I love to eat. Like a lot. Exploring the food culture of a new destination is one of my favourite aspects of travelling. While future posts will more fully describe my love of all Colombian food, I want to dedicate this post to my favourite – street food! There is nothing like the pure joy of biting into a delicious item, cooked in open air, that only cost around one dollar. My limited Spanish skills offered me the pleasure of selecting a food item based solely on its appearance and having no true idea what I am putting in my mouth. This is my kind of adventure. Admittedly though, this is not very risky in Colombia because I loved everything that I tried! While I do recommend blind tasting just for the fun of it, street food tours help you learn about what you are eating and as a bonus are a great way to explore a city on foot. Just make sure you arrive hungry! If you go it alone on your street food adventure, pop into a local store to buy a couple beers to wash it all down. Yes, you can walk around the street drinking a beer (at least in Cartagena). Check out my five favourite must-try items (it was tough to narrow down!) in reverse order:
#5. Buñuelos. I first tried buñuelos on a street food tour in Medellin. They are a perfectly round ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. To get the right texture, buñuelos must be cooked at exactly the right temperature and contain the right combination of wheat flour, cassava flour and fresh cheese. The cheese is not the obvious gooey, oozing kind of cheese, but just enough to provide some flavour. Our guide told us the real secret to the light texture is the cassava flour. Topped with a squeeze of blackberry (mora in Spanish) jam, buñuelos are the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
#4. Empanadas. Colombian empanadas look like a small perogi with a fried crust. There is quite a bit of ingredient variation inside empanadas, but typically they include a meat and potato or rice and are served with a bottle of hot sauce used to your preference. My favourite empanadas were beef and potato.
#3. Arepas con queso. There are several variations of arepas served in Colombia. The plain version of these corn cakes are served with almost every meal, kind of like bread in North America. My favourite though are the deep-fried, cheese oozing, arepas con queso (‘con queso’ means ‘with cheese’ in Spanish) found at many street vendors. Tip – arepas de choclo does not mean arepas with chocolate. Choclo refers to the sweet corn used to make these arepas. Arepas de choclo do not ooze fried cheese like arepas con queso, but they are often serve with a piece of quesito – Colombian fresh cheese on top.
#2. Papas rellenas. I first tried papas rellenas at the Parque Arvi farmers market having no idea what it was. I am often overly enthusiastic about things I like, but there are only a few foods I love so much that when I eat them I close my eyes and partially raise a hand to stop anyone from interrupting the perfect moment. That first bite of papas rellenas gave me that moment. These heavenly potato balls are stuffed with beef, rice, and a magical combination of spices and finely cut vegetables. I could totally go for one (or four) right now!
#1. Chicharrones. I was first introduced to chicharrones on a street food tour in Cartagena and ate them pretty much everyday on our trip thereafter. Chicharrones are fried pieces of pork belly. Simple. Delicious. They are typically included in the popular dish Bandeja Paisa, but I think the best chicharrones are served by street vendors.
Hungry? I am!