared its head again, this time in Cartagena. I have no idea what they are in reality, but the guy we bought them from would only call them plums. They are very juicy, quite sweet, and really quite tasty. I didn’t see anything made from them, so I assume that they are eaten only as fruit (at least, that’s the most conventional way of eating them). We enjoyed the bag that we bought, ripe as the plums were.

And that brings our fruit discoveries here to an end. 29 brand new fruits by the end, I believe, and many more that we had only tried once or twice before. I’ll be sad to leave many of them behind, but you can’t have everything! Thanks, South America, for your delicious fruit!

i believe colombia is made of seafood

When we arrived on the coast up in Santa Marta, we were virtually inundated with delicious seafood. The shrimp cazuela, shown here, contained more shrimp than I have ever seen in one dish in my life. I think back home it probably would have cost upwards of $20. Here, it was about three or four. That was for a half-order. There was no way we could eat a full order, accompanied, as it was, by rice and french fries. Really tasty and creamy without being fishy, this dish was a winner and brought us back (the litre of juice for three dollars did as well.)

Every evening, as well, we would walk down to the beach and get a cup of seafood cocktail made with your choice of octopus, shrimp, manta ray, and/or scallop and their special sauce. Sitting on the ocean wall with one of these and a cold beer was about the best way to see the sun go down. There were vendors selling rice pudding as well for dessert if you could catch them. Tropical heaven? I’d say so.