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Colombia: More than Just Great Coffee

G Adventures' Sean Russo take us on a culinary adventure of Colombia

by Sean Russo Posted on 16 May 2012
Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are
  • wrote renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825. Using Mr.Brillat-Savarin’s philosophy, I would simply be a cow due to the heavy influence beef tends to have on my daily diet.

My latest travel adventure pinned me as a host to a bunch of travel agents from Canada to the country of Colombia on the Colombia Highlights itinerary with G Adventures. As a country primarily untouched by Western tourism, we were eager to witness the natural beauty, hospitality, and cultural arts of the most diverse country in South America.

Our journey began in the capital of Bogota where we were situated in the old town and right smack in the middle of the cities Universities campuses. Coming from Canada, if you were near a University, you traditionally think of fast food or more basic food options to cater to the student clientele. In Colombia, however, University is free to all residents so it seems they have more disposable income to spend on the comestibles surrounding them on a daily basis.

For our first culinary experience, our Chief Experience Officer (CEO) Henry, brought us by the Sanalejo Café Restaurante (Av. Jiménez No. 3-73, Tel: 3346171). The restaurant has a small dining room and expansive internal courtyard that is welcoming to any dining group. We opted to for the dining room experience and quickly noticed the odd arrangement of wall displays - a pair of figure skates and an old CD-ROM drive circa 1993 mixed with murals of fairies, witches and elves - that brought a bit of quirkiness to our new surroundings. When we opened our menus, we noticed the impressive list of cocktails and exquisite international cuisine options ranging from steaks, pasta, crepes, fish and of course, deserts. As the proud carnivore I am, I opted for the filet mignon in a three pepper sauce on a bed of coconut rice and accompanied by a fried plantain chip.

For those individuals looking for another unique experience in Bogota, there is always La Puerta Falsa (Calle 11 no. 6-50, Bogota, Tel: Unknown). I would suggest you ask a local to point this place out as it can be easily missed when walking down the narrow cobblestone streets. La Puerta Falsa is a quaint two-storey restaurant that is housed in a 400 year old building. It's famous for their Santa Fe tamales and Chocolate caliente con queso since the joint opened in 1816. Other notable dishes include the alchichas (sausages), eggs with bread and anything from their sweets display (I personally recommend the peanut brittle).

To satisfy your caffeine dependancies, I strongly recommend visiting the iconic Juan Valdez Cafés (various locations all across Colombia). These cafés have an upscale Starbucks feeling to them and offer their clients an array of coffee and juice choices as well as wonderful cheesecakes and other sweets. I opted grab a seat on their expansive patio in the old town of Cartagena and enjoyed a Café con Leche and one of their panelitas Juan Valdez (made of sugar, coconut water and milk) while taking in my new surroundings.

In the old town of Cartagena, there are numerous amounts of beautiful establishments to choose from, however, we opted to explore Comida del Mundo (Cl 25 8 B-34 Calle Larga , Cartagena , Colombia, Tel: 6649062) right smack in the middle a large square that is also home to one of Fernando Botero's famous sculptures of a rather large woman laying down.

The menu at Comida del Mundo is expansive and includes dishes from around the world so everyone should find an item that appeals to them. If you're lucky, a local musician will come by and play to you and your dining partners.

Stuffed pork from Comida del Mundo

My last two recommendations come from the town of Tanganga. Situated about a 10 minute drive from the cruise ship port of Santa Marta, Tanganga offers you a more relaxing and intimate surroundings (and some amazing food opportunities). Our first dining spot was a local favourite called Pachamama (kra 2da calle 16, Taganga, Colombia, Tel: 3187056821). This establishment is a little more expensive than some options out there but we found the service staff and atmosphere to exude positivity and charm. Pachamama offers a limited but well executed menu. They take pride in their tapas, pastas, large homemade burgers and of course, steaks offerings. I ordered a beautiful filet mignon with a side of blue cheese sauce and a passion fruit mojito. I recommend visiting early as space is limited and they offer some great value cocktails during their happy hour events.

Steak dinner at Pachamama

Another great restaurant to stop in while in Tanganga is Babaganoush (Carrera1C#18-22, Tel: 318681476). Babaganoush is located on the third floor of one of the diving shops in Tanganga and might be a little hard to spot without help from one of the locals. It offers an expansive ocean view and a wonderful breeze after a long day in the Colombian heat. The establishment also offers a great prix-fix menu for 23.500 pesos which allows for a choice of appetizers, entree and dessert. I opted for the beef carpaccio, filet mignon and strawberry rhubarb crumble.

Mediterrean chicken wrap from Babaganoush

Overall, if you are looking for an adventure, to a place that has not seen tourism take over every aspect of the country's daily life, Colombia is the place to visit - I know that I will be back soon to explore its interior in the near future.