Camera: iPhone 8
Locations: Cholula de Rivadavia, Puebla, Mexico; Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, Mexico
Camera: iPhone 8
Locations: Cholula de Rivadavia, Puebla, Mexico; Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, Mexico
Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS
Location: Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum; Boston, Massachusetts
I’ve used a lot of different metropolitan transit systems in cities I’ve either visited or lived in. From Istanbul to Berlin to Washington, DC, it’s fascinating to see how different cultures and countries treat their metro systems. Some cities emphasize the ability to eat and drink at established vendors right next to the platform, while others emphasize the ability to know exactly when the next train will be arriving with real-time updates. In a way, these metro systems are a microcosm of a country’s culture. Unbeknownst to most travelers, you can learn a lot about a city and a country as a whole based on how they approach their public transportation. Each metro system I’ve used has had their own kind of flair to them whether it’s the London Underground’s cleanliness, New York Subway’s 24-hour service, and Istanbul’s kind food merchants.
Out of all the metro systems I’ve rode on, there are currently two in the world that stand out to me in their approach to customer service. While most systems rarely have attendants to help people enter or leave the train, the two cities that are the exception to this rule are Boston and Medellin. These two transit systems actually have attendants working on behalf of the transportation authority to help passengers to use the metro effectively but with different approaches. For example, the way Boston does its’ customer service would be more hands-off while in Medellin it is much more hands on.
This difference in culture may play into the fact that the Boston T system has been in operation since 1897 and the locals are pretty adept at navigating the transit system considering its’ more than a century old. When it comes to Medellin, the metro system there began in 1995, which is a little over twenty years old. Medellin currently has the only urban train network in Colombia. Still though, you could draw the conclusion that the way the customer service of these two transit systems functions is reflective of the overall culture. In the U.S., we tend to be more individualistic especially when it comes to our urban transportation. When I lived in Medellin, I was enamored with how collective the metro system was when compared to where I’m currently living. In Boston, it’s much more about every man or woman for himself or herself as they try to navigate the system regardless of whether you’re a long-time local or a first-time visitor.
For Medellin, the aspect of their metro system that stood out most to me was the number of attendants who would help riders enter the train platform, instruct users on how to board and exit the trains, and how to refill and use their metro cards. Instead of just one or two attendants there on behalf of the transportation authority, there were usually up to a dozen workers assisting customers at each station. It was really nice for me to see the attention to detail that the metro system had in terms of assisting passengers to use the system effectively. This approach was crucial especially during a busy rush hour when there would be thousands of passengers wanting to enter and exit the train station.
Having a dedicated group of workers on hand to help smooth things over and make sure passengers were respecting each other and the transit system was a really impressive thing to witness. It doesn’t hurt that the entire Medellin metro system is well kept and has no littering, little rats running around etc. at any of its’ dozens of train stations. Compared to other cities, Medellin does a great job with its’ communal approach to the metro system. One of the catchphrases of their advertising is to ‘Vive La Cultura de Metro’, which basically translates to living the metro culture by respecting others and keeping the system clean.
Other cities could benefit from replicating the effective customer service, the emphasis on cleanliness, and the easy access to information that the Medellin Metro provides. Like any other transit system in a major city, it still does get quite congested during rush hour, and it can be hard to get on the train during peak hours due to lack of trains available. I know this from my own past experiences of having to fight to get on the train at 6 AM some mornings when I was a teacher there.
When it comes to the Boston T system, it’s the oldest in the United States and doesn’t take much time to get acclimated to. However, compared to the New York or Washington, DC transit systems, there is some customer service and assistance given. However, when you compare Boston to Medellin in this regard, it’s really no contest. While there are usually one or two attendants from the transit authority present, they don’t really actively help passengers. Sometimes, you can see a transit worker more interested in a smartphone game than to see if anyone needs help or has a question. Instead of being on the train platform to help riders get on and get off the train without issue, they usually just stand by the entrance to the station making sure everybody pays their fare.
Coming from where I was living in Medellin before I moved to Boston, this was a bit of a culture shock to me. It’s nice to have one or two more customer service attendants around to ask questions but I wish there were more attendants on the platform handling crowd control and enforcing the unwritten rules of getting on or leaving the train especially during rush hour. Also, compared to the dozen workers at any train station platform in Medellin, a city like Boston should have a few more people helping out compared to one or two workers per station.
Perhaps this cultural contrast is due to the fact that metro systems in the United States are much more individualistic in nature and the fact that public transit has been part of cities’ makeup for decades especially in the Northeast. I’m guessing that the majority of Bostonians would prefer to be left alone during the morning and evening commute rather than have hands-on help from transit service officials especially at a station platform. However, it might make everyone’s day a bit better and smoother if there were workers actively helping to assist people to refill their transit cards, making sure the rush hour commute goes smoothly, and aiding travelers to the city with directions.
When you travel to different countries, it is tempting to compare and contrast approaches to daily life. In any city, the transit system is an extension of the culture and I find it interesting to see the similarities and differences between countries in how they run their metro systems. It’s good to see how other cities and other countries do things because you’re able to see within your own culture what could be better or more improved. However, what may suit your own tastes may not suit others as much, even your own countrymen.
Train systems like whole cultures tend to be more individualistic or communal. What one city may lack in efficiency, they can make up for it in customer service. I believe it’s best to shoot for improvement in all areas to create a better travel experience. Having the trains run on time, being treated fairly by attendants, and enjoying clean, safe rides are keys for any metro system to achieve. Hopefully as more and more people travel and see the world, we can better see what ways we can improve our own cities and countries by seeing how others do it themselves.
For my last blog post regarding Colombian culture for a while, I’d like to focus on a form of dance that is very popular there, especially on the Caribbean coast. Similar to cumbia, vallenato is a form of Colombian folk music that is both traditional and innovative in its’ instrumentation, interpretation. If we were to translate vallenato to English, it would roughly mean, “born in the valley,” which refers to vallenato’s roots coming from the Caribbean region of Colombia.
The valley that is being referenced as having started this popular music is located between Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serrania de Perija. Vallenato is also partly named after the Colombian city of Valledupar where this genre of music originated. Vallenato has become so popular not just in Colombia but also in rest of Latin America making it apart of mainstream Latin music that is apart of the cultural heritage of that country and that region of the world.
Vallenato originated from the tradition of farmers who would travel from Colombian village to village on long journeys in their quest to sell cattle in local fairs or look for greener pastures for them. During these trips, the farmers would sing together, play guitars and other instruments like gaita flutes (kuisis), which were indigenous to the local culture. Since these farmers would travel often, they would often bring news and information to the different towns that they visited. Sometimes, these messages to the village folk would be delivered in the song form so that the towns would know what’s going on nearby in the valley.
Vallenato is an eclectic mix of different kinds of world music such as Spanish, African, and Amerindian. Vallenato songs started to become common during the early 1900’s from the Caribbean region of Colombia. The early forms of vallenato would come with instruments such as gaita flutes, guacharaca (percussion), caja, bass guitar, and acoustic guitar. Additionally, you could make the sounds more European by adding instruments like the accordion or the piano.
Since the early days of vallenato, the accordion has become an increasingly large part of the sound of the songs of this particular genre of music. While vallenato was originally a genre of music for lower class folk and farmers in particular, it has since become popular across all spectrums and social classes within Colombian society. Many subgenres have come out of traditional vallenato such as romantic vallenato, commercial vallenato, and new wave vallenato.
Since the heart of the vallenato genre deals with telling stories, it is a very social form of music. You can drink liquor, enjoy a nice meal, and even dance with a partner to this genre. Listening to vallenato can go well with having a family party, attending a festival, or checking out a carnival. Vallenato has become so popular that there are two main festivals devoted to it: the Vallenato Legend Festival and the Cradle of Accordions festival. Valledupar has also become one of Colombia’s most famous cities given the fact that it was the birthplace of one of its most popular music genres, Vallenato.
When it comes to vallenato, you cannot have a song without the caja, the guacharaca, and the accordion to flesh out the sound and rhythm. The caja, is a small drum, that you can place between your knees and play with your bare hands. This drum was originally brought over by the Europeans during colonization and was mainly used by African slaves for entertainment.
The guacharaca, a wooden, ribbed stick that most looks like sugar cane can be rubbed together with a small fork in order to create a scraping sound. This instrument is meant to imitate the sound of the guacharaco bird from the Cesar region of Colombia, who is known to hunt for food and dance to perform the mating ritual. Lastly, you can’t forget to use the accordion of German origin in order to get the different tones needed to fill out the vallenato sound. By using the right buttons and hitting the right reeds, you should be able to get the rhythm down.
Speaking of the rhythms of vallenato, there are four different beats that create a rhythmic structure and a melody chord structure to form the basis for a song. The four rhythms are known as son, paseo, merengue, and puya. The son and paseo are played in a 2/4 time while the merengue and puya are played in a 6/8 time or ¾ time structure. ‘Son’ is known as being the slowest and most somber movement of vallenato and also has a heavy cadence. ‘Paseo’ is probably the most widely recorded rhythm of vallenato is known as being the most consistent of the four rhythms.
When it comes to ‘puya’, it’s the easiest rhythm of vallenato for each musician to have a solo with one of the three main instruments. It also has a faster up-tempo and is the oldest of the four rhythms. ‘Merengue’, which is not the same type of music as the original genre, but is the fourth and last vallenato rhythm, and was brought to Colombia by some African tribal groups. It’s a more narrative style of vallenato and is played in decimas, which is a 10-line format with Spanish internal rhythms the came over to Colombia originally during the 16th century.
There have been many composers, singers, and groups of Vallenato bands that have emerged over the past century who have helped to contribute to this genre of music. Perhaps the most famous Colombian composer of Vallenato was Rafael Escalona, who composed a number of famous songs and was one of the co-founders of the Vallenato Legend Festival along with Consuelo Araujo and Alfonso Lopez Michelsen.
Many Vallenato groups have also become orchestras in both their large size and instrumentation. The most popular of these orchestras are Binomio de Oro de America, Carlos Vives y la provincia, and Los Diablitos del Vallenato. You also can’t talk about Vallenato without mentioning Silvestre Dangond, who has become maybe the most famous modern day singer and composer of songs in this genre.
He has become popular not only in his native Colombia but also in Latin America and worldwide. While originally a genre of music from Colombia, Vallenato has expanded its’ popularity to Latin America and the rest of the world to share with its’ listeners both the joys, sadness, and romance of life itself.
Patacones are one of my favorite side dishes or entrees that you can find in Latin America. It’s a versatile kind of food that can be a side dish with fish, chicken, or beef but you can also make it a kind of entrée by putting two patacones together with a type of meat or fish inside along with lettuce, tomatoes, and other toppings. This food also makes for a wonderful snack if you want to munch on something between lunch and dinner. Patacones are relatively easy to make and don’t take too much skill because the recipe is pretty simple to follow.
Commonly known as ‘Tostones’, which comes from the verb tostar, “to toast” in Spanish are slices or pieces of plantain that have been fried twice over. While they are known as ‘tostones’ in countries such as Puerto Rico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, etc. They also have a different nickname of ‘tachinos’ (Cuba), ‘bananas pesees’ (Haiti). However, since I have been living in Colombia for almost a year now, I will refer to this delicious food as ‘Patacones’, which is the common name here and also in countries like Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. You can find patacones of all shapes and sizes across both Central and South America, and there are many ways to put this food to good use.
When it comes to preparing and cooking patacones, you first have to pick up a few unripe plantains (green in color) from the local food market. After buying the plantains, you’re going to have to peel them and then slice into individual pieces that are circular in appearance. You should make sure that they’re big enough in length and width before you decide to begin frying them.
It’s important to put enough cooking oil in your frying pan, and to heat up the pan sufficiently first before putting the raw slices of plantains in there. For the first time, you’re going to want to fry the plantains for one to two minutes on each side until they start to look cooked enough by showing a golden color. One time isn’t enough to make patacones so you’re going to want to fry these patacones a second time to finish the job. However, before you decide to do that, it’s important to remove the patacones from the frying pan for a few minutes in order to get rid of excess cooking oil.
The patacones should be patted down and flattened before being fried a second time in the pan. For the second frying, the patacones should only be fried for a minute or two on each side before they are finished cooking. After they have been thoroughly fried, you should make sure to pound them flat with some kind of utensil that has a large flat surface like a bowl or a pot cover. By the time you’re done, your patacones should be golden, and crispy brown. It’s pretty common to add extra ingredients like salt, or some seasoning depending on if you want this food to be a bit spicy or not.
Patacones can also be served with garlic sauce (ajo in Spanish) or with hogao sauce as is done here in Colombia. You can make the comparison that Patacones are almost like French fries in that you can have them as a side dish or snack without too much effort. It’s easy to make between six to ten patacones to serve you and your guests. If you’re looking for an appetizer or a snack dish to serve friends and family at a house party, patacones are a great option. Patacones have their origin in West African cuisine, and made their way over to Latin America within the colonial period of Gran Colombia during the eighteenth century.
The best thing about a dish like patacones is how versatile it is. You can put anything on top of it whether its’ shrimp ceviche or avocado paste. It can function as a sandwich if you put two of them together with a kind of meat or fish in between to add additional flavor. They’re easy to cook, prepare, and delicious to eat. Be careful though because it’s likely you won’t be able to stop at just eating one patacone.
Whether it’s in the Caribbean, or in Latin America, or throughout the rest of the world, you’re likely to find patacones being served at a restaurant, or being sold as the original plantains in the supermarket. Personally, I look forward to learn how to cook patacones, and serving them to friends and family in the future. Now that I’ve tasted patacones many times and enjoyed this food, I’d like to make my own and have a taste of Colombia when I’m outside of this lovely country.
Mondongo Soup is one of those polarizing foods that you encounter where you either love it or hate it. There’s no in between when it comes to Mondongo, which is what makes it a unique kind of food to cover in this month’s edition of cuisine spotlight. The main ingredient of diced or pieces of Tripe (the stomach entrails of a cow or pig) cause some folks to go nauseous while others salivate over the chance to get a big bowl of mondongo for their lunch or dinner.
However, Mondongo is more than what meets the eye and comes with a number of different ingredients that vary depending upon which country or part of Latin America you find yourself in. Part of what makes Mondongo an interesting food is that you can find it in more than one country and each place makes it a little bit differently than the other. I didn’t know Mondongo existed before I started living in Colombia and although I tried it once and enjoyed it, I’m not big on tripe in general while others love it very intensely. Even if you find yourself disgusted by the idea of eating cow’s stomach, perhaps you’ll reconsider after reading this article.
Mondongo is more than just beef or pork tribe. The main ingredients also include various vegetables cut up and chopped such as bell peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. Additional ingredients can include salt, pepper, coriander, garlic, oregano, and cilantro if you want to spice up the dish with some seasoning. You can also decide to add some corn and rice to the soup if you want to make it more heavy, and filling.
Usually, the tripe is soaked in citrus juice or sodium paste before it can begin cooking in a pot. If there are many types of spice or seasoning available in your local supermarket, you can make your Mondongo as bland or as zesty as you see fit. The great thing about a soup like Mondongo is that there is a lot of variety in making it and there’s no right or wrong way to make it. It would be quite a dish to make when you haven’t eaten all day and are ready to dig in after a long day at work.
Mondongo is a food dish most commonly found in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. When it comes to the specific countries in which you can try Mondongo, there are quite a few that have it available. That list of countries includes Brazil, Panama, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Venezuela, and in Colombia.
In Colombia, Mondongo is a traditional dish for Lunch and is made with a lot of cilantro and is known for having a lot of chicken or beef broth for the vegetables and tripe to soak in. Peas, Carrots, Onions, etc. are the most common vegetables for this type of Mondongo and corn is sometimes added to the mix. In addition to pork and beef tripe, chicken and turkey tripe is sometimes used in the Colombian version of Mondongo depending upon which region of the country you are in.
Mondongo is sometimes known as ‘mocoto’ in Brazil as the Portuguese translation of this popular soup dish. Mondongo is mainly consumed in the southern regions of the country but can also be found in the Northeast where it is known by the name of ‘dobradinha’ when it comes to Panama, Mondongo can be seasoned with pieces of chorizo or pigtails to create some added flavors. Pig knuckles, and feet can sometimes be added to Panamanian Mondongo as a substitute for pigtails or chorizo.
This type of Mondongo can also come with chickpeas; bay leafs, and is served with salads and/or plantains. There is also a tradition in Panama that some folks observe that when a new house is built for a family, they will gather together to celebrate the occasion and have a meal known as ‘mondongada’ that focuses on eating big servings of Mondongo.
In Puerto Rico, vegetables such as squash, pumpkin, eddo, cassava, capers, etc. can be added as well as the salted pork tail and feet that you can also find the Panamanian version of Mondongo. Lemon juice is the main ingredient that helps to distinguish the Puerto Rican version of Mondongo from other countries’ versions. For El Salvador, Their Mondongo is also called the ‘sopa de pata’ where chili powder, coriander leaves help to give it a spicy kick on top of the tripe, pieces of yucca, sweet corn, green beans, and plantains that make up the soup. Lastly, the Venezuelan version of Mondongo is often the only meal of the entire day due to the fact that it is very heavy compared to other kinds of Mondongo.
This kind of Mondongo is served with plenty of vegetables, different types of tripe, pigs’ feet, and seasoning but also comes with a serving of arepa on the side, which can be considered the national snack of Venezuela. The restaurants that sell Mondongo in Venezuela are known as ‘areperas’, which focus mainly on cooking Arepas, but the mondongo dish and the arepa go strictly together in Venezuela. Many Venezuelans make it a priority to eat Mondongo early in the morning before they go to work or later in the night before they go out to party and drink.
Regardless if you’re eating Mondongo in Colombia or Puerto Rico, it is a hearty, fulfilling soup dish that has a ton of variety to it. You can mix and match different ingredients together and decide what kind of sides you would like to serve with your Mondongo. Wherever in the world you eat this dish, you should do so on an empty stomach due to how heavy it is. You won’t need to have any breakfast, lunch, or dinner if your only meal of the day happens to be a big bowl of Mondongo. Enjoy responsibly or you may risk a stomachache. Buen provecho!
A delicious yet underrated popular dish here in Colombia that is hearty, tasty, and has a lot of flavor to it is one you may not be familiar with unless you come to the country to experience it firsthand. You may be able to experience this food outside of Colombia but you have to go to the source of where it’s made to perfection in order to get the most out of the dish. While not as hyped up as ‘Bandeja Paisa’ or ‘Sancocho’, Aijaco is just as delicious if not more so and is pretty easy to make if you can collect all of the necessary ingredients.
Ajiaco is a popular food dish not only just in Colombia but different versions of it can also be found in the countries of Peru and Cuba. Ajiaco has been around since the 16th century but it is unsure as to which country the food originated in first as to whether it was Colombia, Peru, or Cuba.
When it comes to Colombia, Ajiaco is most popular in the capital city of Bogota where it is made mainly with big pieces of chicken breasts that have been sliced up, fresh corn ears that have been cut into smaller pieces, scallions, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, three different types of potatoes such as red potatoes, white potatoes, and Andean potatoes (papa criolla). In order to complete this recipe for ‘Ajiaco Bogatano’, you’re going to need to add some guasca, which are dehydrated herbs as well as capers and heavy milk cream to top it all off.
Some people also like to add white rice to their Ajiaco dish in Colombia as well as some avocado that you can mix in with the rest of the ingredients. In order to get some more flavors out of this dish, you may want to add some salt and pepper to add to the taste. With all of the necessary ingredients to this recipe being added and mixed together, you will need to use a big pot to cook it all in. Ajiaco, Colombian style, will take a couple of hours to prepare, cook, and serve to you and your guests but the end results are delicious. When it comes to Ajiaco, it could be the only meal you have in a day and still come away from eating it feeling full and satisfied.
There is so much to the Colombian version of Ajiaco that it easily one of my favorite dishes to have here. It’s got vegetables, meat, and grains all loaded into one big bowl of deliciousness and if you make enough of it, you’re likely to have seconds and even thirds if you’re lucky. Like many other popular dishes from Colombia, Ajiaco is a great food to share with your friends and your family. It’s the kind of dish that you can serve to five, ten or more people depending on how big of a pot you want to use and how many hours you have free to cook all of the ingredients together.
Ajiaco can be an ideal dish that you can serve at a wedding, a birthday party, a family gathering of some kind, or for celebrating a religious ceremony. Have patience though because Ajiaco takes a while to get ready and serve to your guests. Because it’s got chicken, corn, rice, avocado, potatoes, there’s not much that you won’t like in your Ajiaco serving when it’s finally ready to eat. If you’re feeling a little down in the dumps or are feeling sick, I believe that Ajiaco would be a good way to start to make you feel better and improve your mood.
‘Ajiaco bogotano’ is not the only version of Ajiaco out there in Latin America as there are variations on this popular dish that are available in Peru and in Cuba. When it comes to Peru, Ajiaco is a dish mainly of different kinds of potatoes along with garlic, a mix of yellow and red chilis, yerbabuena, huacatay, that is accompanied with rice on the side and a choice of meat that is either chicken or rabbit stew.
Similar to Ajiaco from Colombia, you can add and mix together as many of the ingredients as you want when it comes to Peruvian form of Ajiaco in order to get the most taste and flavor out of the dish. The Cuban Ajiaco is also distinctly unique from the Peruvian and Colombian versions in its’ own rights. In Cuba, Ajiaco is much more of a stew, which is made up of a lot of different meats such as chicken, beef, pork, rather than just one or two kinds and many vegetables like carrots, onions, scallions, rice, potatoes, tubers, and starchy roots. ‘Viandas’ are also a unique aspect of Cuban Ajiaco that adds a lot to the dish.
As to the origin of Ajiaco as mentioned earlier, it is still debated by different scholars on the subject. It is estimated that the food dish originated with the indigenous tribe of Taino who inhabited parts of the Caribbean including modern-day Cuba. The word ‘Aji’ in Ajiaco is said to have originated from the Taino tribe’s language and the meaning of ‘Aji’ in their language is ‘hot pepper.’
It is believed that Ajiaco first originated in Cuba due to the fact that it is quite a diverse dish of different ingredients reflecting how Cuba was a melting pot of indigenous, African, and European cultures mixed together. Ajiaco has been served in Cuba since the 16th century, which is longer than the food’s origin in both Colombia and Peru. From the city of Havana to the village of Camaguey, the tradition of making Ajiaco was born and continues to thrive today. Farmers, slaves, traders, and regular people would exchange and buy ingredients from each other in order to put their own mark on this popular food dish over the centuries.
Regardless if its’ Cuban, Colombian, Peruvian or just homemade from scratch, Ajiaco is a delicious food dish that has a variety and a flavor that is hard to beat. It doesn’t matter what social status you have or what your cultural background is, Ajiaco is a dish that is deeply loved in Latin America and around the world. If you are curious about trying it out, there are many recipes available on the Internet depending on which kind of Ajiaco you would like to try out.
If you come to any of the countries where Ajiaco is popular and has a known history, I promise you won’t be disappointed when you eat it. Just remember to have an empty stomach when you dig in to eat because you’re going to need extra room for this plentiful and fulfilling dish of goodness. Buen Provecho!
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