Cartagena: A Street Food Lover's Paradise

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Arepa de huevo was the next item to hit the deck. It is a culmination of tastes heralded by locals as a crowning achievement of the special mix of cultures present in Cartagena—from indigenous people to Spanish conquistadors, African slaves brought over to work the plantations, and merchants from the Middle East.

Ellis said, “Arepa de huevo has the egg, which was brought by the domesticated chickens coming over with the Spanish. The corn that was being grown by the indigenous populations…a staple food for the indigenous people already. The frying and the seasoning of the meat [ground beef] are very African and reflect the food that comes from there. And the suedo, the white cream sauce that gets put on top, is the legacy of the Syrian and Lebanese. It’s everything all together in a famous snack.”

Ellis picked this particularly popular stand because of the quick turnover, assuring a fresh product, and the abundant selection of sauces. Papas rellenas were offered from the same locale and we happily grabbed them. The stuffed potatoes were fried and seasoned globs of goodness with a punch of cumin to the meat. Ellis told us jubilantly that she’d had an Irishman on her tour exclaim that this was the best potato he’d ever put in his mouth.

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We sashayed over to the next stand a few feet away to try carimañola—a yuca fritter filled with flavorful ground beef. With similar characteristics as the papas rellenas, the carimañola was lighter on the palate and entirely pleasurable.

Walking down the busy street next to the old barrier wall we tucked into an open-air restaurant and copped a seat on worn plastic chairs. We were in this stripped-down spot for one thing: chicharrones. Holy hell, this rendition of the fried pork belly found throughout Latin America was the best that has ever passed through my lips. It was crispy on the outside with a gloriously tender center, the yuca and suero sauce counterbalancing the sheer debauchery of the chicharrones.

Sauntering on, we passed buñuelos on a ledge. So, why not indulge? The fried dough balls are similar to doughnuts. After that, I felt I had met my fried food quota for more than a month!

Making our way through foot traffic, we came to a kind-faced man proudly serving matrimonio—literally, a marriage. In this case, of bacadillo de guayaba (guava paste) and queso costeño. Although we had encountered costeño cheese at the start of the tour, this version was fuller-bodied and spongy. The pairing of the fruit and cheese was a match made in heaven.

With our bellies full and the heat of the day manifesting itself in the form of a super unsexy sweat-stache, we clambered on to our final stop. Ellis called through an open window to an old woman selling boli de mango (fresh mango popsicles) from her living room. The frozen treat was an impeccable closer to an afternoon of revelry in Colombian Caribbean street fare. Feeling drunk off the consumption of so much deliciousness, my friend and I said our goodbyes and stumbled back to our hostel for a much-needed siesta. For any lover of street food, Cartagena is paradise.

Annie Merkley is a freelance journalist, banjo strummin’ songstress, traveler by simple means, poet, and dreamer of dreams and things. She has worked in restaurants from Athens, Georgia to Ischia, Italy, from New York City to Cornwall, England. From serving to being a cook, baker, bartender, barista and manager she’s seen the insides of restaurants at every angle. Annie is on an around the world trip for the year of 2015 and writing about it along the way.

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