There are a few things about Barranquilla that I’ve been saving up photos of and I think it’s about time I share some of them with you! Also, if you were wondering: the correlation between food and fabric shopping is that I need both to thrive.
Let’s start with food. It is - drumroll please - pretty decent. :) I mean, it may not be super exciting, but I haven’t been having all that much trouble eating vegetarian, which is great. Except for the time when I was informed that the pasta ‘had no meat, just meat sauce’ or the time they asked if I wanted ham on my veggie sandwich, which turned out to be bread and cheese. But the few inevitable occasions aside, it’s been remarkably easy. While the food hasn’t been anything to knock-your-socks-off-worthy, it does its job and is usually quite filling. Delightfully, it’s common to get served lentils or falafel and oh, the fruit is so, so good.
Let’s dive into some typical food from Barranquilla. The food Colombia might be most known for is arepas. These tasty, deep fried corn tortilla-like things are super fun to make as when they are put in hot oil, they puff up creating a cavity into which is commonly put egg but could be just about anything. They are often sold on the street alongside empanadas, bollo, buñuelos and other fun fried treats. Sadly for me, almost all of them are either filled with meat, cheese or egg, so I haven’t been partaking in the street food all that much, but my host mom has made me some very fun variations at home.
Then there is the juice culture! It’s actually not all that common to eat fruit whole here, but wow is the juice good. Almost any meal is served with one of many fantastically tasty cold delights and you can buy juice on almost every street corner. They have quite the array of fruits we never see in the states too. A few of my favorites are:
Maracuyá: (passion fruit) You can get nearly any drink with maracuyá in it here as well as bath products, and candy. I didn’t think I liked passion fruit until I came here and was raving about maracuyá. One day I looked it up to see what it looked like and well, I guess I do like passion fruit after all.
Mora: I can’t imagine how pricey it would be to order a tall glass of blackberry juice in Colorado, but here? It’s such a yummy sweet and tart flavor and has a beautiful color.
Corozo: now this is a fruit I have never encountered before. It reminds me of a cross between a cherry and a cranberry and it's beautiful purple/pink juice is perfectly tart. Also it’s make fabulous popsicles.
Tree tomato: ok, it doesn’t taste quite as weird as it sounds, but close. I'm still a little baffled by this fruit. It looks, well, kinda like a tomato, tastes like… actually I have no idea what it tastes like but it makes a nice foamy juice and you can also cook it and make juice which is also good and tastes substantially different.
And then there is your normal set of tropical fruits: mango, pineapple, banana, guava and orange which are always delish.
One thing I love about life here is all the street vendors. Need a cup of coffee in the morning? Just ask the guy on the bike with all the colorful thermoses. Need some mango for your walk? There’s probably someone selling green mango with salt and lime close by. I personally don’t quite get the green mango thing. I still much prefer my mango ripe, but when one is in need of mango? What can ya do but enjoy. Need some candy? The little stand over there has many of your US favorites and many local varieties. They even have some types of snacks you can’t get in the US like alphabet Oreos!
Ok, let’s talk vices. Colombia has a bit of a reputation for both the mild and the hard varieties, but let’s stick to the ones that won’t land you in jail. Colombian coffee is very well known across the world and one would think that ordering coffee in Colombia would be as good as it gets. While the coffee here is good, I’ve been told that you can’t actually buy premium Colombian coffee in Colombia. Coffee is such a valuable export that nearly all top tier coffee gets exported to the US and Europe and what is actually consumed in Colombia is second rate. It’s pretty good second rate coffee though. Or at least I’ve been told, I still have not acquired much of a taste for it.
The chocolate on the other hand? Catch me filling my suitcase with it on my way home. (Actually I won’t have room, see the second half of this post). In a normal grocery store you could be tricked into thinking that the chocolate has the same problem as the coffee, and maybe it does to some degree, but if you go to the fancy grocery stores, you find some of the tastiest dark chocolate I’ve had in a while. Well, except for the maracuyá chocolate I had bought last week. That was an experience. Not bad, not really good, just STRANGE. Baking with chocolate must not be a thing here though because I have finally managed to find a single bag of cocoa powder… in the health food section. On to one more vice, one I’m not a big fan of but the Colombian party crowd sure is. Aguardiente is a Colombian spirit that is made with cane sugar and has a slight anise flavor. It’s a rather strange taste to most foreigners but is a rumba (dance party) staple.
Now that we’ve talked about everything but the main course, let’s talk dinner. There is quite a variety of restaurant options to choose from and I’m not sure what a true ‘classic’ Colombian dinner would be, but given we are close to the ocean, the seafood is quite popular. There is a very popular dish called a mojarra which is a specific type of fish fried and served whole. By testimony only, it’s quite good.
I tend to get served veggie rice at most seafood places which can be quite tasty as long as you pretend that carrots have vast amounts of protein. Many restaurants will also serve a typical Latin American style plate of rice, lentils, salad and fried plantains. My host mom makes a very lovely array of meals from typical rice and beans, to pasta, to tofu burgers and stir fry. She understands that vegetarians don’t get protein from the air, thank goodness. I love her so much. But also I will be ready to say goodbye to white rice when I get home.
A really interesting surprise I had when I got to Colombia, is how much Arabic influence there is here. Arab restaurants are as common as Mexican food is in the US, which has led to me enjoying a surprisingly high amount of falafel and hummus! I haven’t entirely figured out how the Arabic and specifically Lebanese immigration got started here, but they have been a part of Colombia for a long time. According to one of my professors, this was partially because Colombia was looking for immigrants to boost the economy and also sadly part of a scientific racism effort to ‘whiten’ the population.
Two restaurants I’ve found that I want to take back to Boulder… First there is Roots. This tiny little restaurant a five min walk from my house is so lovely. They only have a menu of the day but it’s always vegetation and is so, so cheap. It’s run by a very sweet man who raised his family vegetarian in Barranquilla and was frustrated with how hard it was to find good veggie food. This place has become my go-to lunch spot if I’m meeting people or to take visitors. It also has the fastest service in the country.
The second is one I just discovered last week. It’s called Crepes and Waffles and I hadn’t been because it didn’t really sound like my kind of place. Oh, how wrong I was. The menu is enormous and I was actually grateful that I was vegetarian to cut down the number of options I had to choose from but the veggie menu alone was a pretty standard-sized menu. You can get just about anything on a crape or a waffle there including tofu, beans and mustard greens like the fantastic crepe I got. They also serve amazing looking desserts but we were tragically far too full and we will have to go back another time.
And... On to fabric shopping
Ok, part two which has everything in the world to do with part one. Actually it’s just way cool and I needed to share it with you. Barranquilla doesn’t really have a defined downtown as we would think of it, but there is the central market. El Centro is where you go if you need, well, almost anything, especially fabric. The fabric district is how I imagine New York’s used to be back in its heyday. There are a few streets that are full of fabric shops, each one with more inventory than a Joanne’s and there are at least 5, if not quite a few more, I haven’t found. There are also shops that sell remnants by the kilo and shops that sell every kind of trimming you can imagine. Best of all, it is so cheap by US standards. Needless to say, I’ve already acquired a decent bit of fabric and will possibly have to sacrifice some of my boring retail clothing, so I have space to bring it home and make more interesting things. :) Why can’t this exist in the US?? Oh right, because we don’t make our own clothes anymore. :(
There will be many photos of the Amazon coming up soon!