Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Love Cartagena!

I recently did a trip to Colombia for a wedding in Cartagena. After the wedding, four of us went almost five hours north to Santa Martha and Tayrona Park to see the jungle and some of the best beaches in the world! I had the chance to experience and enjoy some amazing food so I couldn't help but share with you all here in New York. It's taken me some time to compile it all but hope you enjoy!

Crazy For Ceviche

This was the first place we tried on our first night in Cartagena. It was located literarily in front of our hotel, Sofitel Santa Clara. I had read about it before hand on a blog. Apparently Anthony Bourdain frequents it and I now see why! The three of us shared a two different ceviches, one was a mixed fish ceviche and the other was a ceviches des camarones, which is actually cooked shrimp, both were amazing! I love how they always give you these saltine crackers called "Noel", cracks me up every time. Their mojitos were also among some of the best we tried.

La Cevicheria
Reataurant Sea Food
(57) 5- 664 5255
(57) 315 655 4120
Calle Stuart No 7-14, San Diego
Cartagena, Colombia

El Santisimo E Fantastico!

El Santisimo is a well-known restaurant in Cartagena and I got the feeling that it is popular both among tourists and locals. However it did feel quite catered to tourists because the menu was all in English, which disappointed me a little. I like it when I have to guess and point! ;) It's quite a fancy place and although we all weren't so good at converting the rate I'm pretty sure it was expensive. Of course not really expensive by our New York standards but expensive for Colombia. The food was very good. It wasn't my favourite meal on the trip after trying all of it but it was good and well-presented. We all got obsessed with this candied plantain, which is a local favourite, it's magenta pink and tastes like bubblegum! It's a big sickly-sweet but it goes nicely with the fish and coconut rice.

El Santisimo
Calle el Santisimo No 8-19,
Cartagena, Colombia
(575) 664 36 16 - 660 15 31

Way Beyond Hotel Food

In Cartagena we stayed at the amazing Sofitel Santa Clara hotel. I would highly recommend it. The pool is probably the best in Cartagena! The staff was so friendly and we felt completely relaxed sipping Coco Loco's at the pool. Our boy, Gus took care of us most days ;) You could order food at the pool or wherever you wanted but we usually went to the small cafe they have in the centre of the hotel, which was actually called El Claustro. They also had a nicer restaurant for dinner near the bar of the hotel, neither of which we actually made it to. The food at El Claustro was great. For breakfast they had a buffet, which we usually did since it included everything from fruit to juice and of course cafe con leche. We also ordered an "arepas con huevos" separately which was good but a bit too fancy looking. (I much preferred the ones on the street ;) That said, all the food there was amazing, their ceviche (pictured here) was really amazing. I had the local fried snapper dish for lunch one day and as you can see it was enormous! It was so amazing, lightly battered and fried with a very salty finish. When you added the lime all over it, it was insane. It was served over fried plantains (love) and of course, coconut rice! They had both very Colombian dishes as well as this tasty steak sandwich, which we tried our last day after 7 days of eating nothing but fish! Hotel Santa Clara is also a great place to get drinks and they have some of the best mojitos and caipirinhas around.

El Claustro
Sofitel Hotel Santa Clara
Calle Del Torno 39-29
Barrio San Diego
Cartagena, Colombia

Street Food At It's Best!

We finally noticed this local street stand that we had walked by a million times before. I had read in some of my printouts to try some of the street stands around this particular square and so we went out to realize that it must be this one! It was SO good and SO cheap! The lady, who was amazing, was making all kinds of arepas and in all varieties and shapes! there were at least 5 or 6 different ones! Some made with corn and some with sweet potato I think, then filled with meat, cheese or egg, or all! All then there were 2 or 3 different sauces that you put with each one. So I would point to the locals as to which one to put with each one, and they would direct me.... it was fantanstic, I could have spend all night hanging with them! We had no more meals left so this was just a snack before dinner, so we share one of each kind as not to ruin our appetites but wish we could have gone back again!

The Arepas Stand
located just off Santo Diego Square
Cartagena, Colombia

Viva La Vitrola!

Thought I would save the best for last. To be honest the food at La Vitrola kinda blew me away. I was trying to resist it considering it's probably one of the most well known restaurants in Cartagena and I had read about hard it was to get a table sometimes... all the hype. This was no hype, this was damn good food! And since this is low season so it wasn't too crowded.

First off, I'd like to say officially that this was the best mojito we had in Cartagena. We tried every mojito possible on our trip and this one was the one. (The mojitos at La Cevicheria came in second)

So now the food... we were very lucky to have our local friend Cata with us for dinner. She lives in Cartagena so of course knew what to order. We started by sharing the "ceviche con camarones", over you guessed it, fried plantains.... it was so creamy and good. We also tried the grouper carpaccio, which was so beautiful and too difficult to photograph, super thin slices of almost transparent raw white fish lightly finished with olive oil.

For mains, most of us went for fish. Their speciality is seafood and in particular this one fish. We tried it 2 different ways. Mine was the one with the orange sauce, which was a tamarind sauce. It was so amazing, a kind of sweet and sour taste which went so perfectly with the fish. I ate every single last bit on the plate. I seriously wanted to lick the plate! The shredded beef and the seafood risotto were both delicious.

La Vitrola
Calle de Baloco No. 2-01;
Cartagena, Colombia

The Secret Sauce!

Their coconut rice was also excellent and our girl Cata told us the secret why. In Cartagena, cocounut rice is a staple, it accompanies almost every meal, and its colour is dark brown. We always wondered why it was brown, unlike the thai and south east asian versions. They put Coca-cola in it! Coca-Cola, which I just found out recently, is made differently all over the world and in Colombia it is not made with the crap corn syrup that we use here in the US. It is made with real sugar and even better, real black cane sugar. I need to research this further but i'll bet its not far off from "kokutou" in Japan, which is black sugar from Okinawa and its have been known to be believed to be one of the reasons that Okiniwans are the longest living people on earth. Sorry, went off on a tangent. Anyway, very interesting to be to use Coke in everyday cooking. We don't know whether La Vitrola uses regular Coke in their coconut rice or their own version of it, but none the less it tasted amazing.

Local Food at Playa Blanca. Una Cerveza Per Favor!

Playa Blanca is an amazing beach in the Rosario Islands. It's about an hour by boat from Cartagena. It's beautiful white sand and amazingly warm turquoise blue water! As part of the cost of the trip, private boat, etc, a local lunch is included. It looks like this, a fish, with coconut rice and lime, I love how the fork is stabbed into the fish! (In Japan that would be so wrong, symbolizes death) It was tasty, I'm all about fish and lime and beer! It was a wonderful afternoon!


Amy's cousin brought some Aguardiente, Colombia's national drink, along on our day trip to the islands! We all did shots of it until was gone.

Coco for Koralia!

Now I need to explain what Koralia is. It's an amazing eco hotel about 20 minutes North of Tayrona Park. A friend of a friend turned me onto this secret little haven and it was great! It feels like a hippie retreat and during high season or on weekends it's usually booked for wedding and large events. It's completely integrated with nature. The restaurant is outside and the bathrooms and spa are simply covered huts. It's a very special place.

After a drive down the long country road through livestock and farm towards the beach, we arrived at Koralia. We were greeted by a very tanned bald man with no shirt, who was holding a rather large machete. We didn't understand a word of what he was saying in Spanish and were quickly moved to a waiting room, well an outdoor waiting room, and were given each a huge coconut to drink! It was awesome!

Playa Koralia Eco Hotel
*no address* 20 minutes north of Tayrona Park
Tel: (57) - 310 - 642 2574
Tel: (57) - 317 - 510 2289

Cuisine Chez Koralia

We only spent one night at Koralia but it was wonderful! The food is all included and whenever you are hungry you just head to the restaurant (open tent area) and the staff make your food fresh for you right there! It was great. Although my spanish was shit the owner/manager of Koralia, Jose, spoke french fluently so he explained to me how all the food at Koralia is local and organic. All their fresh juices are from the area or their own gardens, it made all too much sense. For example the juice is tree apple juice, its a very unique taste, quite bitter actually. Every meal there was fresh fish and/or corn arepas and fresh fruit and juice! This is a coconut ball dessert. All the food there was surprisingly good. Jose obviously has good taste when it comes to food because he gave us the rundown on which restaurants to eat at Tayrona Park and which not to, which was really helpful for us as we prepared to leave the next morning for Tayrona.

We had a great time at the bar at Koralia. We were there midweek at low season so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, except for another couple from Amsterdam. They had wonderful drinks at the bar, made with amazing fresh local juices, of course!