Arab Influence on Colombian Cuisine

 
OBELO | Los Turcos

In the late 19th and early 20th century there was a mass migration from what is now Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Palestine to Latin America. Immigrants were looking to escape repression and hardships of, the then, Turkish Ottoman Empire. Yet ironically, they were called Turks, or Turcos, in their new homes in Latin America.

My family immigrated from Lebanon to Colombia in 1890. Like many others, they brought their culture and cuisine from the Middle East.

Los Turcos is a popular, authentic Lebanese restaurant in Cali. They've been serving up traditional dishes since 1960. Although they relocated from their original location, the vibe hasn't changed a bit.

 Hummus, Babaganoush, Tabouleh and Tzatiki with Pita.

Hummus, Babaganoush, Tabouleh and Tzatiki with Pita.

 Liver with fried onions and potatoes.

Liver with fried onions and potatoes.

 Arab Platter,  Bandeja Árabe , marcona almond rice, fried  kibbe  with onions, tabouleh and warm grape leaves.

Arab Platter, Bandeja Árabe, marcona almond rice, fried kibbe with onions, tabouleh and warm grape leaves.

 
OBELO | Los Turcos
OBELO | Los Turcos

Queso Costeño at La Galería Alameda

 
OBELO | Queso Costeño
OBELO | Queso Costeño
OBELO | Queso Costeño

Cheese culture in Cali is pretty limited because of it's hot and humid climate. You can find cheese in supermarkets here, but it's usually over processed and has a gummy texture. So, finding handmade Queso Costeño at La Galería is pretty exciting. 🚩

Queso Costeño is a soft and salty, fresh cheese originally from Colombia's Caribbean coast. 

This vendor makes a few different varieties, some firmer and saltier, others softer and silkier. He also had some fresh butter, which is surprisingly hard to come by in Cali. 

 

Panela on the Menu at Platillos Voladores

 
OBELO | Vicky Acosta

While visiting Cali we met Vicky Acosta, the Executive Chef and Owner of one of the best restaurant in the city, Platillos Voladores. She shared with us the delicious and inspiring ways she uses panela.

OBELO | Rollitos de Chontaduro

To start, Rollitos de Chontaduro. These savory spring rolls are filled with chontaduro, parmesan and ricotta cheese, served with a decadent panela and cayenne pepper sauce.  

Chontaduro is a unique fruit that's popular in Cali and along the Pacific Coast. It has smooth red skin, a starchy texture and earthy flavor that makes it taste more like a potato than a fruit.

OBELO | Platillos Voladores

Vicky made us some special, off-menu Chorizitos. Little sausages between fried queso costeño and tortilla, drizzled with a guarapo and panela sauce.

OBELO | Posta Negra
OBELO | Posta Negra

Next we had the Posta Negra, a beef dish originally from Cartagena. It's a panela marinated cut of tri-tip, or punta de anca, slow cooked with wok veggies. Then topped with fried onions and served with Arroz con Coco, rice cooked in coconut milk.

OBELO | Lomo Banano
OBELO | Lomo Banano

We also had an amazing dinner-meets-dessert dish, Lomo Banano. Beef tenderloin with an Amaretto-Panela glaze, topped with a caramelized banana and cinnamon. It was the ultimate sweet and savory combo. 

 
OBELO | Platillos Voladores
OBELO | Platillos Voladores
OBELO | Platillos Voladores
OBELO | Platillos Voladores
OBELO | Platillos Voladores
OBELO | Platillos Voladores
OBELO | Platillos Voladores

Fermented Guarapo, a Farmers Fuel

 
OBELO | Fermented Guarapo
OBELO | Fermented Guarapo

Last month, on a hike up the river behind my dad's house, we came across José Malavera's farm. He was actually excited to have some unexpected guests and gave us a tour. He grows legumes and raises pigs, chickens and turkeys. While showing us around, he graciously offered a cup of fermented Guarapo (a sort of sugarcane wine). He usually has a Totuma (a cup made from a hollow gourd) or two throughout the day to keep him going. It was pretty strong, but definitely a much needed energy boost after hiking all morning.

Guarapo jugs are never totally emptied. Once they get low, more fresh guarapo is added, and a new batch ferments with what's left from the previous batch. Making it an ever evolving brew.

We also bought chickens from him, we chose two of his largest ones and didn't even negotiate a price, just made an offer and with a nod of his head, he approved the fair deal. That night, we grilled them on the parilla for dinner. It doesn't get much more local than chicken from a hidden farm, in what's practically your backyard.

 
OBELO | Fermented Guarapo
OBELO | Fermented Guarapo

Tropical Fruit Guide

 
OBELO | Tropical Fruit Guide

A trip to Colombia isn't complete without experiencing the huge variety of native tropical fruits. Some are familiar, like pineapple and mango, others completely outrageous. We'd like to share a guide to some of our favorites.

OBELO | Pitaya
OBELO | Pitaya

Pitahaya Amarilla, aka Dragon Fruit, is the fruit of a cactus native to Colombia. It's refreshing and juicy, with a sweet, pear-like flavor. Pitahaya's edible seeds also contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. We love it sliced in half, to scoop the fresh fruit right out of it's spiky rind.

OBELO | Lulo
OBELO | Lulo

Lulo is a stunning fruit with orange skin and contrasting green flesh. It tastes like a super sour kiwi. Lulo is usually blended with lime juice and panela to make a popular refreshment called Lulada.

OBELO | Maracuy�
OBELO | Maracuy�

Maracuyá, or Passion Fruit, is a juicy fruit filled with edible seeds and has a sharp flavor. It's a common ingredient in many popular Colombian desserts.

OBELO | Mangostino
OBELO | Mangostino

Mangostino is often called the Queen of tropical fruits. Peel back the deep-purple rind to reveal the white, fragrant flesh around it's almond sized seeds. Mangostino has a delicate, floral flavor and soft, juicy texture. It also can help regulate blood pressure and prevent inflammation.

OBELO | Granadilla
OBELO | Granadilla

Granadilla, like Maracuyá, is filled with juicy edible seeds. It has a subtle, sweet-tart flavor and is a rich source of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber.

OBELO | Zapote
OBELO | Zapote

Zapote is a unique fruit that is kind of like a cross between a mango and a pumpkin. It's an excellent source of Vitamin C and has anti-inflammatory properties.

OBELO | Papaya
OBELO | Papaya

Papaya is one of our favorite notorious tropical fruits. It's not only a beautiful fruit but also has a warm sweet flavor with subtle, musky undertones and a soft, buttery texture. Papaya also promotes healthy digestion and boosts the immune system.

OBELO | Uchuva
OBELO | Uchuva

Uchuvas are small zesty berries with a sweet yet tangy flavor. They are actually more closely related to tomatoes than berries. Uchuvas are usually found wrapped in their leaves, which create a pouch for the fruit to ripen.

OBELO | Chontaduro
OBELO | Chontaduro

Chontaduro is a super unique fruit native to Colombia's Pacific Coast. It's earthy flavor and starchy texture make it taste more like a sweet potato than a fruit. Chontaduro one of the most popular Colombian street foods, usually served boiled with honey and salt. Beyond the unique texture and flavor, it's also a great energy booster, full of beta-carotene, iron, protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

OBELO | Tomate de Arbol
OBELO | Tomate de Arbol

Tomate de Arbol, aka Tamarillo, tastes like a tangy green tomato with an almost smokey aftertaste. It's used mostly in savory dishes and is great source of Vitamin A, B6 and C.

OBELO | Guanabana
OBELO | Guanabana

Guanabana is a large, spiny tropical fruit with a sweet, soft flesh. It contains natural compounds with medicinal properties.

OBELO | Grisella
OBELO | Grisella

Grosellas, or Gooseberries, are tiny, super sour little fruits. They are mother nature's warhead, except without a sweet center.

OBELO | Guama
OBELO | Guama

Guama is a very surprising fruit. Crack open it's pod to reveal large smooth seeds covered in white velvety pulp that melts in your mouth like cotton candy.

 

Colombian Ceviche

 
OBELO | Ceviche
OBELO | Ceviche

Colombia has its own take on Ceviche. Traditionally it's fresh fish and/or shrimp mixed with ketchup, mayo and fresh herbs, and served with saltines.

Because Cali is located close to the pacific ocean, which is just over the mountains heading west, these Cevicherias get really fresh fish all year long. 

You can find Cevicherias all over Cali, this one was right behind Galerîa Alameda, known for it's fresh produce, meats and cheese. These Cevicherias have become a main attraction around La Galeria, especially for those who want to get back on their feet after a long night of drinking aguardiente and dancing salsa. 🍸💃

 

 

Music and Drinks from the Colombian Pacific

 
OBELO | Guarapo

While walking around Cali yesterday we came across a concert with bands from Colombia’s Pacific Coast. The most popular style of music from there is called Currulao. Its largely afro-influenced, the main instrument is a Marimba, a wooden xylophone originally from Africa. Like any concert, there was also plenty to eat and drink. 

OBELO | Guarapo
OBELO | Guarapo
OBELO | Guarapo

Here’s a vendor making Guarapo, a raw sugarcane juice with lime. The raw juice is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and it’s sweet and refreshing.

To make Guarapo, he cuts the sugarcane in half the long way, making it easier to pass through the press. The press, or trapiche, extracts the raw juice from the sugarcane, sending the crushed cane out the other side. If they were making panela, the raw juice would be slowly heated over low heat until most of the water evaporates and becomes a thick syrup. But here they add some fresh lime juice and viola, Guarapo

OBELO | Viche

We also met Camilo. He makes traditional Afro-Pacifico alcohol from sugarcane. He made us try every single one.😜

First we tried the Viche, a super strong, clear liquor made from sugarcane. Viche doesn't have a distinct flavor, it tastes kind of like vodka. For centuries Viche was used as a stomach medicine and aphrodisiac. Now, just the latter.😉 Next we tried the Arrechon, which is Viche with condensed milk, cloves and cinnamon. It tastes pretty good, but I’m not into milk + liquor. We finished with a shot of Tomaseca, my favorite. Tomaseca is kind of like an apéritif. It’s Viche infused with herbs and spices that give it a warm, woody taste. 

 

Farmers Market in Cali

 
OBELO | Panela

For our very first travel post we want to share a few great finds at a farmers market in Cali, Colombia. Here's a picture of a young Guambiano girl with blocks of panela melao that her and her family made. Panela melao is softer than traditional blocks of panela because it is has a higher moister content. The Guambianos are an indigenous group from Cauca. 

OBELO | Farmers Market

Here's cheesemaker and goat farmer, Beatriz Navia. She was sampling the three different types of cheese that she makes: fresh, aged and ricotta. Each has that tart, earthy, distinctly goat flavor but the textures were super unique. The fresh was our favorite, it's texture was more like Queso Fresco, less like Chevre.

 
OBELO | Farmers Market
OBELO | Plantains
OBELO | Panela Melao