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Published: February 24th 2015
Cousin Steve Engel asks about the food in Colombia. Here in Medellín we have been well fed, because our little neighborhood is full of small foreign restaurants: Italian, Israeli, French, Indian, Mexican, American, etc. None is bad; some are really good. The best ones have free valet parking and a clientele that drives in from other parts of the city. Generally, Colombian food derives from Spanish food, not Mexican; i.e., it never has chili in it.
There is one Colombian restaurant that we have been to a few times, called Tres Tipicos, for the three native concoctions that they serve. The one I like best is a long-cooked tripe stew called Mondongo, similar to a Mexican menudo, always served in Mexico with tortillas, lime slices, chopped onion, dry hot chili, and dried Mexican oregano. Here it is served with sour orange, banana, and mango. The other two tipicos are long-simmered stews of beans and rice or meat and rice; fairly tasty, but nowhere near as good as Christos y Moros in Cuba. The refusal to use chili or even black papper can only be considered as a fault in the whole Colombian cuisine.
(I have never seen a pepper shaker on any restaurant table.)
There is a lot of grilled meat. Not like Argentina, but still quite a lot; especially on the road you will see large shelters that say Parilla (Grill) where you can really load up on beef. One town we visited near the Hacienda Nápoles had at least twenty grills, each making their own smoked chorizo, each claiming to be the world's best. We tried some (photo 26); it was indeed good, and not at all underspiced. But right next to our hotel in Medellín is a ribs place run by an Englishman from Birmingham. Read his sign carefully (photo 27). He cooks his ribs low and slow, and very tender, but without a trace of salt, pepper, or any other seasoning. People line up down the block to get in.
Also, unsweetened iced tea is not a concept here. If you ask for iced tea, you will get some vile sugary concoction bottled by NesTea. They simply cannot figure out how to make a cup of hot black tea and pour it over ice. There is good local beer, but no local wine. Grapes do not thrive this close to the equator.
But the main thing you have to adjust to is the arepa, which you will meet every day at breakfast. It is made with cornmeal and water, nothing else. But it is not a Mexican tortilla because the corn has not been nixtamalized (turned into hominy with ashes and water). It is close to what my grandmother called a hoecake, much thicker than a tortilla, cooked dry on a hot flat surface like a tortilla, but emerging with a crisp crust and a soft inside. However, unlike the hoecake, the arepa NEVER has salt in it. Like almost any tasteless thing, you can make it edible with enough butter and salt, but that may be cheating.
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