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Chocolate con queso

"Vea, se le cayo esto" - Look, you dropped this.

If you are one of those people who unwraps a candy bar and lets the wrapper drop to the street (and if you are, what is wrong with you??), and if you happen to be in Colombia while you do this, it is quite likely that someone will (ever so politely) tap you on the shoulder to hand you your wrapper, saying, "vea, se le cayo". Then they will smile (with only the slightest hint of passive-aggresiveness), and be on their merry way.

Littering is emphatically not acceptable in Colombia.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this fact (especially as I am currently writing from Brazil, which I appreciate in many, many ways, but let me tell you: THERE IS GARBAGE EVERYWHERE.) We are kindred spirits on the no-go combination of garbage and streets, Colombia and me.

There are some other combinations, however, that Colombia embraces and that I, at least initially, was not such a big fan of. Specifically, I am referring to chocolate and cheese, which maybe doesn't sound that weird (chocolate cheesecake is pretty great, right?) More specifically, I'm referring to the practice of throwing strips of mozzarella-like cheese into hot chocolate. Colombians let the cheese melt in the heat of the chocolate, then they fish it out with a spoon and eat it. It's called, quite literally, chocolate con queso.

In Cali, there's a place where people go just for this. Now, chocolate con queso is, of course, served hot, otherwise the cheese wouldn't melt. And Cali has a warm-verging-on-way-hot climate year round, so it's not exactly hot chocolate weather. Cali is situated in the middle of mountains, though, so you only have to go about 20 minutes outside of the city for the climate to change. And for chocolate con queso, people drive until Kilometro 18 (that is, 18 kilometers from Cali, towards the Pacific coast). As you drive up the mountain, it gets surprisingly cold and foggy surprisingly quickly. You're well advised to bring a sweatshirt, or a jacket if you're classy like that. And right around the 18 kilometer mark, you see a bunch of roadside restaurants and cafes, offering cold weather food and of course chocolate con queso.

We took my sister there. She preferred her chocolate sin queso.

As for me, I've actually come to really like the combination. Salt and chocolate have always been great for each other, and once I got over the mental hurdle of it all, it's really pretty tasty. Agua panela con queso (hot sugar cane drink with cheese...I'll have to get to that some other time) is very popular as well, though I do prefer the chocolate version. And there's also something rather magical about road food in Colombia, especially breakfast road food (though in this case I took these photos when we went in the evening, as you can probably tell from the light). If you drive out of Bogota early in the morning, or Cali, you drive up through the mountains, and in the midst of the morning mist and intense greenery there are lovely people serving huge bowls of broth with cilantro, and chocolate con queso, and even tamales if you're up for it. It's a brand new world.

Tags: queso, Chocolate, eat, food
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Guest Wednesday, 28 January 2015


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