Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Food, food, food, and more food!

Hello again, dear readers! I am writing to you today during a quick digestion/eating break here in Popayán, the first ever UNESCO City of Gastronomy, so titled for its traditional food heritage. When we arrived Friday afternoon, we saw that our hostal had a list of local and traditional foods here in Popayán, along with recommendations on where to try them. Of course, we saw this as a challenge, and you can see our progress below.

As you can see, we have tried nearly everything, with just a few more items to procure tomorrow. It's been a fun and filling adventure. Matt already updated you that on our first night, we tried Empanadas de Pipian with Aji de Mani - little two-bite empanadas with spicy peanut sauce - along with gelatina - a soft but flavorless marshmallow - and peanut taffy.

On Saturday we headed to the Mercado in the northern part of the city to try the most daring item om the list: ternero, a soup made with cow fetus. The broth was quite tasty, sort of beef broth with peanuts and vegetable base, and there was a lot of meat in the bowl.

Unfortunately, I could only eat about 4 bites of the meat; the texture was fatty and spongy and it just didn't sit right with me. Matt just about finished his bowl. I am proud of both of us for trying new and different things AND we learned an important lesson: sometimes it is better to order just one bowl and share. If it's delicious, we can always order another. I felt awful about leaving more than half of my bowl full, but I would rather not eat something I don't enjoy. We wanted to keep it simple for dinner, so we went to an arepa restaurant and got filled arepas. Arepas are like corn biscuits which they open like a pita pocket and make into sandwhiches. Matt drank a Pony soda, which is a local malt beverage! Sunday was a bit challenging, as nearly everything was closed. While being a city of gastronomy, Popayán is also the religious center of Colombia and Sunday found the city quite quiet. However, there is a Sunday market where we shared a Tamal de Pipian - a tamale made with the same type of peanut filling as the empanadas, yum!, and some freshly made jugo de lulo, Lulo Juice. Lulo is a acidic orange fruit, also called naranjilla, that reminds me of kumquat flavor. All the fruits and vegetables at the market looked so beautiful, we couldn't resist buying some avocados and tomatos and onions and whipping up some guacamole. We then decided to walk up to the Iglesia de Belén, which offers beautiful views of the entire city below. On the way back down, we passed an open restaurant where we tried a traditional drink called Champús, a sort of fruit salad. We needed spoons to drink it all. It was much like salpicon, a fruit salad that is available from any fruit vendor on the street, but with a different blemd of fruits. We accompanied this with a dish of empanadas. We just can't get enough of these delightful little bites! Apparently, Monday was also a holiday, but a few more places were open. We ate breakfast at a bakery off the square and walked around the white city. Since everything was closed in the afternoon, we challeneged some other hostellers to a game of Monopoly, which Matt won! It was also rainy outside, so we didn't miss much. Tuesday found the city alive and bustling again and we began feasting! We started at Café Jengibre with juice and coffee, some hojaldre - fried bread, and carantanta - very thin fried corn chips. They were served with an oniony sauce called hogao which was quite scrumptious!

I also tried some chontanduro from a fruit vendor, it's the fruit from some type of palm tree whose texture is like sweet potato and flavor is like corn. It is prepared with salt and honey, an atypical combination, right? We stopped by the tourism office hoping to find a cooking class where I could learn the secrets of all this deliciousness, but alas, cooking classes are not offered! The tourism officer directed me to several restaurants, but they all said they did not offer instruction. Quite disappointing. After walking around on the warm day, I got a paleta (popsicle) of Salpicon, frozen fruit salad. We returned to La Fresa for more empanadas and peanut sauce! Matt got another Malt soda and I had a toronja (grapefruit) soda. Today, we ventured back to Los Quingos as they are reputed for having excellent Tortilla soup, which we had along with Rellena. Rellena are sausages made with rice and blood, which Matt liked and I thought were not bad. But the pineapple salsa they came with was awesome! Colombian tortilla soup is quite different from Mexican. The broth was clear with scallions and bits of soft tortillas inside. It was accompanied with avocado, tomato slices, some pork bits, rice, and fried plantains. We split the whole platter and were both satisfied.

We ended this lovely meal with some Helado de Paila made at a shop by the same name. The ice cream is made in a copper kettle and the result is a texture somewhere between sorbet and gelato, and quite delicious! This afternoon, we will check out a museum and probably enjoy a light dinner of local vegetables. Tomorrow, we plan to return to the mercado to finish off our checklist before heading to Pasto for the weekend!

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