caryn arrives

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At the end of August Seth and I were overjoyed to welcome our first visitor to Bogotá. Caryn, one of our closest classmates from architecture school, stepped off her plane a little after midnight on Thursday night. The three of us promptly shuffled into a taxi, took a celebratory shot of Aguardiente, and went to sleep in preparation for busy days ahead.

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For her first day in the city, Seth and I wanted to show Caryn some of the major touristy sites. We were a bit worried that because of the ongoing paros (strikes) we would not be able to forge our way into the city center. However, on Friday morning President Santos deployed some 50,000 troops across the country “to assure normality,” thus making our stroll to the Plaza Simón Bolivar a cakewalk. We started our morning with a chocolate completo at La Puerta Falsa, followed by a quick visit to the Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez. Around one in the afternoon our friend Jeremy met us in the Plaza, and we proceeded to hike up Avenida Jiménez to the Monserrate cable car station. The weather was chilly and rainy, but lucky for us it cleared up just long enough to snap a few photos at the top. When it got cold again, we stopped at a food stall for some fried cow organs, potatoes, and plantains.

Feeling cold, wet, and tired, we took the cable car back down to the city and ducked into an artisan alcove in La Candelaria for a round of coffee. We browsed the goods for mochilas and other souvenirs for Caryn’s friends and family but to no avail. Jeremy then headed home while Caryn, Seth, and I wandered around La Macarena and admired Rogelio Salmona’s brick architecture. For dinner we enjoyed small bites and pan con tomate at Tapas Macarena, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Boogtá. The highlights of the evening included a peppery Tempranillo, jamón serrano gran reserva (18-month cured serrano ham), champiñones queso azul (mushrooms in a blue cheese sauce), pinchos de pollo Ketjap (chicken skewers in an Indonesian soy and peanut sauce), and langostinos cajun (cajun shrimp).

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Saturday, of course, was the first day of college football season. While Seth watched the Rice vs. A&M game, Caryn and I ate lunch at my beloved neighborhood corrientazo and drank beer in La Zona T. She had read about the Bogotá Beer Company in one of her travel guides, so we stopped in for a pint of Monserrate Roja (her) and Cajica Miel (me). After some much-needed girl talk, we returned home for a low-key evening of wine, cheese, and a movie.

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Sunday was probably my favorite day of the entire visit. Caryn, Seth, and I started the morning at home with a strong cup of coffee and decadent Nutella toast before walking fifty blocks along the Ciclovía route to Usaquén. There we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Abasto, which consisted of sparkling Chilean wine, fresh-baked focaccia, grilled octopus in a summer vegetable ratatouille, and shrimp in an achiote-coconut sauce with plantain puree and starfruit. In order to recover from our food comas, we grabbed a round of espresso and explored the neighborhood shops. Caryn bought a painting, two tins of Colombian coffee, and I think eight jars of tropical fruit jams. Meanwhile, Seth and I finally found the perfect autumn-colored mochila for his mother. Exhausted from spending the entire day out and about, we opted for another relaxing night in.

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On Monday the three of us skipped breakfast in favor of a colossal lunch at Fulanitos, a vallecaucano restaurant. I insisted that Caryn order the bandeja, as it is one of the most traditional and iconic dishes in the country. Seth followed suit. All of those meats and starches, plus a serving of lulada, had everyone stuffed. Somehow, though, we were able to walk the fifty blocks along Calle 63 to the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco. After admiring more of Salmona’s architecture, we continued over to the Parque Simón Bolivar and then to the Jardín Botánico. We were a little cold, wet, and grumpy due to the rain, but we managed to flag down a buseta and warm up in the comfort of our apartment. Since it was Caryn’s last full night in the city, we decided that it was only right to celebrate with pizza, wine, and grappa at one of our favorite spots, Julia in Zona G.

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Caryn’s last day included a series of snacks. We first stopped into a frutería for avena (a milk and oatmeal drink), jugo (juice), and buñuelos (fried doughy balls). We then walked to 7 de agosto—first, to have a look at the various tropical fruits in stock and second, to sample an ensalada de frutas (fruit salad), jugo de feijoa (pineapple guava juice), and jugo de maracuyá (passionfruit juice). For our next stop, we braved the violent hail for Restaurante Las Margaritas‘s famous empanaditas. We finished off our day of local flavor with a visit to Café Devotion (La Botica de Café) for a gourmet coffee tasting. Caryn, Seth, and I returned to our apartment with enough time for our visitor to pack and for us to say our goodbyes. Quite appropriately, on the way to the airport we just so happened to hire the most erratic and unstable of drivers, thus catapulting Caryn back to the United States in true Colombian fashion.

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ensalada de frutas

Seth and I woke up early this morning for a trip to 7 de Agosto, our favorite Barrios Unidos marketplace. After stopping at the Café de la Montaña stall for a couple of tintos, we bought our more obscure groceries for the week—quinoa, sausage, sweet potatoes, zapotes, and cherimoyas. (You can expect blog entries on the fruits in the near future.)

We then sat down to share an ensalada de frutas (fruit salad), one of Colombia’s strangest yet most delicious creations. Ours consisted of a base of papaya, pineapple, and banana; a scoop of ice cream; slices of apple, strawberry, and kiwi; a spoonful of mora syrup, and the kicker—a generous sprinkle of grated queso fresco. Depending on how much you are willing to pay and how much are willing to eat, most fruterías are happy to add more exotic fruits to your bowl, such as pitahaya (dragonfruit) or tuna (prickly pear). Garnished with a sizable chunk of waffle cone, the ensalada de frutas is a snack of various textures and flavors—chewy, creamy, and crunchy; sweet, sour, and salty. It is not only uniquely tasty but also a healthier alternative to a caloriffic ice cream sundae. Sold!

7 de agosto

Yesterday afternoon Seth and I walked to 7 de Agosto, a well-known market in the locality of Barrios Unidos. Although 7 de Agosto is not nearly as vast as Paloquemao, its selection is equally impressive. Situated inside a warehouse-type building, vendors offer everything from fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat, cheese, eggs, oils, and ground spices, to cooking utensils and small pets. Seth and I were able to find almost all of the ingredients to make a green Thai curry in addition to a few tropical fruits we had not yet discovered.

One of the things I love about Colombian markets is their generosity and willingness to answer questions. For example, almost every stand we visited gave us complimentary goodies on top of our purchases. (At one stand, we bought mangosteens, and they added a couple of tangerines. At another, we bought lemongrass, and they gave us some mint.) We did not know much about the fruits we spotted, so each vendor tried to give us their names and brief taste profiles. Sometimes, if the fruit was not particularly expensive, they cut it open so we could try it before we bought it. Of course, they were more likely to do this once we had already picked out something for purchase.

In addition to the stalls, 7 de Agosto also hosts a selection of market restaurants. The most prevalent are fruit stands, which offer ensaladas de frutas (fruit salads) and banana splits. There are also a couple of coffee stands and even a lechona “restaurant” with bar stools. Seth and I have yet to sample the latter, but we plan to next weekend.

All in all, Seth and I ended up lugging home three new fruits from the market: papayuela (in English, mountain papaya), mangostinos (mangosteens), and anonas (sugar apples). We also bought some ripe mangoes and a pair of coconuts. (We have come to assume that canned coconut milk is expensive here because producers are punishing those who are too lazy to make it themselves. Coconuts in Colombia cost about US$0.75. Mix the insides with some hot water, and you have a pint of fresh, vitamin-packed liquid perfect for a Thai curry or piña colada.) I bought the reddish pineapple at our neighborhood grocery store last week, but I decided to throw it into the photo for more color.

Since 7 de Agosto is within comfortable walking distance of our apartment, we hope to visit semi-regularly. In other words, I should continue to have plenty of inspiration for tropical fruit blog entries!

[7 de Agosto: Calle 66 # 23-30, Bogotá-Colombia]