This blog is making me hungry.
During the first two months of this trip food was just another element of each day, enjoyable but not exactly essential; I lost 17 pounds between Managua and Panama City, and probably more during the boat week.
Then K joined me, and in Villa de Leyva I started thinking about the next meal as soon as we stood up from the last one. Last night we checked into our hostel in Bogota and went straight to the Mongolian barbecue place I’d noticed a block away. From there we literally went around the corner so I could get a slice of pizza. After that we took a lap and a half around the block before buying a slice of Baileys cheesecake and a towering three-level piece of chocolate cake ecstasy, which we devoured while drinking green tea (with pineapple) out of bowls in the hostel courtyard as the sun set and the sky turned blue overhead.
Did I mention I’m a social eater?
So since I’ve got food on the mind I’ll continue my trend of late and talk about food a couple more times. (We fly to Ecuador in a couple days, so travel stuff should be back then.)
That first morning we couldn’t find changua we ended up at a vegetarian restaurant called Casa Salud Natural which had a super laid back vibe, occasional weird Indian homeotherapeutic stuff on the TV, and a Hari Krishna cook with an excellent feel for spices. K’s favorite breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and granola came with a layer of quinoa on top, and I found myself staring at a Colombian tamale.
The tamale was good, but very different from what I bought outside Mexican/Guatemalan bus stations. Those were firmer, more corn-based, whereas this one was larger and almost gelatinous. I think the Mexican ones were roasted/baked, and the corn sheaf they came in was dry, while this one came in a banana leaf, still dripping from being steamed. It was tasty and filling, perhaps my two primary criteria for breakfast.
Another local specialty dinner was Cocido Boyacense (cocido = soup/stew, Boyacense = from Boyaca, this region of Colombia). It is a base of potatoes, turnips, (maybe yuca), beans (including lima), peas, tomatoes, onions, and a small hunk of corn on the cob marinated red by the sauce. It’s seasoned with garlic, cilantro, and cumin, plus a few other unknown ingredients (I need to take a Kitchen Spanish class…) Also comes with a little plate of rice on the side.
But the point of the dish is the collection of meats, which included just about every beast in the neighborhood (except dog, I‘ll probably make it to China someday…I have until then to decide on that one). I had a chicken drumstick, a lump of pork with a nice layer of jelly fat on it, a couple blades of tough beef, and a couple pieces of longaniza, a chorizo-like pork sausage.
It was very good, and again, hearty, and made a great dinner on a chilly mountain evening. But I suspect it could be better, and (as with the ajiaco) it made me wish I had a Colombian grandma to make me a proper bowl.
I couldn’t handle all of the pork fat, and tucked some into the palm of my hand (mmm, greasy) and snuck out the front door, then down to the sweet-eyed dog that hangs out on that street. He looked at me nervously as I approached and laid down the fat, but when we left the restaurant a few minutes later he was sitting upright, wagging his tail and grinning at me.
I tried to get his picture but the garbage truck pulled up and scared him off. (Note, if garbage truck driving was an Olympic sport, these guys would win, after those incredibly narrow colonial streets.)
The last food note (except arepas, which I haven’t fully deciphered yet) is Pekish restaurant, which is a required element of any trip to Villa de Leyva, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a little family-run place on a side street just as you enter the old part of town, with two small tables and the bite-sized kitchen right there. The food is excellent, and prepared with the type of care that only a family-run place with 4 things on the menu can accomplish.
The first night I had lamb souvlaki and K had the most delicious falafel I have ever tasted. The second time I gave in to a strange impulse and got the nachos, from tortillas they made by hand right then and there then fried up with homemade guacamole made to my spicy specifications, beans, and that good local mozzarella-like cheese.
The nachos were good, but as always with nachos, they make a better appetizer than entrée, so get the falafel. Actually, get two falafel plates, and send me one. I’ll pay the postage.