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Colombia is a diverse country in every sense of the word, and the food in Colombia is no exception to this diversity. Like most things in Colombia, food is very regional—meaning, you will likely encounter very different “traditional” food as you travel to different regions of the country. Having lived almost two years on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, I’ve come to discover some really amazing foods that any traveler should seek out in this region.
(Marañón, or cashew fruit)
First, you must try some butifarra. Butifarra is a special type of sausage native to the city of Barranquilla and the outlying town of Soledad. It is made with a special combination of pork, beef, salt, cumin, garlic, and black pepper. Once cooked, these famous sausages are served with bollo de yucca (a form of smashed yucca) and a lime quarter. While you can find this coastal delicacy on almost any street corner in Barranquilla, everyone says the best comes from Soledad.
Another “finger food” found on the coast are patacones pisados (traditional smashed and fried plantains) served with an artisanal, salty, coastal cheese. It’s best to find patacones pisados that have been recently fried, else wise you will find yourself with a cold and sometimes “limp” plantain. The coastal cheese they are normally accompanied with can also be eaten by itself or can be found grated on top of other typical dishes such as mazorca desgranada (a type of shaved corn salad).
(Beachfront restaurant in Mayapo, la Guajira)
Like patacones pisados, many other traditional finger foods found on the coast are fried. You will find carimañolas (a fried yucca empanada stuffed with either beef, chicken, or cheese), empanadas (both fried and baked), kibbes (the baked Arab version of an empanada made with bulghur, ground beef, lamb, or goat, and a mix of Arabic spices), and papas aborrajadas (white potatoes dipped in a batter and fried—sometimes with unique fillings of chicken, peppers or cheese) among others.
Perhaps the dish most typically associated with the Caribbean Coast, though, is a plate of fried snapper (red or golden) with coconut rice and fried plantains. You can find this dish in many restaurants in the coastal cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Riohacha. However, if you want the best, head to the beach. Find a beach side restaurant or a “runner” (men who work as runners between restaurants and the beach) where you can order, and sometimes actually pick, a freshly caught snapper. If you have the time, venture to the department of La Guajira, where you’ll find the biggest, meatiest snappers of your life! Whatever you do, though, make sure this meal is on your food itinerary at some point.
(fried red snapper with fried plantains and coconut rice)
If you’re looking for something sweet, you’ll need to track down a palanguera—an Afro-Colombian woman who typically carries a steel pot of homemade goodies above her head. The palangueras have the best Caribbean sweets including: dulce de papayuela (sweets made of caramelized papayuela fruit), bolas de alegría (delicious balls of popcorn held together with shaved coconut and panela-unrefined whole cane sugar), dulce de yuca (sweet “bread” made out of yucca), and cocadas (sweets made out of caramelized coconut), both plain and with panela. My favorites are bolas de alegria and cocadas made with panela. While you may cross paths with a palanguera in the city, it’s easiest to buy these goodies on the beachfront—Bocagrande in Cartagena is especially good for finding these sweet delicacies!
(palanguera in Bocagrande, Cartagena)
And, you can’t forget the amazing coastal fruits! One very coastal specific fruit is the corozo. Corozo is a berry and looks a bit like a dark colored cherry. However, its taste is very unique. Although some people eat corozos as a fruit with lime juice, most people prefer this fruit in juice form, and that’s how you’ll most often find it offered. Another coastal fruit is the marañón, or cashew fruit. I had never actually seen the fruit that produces the cashew nut until I came across this fruit one day. The fruit has a very distinct taste, leaving your mouth feeling a bit “furry” or “fuzzy.” I was told afterwards that many people boil the fruit first or make it into a juice. Guayaba agria is another coastal fruit, also most often found in juice form. Unlike its sweet sister, the pink guava/guayaba, guayaba agria has a bright green exterior that gives way to a starch white fruit. In juice form, this fruit is extremely refreshing on a hot and humid day. Another very common “fruit drink” you’ll see on the coast is coconut water served fresh from the coconut. If you ask, you can also get the thin fruit from the coconut taken out to eat once you’ve finished drinking the water!
(Green coconuts used to for drinking coconut water)
Hopefully, this has whet your appetite and made your mouth water enough to make you visit the Caribbean Coast of Colombia!
Until next time,