Cuisine Spotlight – Patacones

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.

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Cuisine Spotlight – Arepa

You can’t come to South America, especially Colombia, Venezuela, and even Panama without trying the local cuisine staple of the Arepa. The Arepa may be the most popular food to try and there is a lot of variety to this food, which makes it quite popular to eat. In countries such as Colombia or Venezuela, Arepas are eaten on a daily basis and are usually served with breakfast but they can also be served with lunch or dinner depending on the consumer’s preferences. Arepas can also be found in other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, etc. where they are less popular but still part of the local cuisine.

When compared to other Latin America staple foods, the Arepa is most similar to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa. What would surprise most people to learn about the Arepa is that an indigenous group of people known as the Timoto-Cuica created this food to feed the two separate tribes of the Timoto and the Cuica on a daily basis. This indigenous group was based out of the Andean region of western Venezuela and was made up of thousands of people total who were apart of those two tribes.

There are many different types of Arepas and you can mix and match with different ingredients depending upon your own preferences. Usually though, the Arepa is most often made up of ground maize dough or cooked flour to form the basis of this food. Sometimes, you can also substitute flour for yellow cornmeal that is popular in the Santander region of Colombia in the north of the country. In terms of appearance, an Arepa will be flat, round, and unleavened although sometimes they can be served as leavened especially when they are made in the street stalls late at night.

One of the great things about Arepas is there are many different ways in which you can cook them. An Arepa can be baked, grilled, steamed, fried, or boiled. The color, size, thickness, and appearance of an Arepa can vary from country to country or from one region to another. Perhaps, most importantly, you can add any kind of ingredients to fill out your arepa as a delicious sandwich or a platter.

The options are nearly limitless in that you can put on or within your Arepa such as foods like eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, shrimp, salad, etc. You can also simply eat it without any additional ingredients too if you just want to have a simple arepa for breakfast. However, if it’s late at night and you have had a few adult beverages to drink earlier, you may want to have an arepa sandwich with a lot of toppings to fill you up.

In order to make Arepas yourself, you need to have a good amount of water and salt to mix with your flour along with some additional ingredients like cooking oil, butter, eggs, and milk. Then, you’ll need to form the dough and shape it so it fits into the form of an Arepa and afterwards you can put it on the grill or stove to start cooking. Arepas can only take a couple of minutes to prepare and cook so it’s one of those foods that you can make in great quantities without too much effort or skill. Still though, that is part of what makes the Arepa such a daily staple of the cuisine is that it is simple yet delicious and there is a lot of variety to it if you are able to put in some extra effort.

When it comes to Colombia, it is probably the most popular food in the country and you can find it in practically every region of the country. In addition, there are dozens of variations on the Arepa depending on where in the country you find yourself. Despite the differences between Medellin and Cartagena, Bogota and Bucaramanga, each of these cities prides itself on their Arepas and would like to claim that they have the best Arepas in Colombia. In the past, the Arepa has become a cultural symbol of Colombia and is sometimes served with every meal of the day regardless of the circumstances, which is often the case particularly in the Antioquia region of the country.

You can find Arepas in many different places whether it’s been pre-packaged at the grocery store or if it’s being freshly prepared by hand late at night at the local street stall in your neighborhood. Wherever you visit in Colombia, you’re likely to be only a stone’s throw away from the nearest restaurant or cafeteria that will be able to serve you a delicious Arepa.

The Arepa has become so popular in Colombia that there is an annual festival devoted to this cuisine staple called the ‘Colombian Arepa Festival’, which is celebrated in the major cities of Bogota, Barranquilla, Medellin, Cali, and Bucaramanga. The festival in each of these five cities usually takes place sometime in between the months of August to December. If you haven’t figured it out already, the Arepa has a long-standing region in South America especially in Colombia. If you can’t stop your mouth from watering, you may want to buy a plane ticket and try this food out for yourself. Be careful though because if you eat them everyday, you may end up gaining some extra weight.

Cuisine Spotlight – Mondongo

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!

 

 

Why You Should Learn to Cook in Your 20’s

You’ve got the good job. You live in a nice apartment. You are able to move out of your parents’ house. You’re lucky enough to consider yourself to be pretty independent and self-sufficient in your 20’s, which isn’t so easy to come by these days. However, have you learned how to cook? Can you feed yourself without needing to go to a restaurant or to order from Domino’s?

I consider that being able to learn how to cook is one of the most important skills any young adult should have a good proficiency in by the time they turn 30. You don’t need to be on the level of Anthony Bourdain or Emeril Lagasse but you should be able to know a decent amount of recipes and be able to cook yourself a couple of homemade meals each week. There are a number of good reasons as to why it’s important to learn how to cook in your 20’s and I’ll cover a few of them in this post.

1.) You’ll save money.

Regardless of where you’re living in the world, it’s often the case that buying groceries from the local market or supermarket and cooking meals for yourself will be less expensive than going out to eat for lunch or dinner or even both meals. The costs really add up after a while from eating out all of the time or from ordering a lot of meals to be delivered to your door. In your 20’s, many people are trying to save up money for graduate school, or to buy a car or to lease an apartment so if you’re able to buy food for yourself and then cook it, you’re way ahead of the game and you’ll probably save a good amount of money each month. Any kind of savings that you can create in your 20’s will make a sizable impact down the road and cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to have a positive impact on your personal budget each month.

2.) It’s healthier for you.

Let’s be honest: ordering out or eating out at a restaurant are not the healthiest options to do repeatedly. While there are healthy options out there, they are usually the exception and not the rule. Eating a takeout pizza with extra cheese from Domino’s is simply not as preparing a fresh salad from scratch for your dinner. Unless you go to a higher-end restaurant, a lot of restaurants these days use a lot of sugar, salt, or other preservatives that can lead you to put on some extra weight if you’re not careful. Knowing how to cook forces you to create your own daily diet without having any outside influence. You’ll be more responsible for your intake of different foods and learning how to properly balance your diet with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, meats, etc. This is a skill that is better to be learned in your 20’s so that it can be a healthy habit that can stay with you for the rest of your life. You’re making a conscious choice every time you prepare and cook your own food and that’s a great skill to have.

3.) You’ll become more independent and self-reliant.

Being comfortable with your cooking skills and knowing that you’ll never go hungry or rely on others to cook your food is a great thing for your self-esteem. The confidence that you’ll gain as you get better at cooking is something that can transfer over to your parts of your life. It’s a skill that you can share with other people whether it’s your friends, your parents or other members of your family. A lot of your 20’s is learning how to function as an individual who is independent from other people and one of the best ways to do that is to learn how to cook a good meal. It may take time and a lot of effort but the rewards will be ever present throughout your life. You can make other people in your life happier and healthier by cooking for them and they’ll appreciate the fact that you can take care of yourself in the kitchen.

4.) It’s easier now than ever.

With modern technology like the stove, the gas oven, and the many utensils and kitchenware you can buy for pretty cheap, learning how to cook is easier now than ever. In addition, any aspiring cook has the entirety of the Internet at their disposal. Whether it’s learning the basics for the first time or trying out a new recipe, there is a limitless amount of information out there that can help you achieve your cooking goals. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube that can walk you through a recipe step by step and there are thousands of unique recipes that you can look up on a moment’s notice through Google that can make cooking more fun and creative.

Centuries ago, cooking food was much more of a daily ordeal with the average meal taking a full day to prepare but due to the advent of modern technology, it really is easier now than ever. For example, I learned of a website recently called Blue Apron, which actually delivers all of the fresh ingredients for the different recipes you want to make without you leaving your apartment or house to scavenge for the ingredients at the local market. There are also a number of companies out there such as Whole Foods that can deliver all of your groceries to your door making it even easier and more cost effective to cook your own meals.

5.) It makes you more creative.

With thousands of recipes to choose from and with different ingredients to mix and match with your favorite foods, cooking is really an art just like painting or music. You can experiment as much as you want and really tailor your meal to your own preferences. When you order food at a restaurant, it’s really up to the chef’s own taste on how he puts your meal together. When you cook for yourself, you’re giving back control to yourself. You can work with your hands and you can slice and dice as you please.

While you may struggle at first with getting the recipes down to a science, you’ll keep getting better and better the more you practice and that’s what makes it so fun. Even if you burn the chicken or undercook the spaghetti, you can learn from your mistakes and know what to do better the next time. Cooking is a skill that really utilizes both your mind and your body. While it takes a lot of effort and time to master, the results are often delicious.

Put away the Chinese takeout menu, and put that apron on. It’s time to take these reasons into consideration as you begin your cooking career. Even if you’re a single guy or gal living in the heart of the city with restaurants abound, you should still give yourself the joy of cooking. You’ll thank yourself later when you have a wife or children to cook for at home and you can put together a meal that’s more than just scrambled eggs or spaghetti. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make myself dinner.

Cuisine Spotlight – Ajiaco

 

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“Are you hungry yet?” “I am.”

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!

Cuisine Spotlight – Sancocho

Many cultures around the world have their own unique take on stews and soups that are both hearty and comes with a number of different ingredients. This is also the case in many Latin American countries where the stew itself is called ‘sancocho’ and is closely related to the Spanish stew known as ‘cocido.’ Along with the Spanish influence, Sancocho takes most of its’ ingredients from local foods that are popular and add flavor to the dish. Sancocho is also considered to be the national dish in a few of the Latin American countries where it is made and eaten.

Among the countries where Sancocho is a popular food dish includes the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela, etc. so you could say that it’s a staple and has become popular in many households and restaurants. Sancocho is believed to have originated from the Canary Islands where it is a dish that heavily is made of a whole-cooked fish with broth and potatoes.

The dish was brought over to Latin America when the Canarians and their descendants immigrated to parts of the new world centuries ago. As is the case with many different foods, the immigrants who move to a different part of the world often bring their favorite dishes with them. While fish was a main ingredient in the ‘original’ sancocho, there are many different types of meats and vegetables that make up variations on the popular dish depending upon which country you’re in. Sancocho is especially common to be served during lunchtime as it is quite filling and can hold a person over until dinner comes around. It’s common for Sancocho to be served in a huge pot for a family gathering or birthday party where the dish can be expanded to served dozens of people total.

In Colombia, specifically, sancocho is an extremely popular dish with a wide range of ingredients that can range from chicken to ox tail. Other meats that can be apart of sancocho include hen, pork ribs, cow ribs, fish, etc. For example, sancocho with fish is really popular on the Atlantic coast of Colombia while pork and beef is more commonly found in the interior of the country. In addition to mean, sancocho can also include large portions of plantains, yucca, potatoes, and various vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, scallions, mazorca (corn on the cob), etc.

There is simply no limit as to what can be put into sancocho and each country puts a different spin on the popular dish. In the Dominican Republic, for example, there is Sancocho de siete carnes, which is a dish made up of a mixture of different meats including chicken, beef, pork, etc. Sancocho de gallina, which is made up of free-range chicken is quite popular in Panama and is also the national dish of the country. Puerto Rico has the distinction of even adding smoked ham, pork feet with chick feats, which is known as sancocho de patitas and is quite unique in terms of its’ culinary characteristics.

The beautiful thing about sancocho is that there are so many different regional and national varieties to this dish are that the possibilities of mixing and matching different ingredients or toppings is simply endless. Any nation that has been touched by Spanish influence or colonization has adapted their own version of sancocho including even in the Philippines, which has a huge amount of meats and vegetables to offer in its own national take on the dish. Keeping to the Spanish heritage of the dish, they call it cocido as it is known in Spain.

If you decide to come to Latin America and find yourself at someone’s family gathering, hanging out with a few friends, or enjoying a birthday party, it’s likely that you’ll get a good serving of sancocho. In addition, the sancocho you get depending upon the country or the region in which the dish is being served to you will most likely be different and have some variation to it. The beauty of a popular dish like sancocho is its’ history, its’ adaptability, as well as the chance to gather with a group of people and dig in to this delicious food together.

 

Cartagena v. San Andres Island – A Comparison

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“San Andres Island: Located Northwest of mainland Colombia and closest to the coast of Nicaragua. Very small island as you can see from this map.

If you’re in a cold, winter climate right now and you’re looking to escape the frigid temperatures and snowy weather for a little while, you should consider the following two destinations for a vacation. Recently, I was lucky enough to take two, separate trips in December to the San Andres Island in Colombia and then to the coastal, colonial city of Cartagena, which is also located in Colombia. While these destinations are similar in many respects, they are still unique in a number of ways. Depending on what you’re looking for in a tropical destination, both San Andres and Cartagena have a lot to offer for the average traveler.

San Andres Island

After visiting the San Andres Island in early December, I consider it to be a hidden gem of the Caribbean. I write this because I find it to be much less of a tourist destination than other tropical islands such as the Bahamas, Bermuda, U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, etc. and small countries such as Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. What it lacks in notoriety and sheer size, San Andres is just as much of a Caribbean destination than other more popular islands.

The island is rich in both biodiversity and sheer crystal blue beaches that you can swim in, go snorkeling, or go riding around in a boat or Jet Ski. San Andres is blessed with vibrant coral reefs, sand banks, and outer cays, which are easy to explore by foot or by boat. You can snorkel with the fishes or go scuba diving with them depending upon your personal preference. The island is smaller than most tropical destinations at only 26 square kilometers in total area but I consider it an advantage to be able to see a good amount of the island in only a week if that’s how long you plan to stay.

There are a number of ways to get around the island including local buses, which will do a circular loop around the island and can be hailed from anywhere you are in the main street. You can also rent your own scooter or golf buggy cart to get around the island for a day or more. Taxis are also plentiful in most areas but tend to be more expensive depending on where you’re going on the island.

Most restaurants, hotels are located in the northern part of the island and tend to be a little bit cheaper than Cartagena in terms of pricing. The great thing about San Andres is that there is a number of bed and breakfast places available, which are cheaper than the major hotel chains if you’re looking to save some money. The smaller hotel chains and the bed and breakfasts are usually located closer to the island’s less popular but still very beautiful beaches, which are also less touristy overall.

During the low season for San Andres’s tourism, it’s possible to find a beach where there are few tourists around and where there’s still white sand and crystal blue waters. All you would have to do is make sure you do your research and find out where these lesser-known beaches are and take public transportation or your own scooter there for the day. You won’t find these beaches in El Centro or in the north of the island.

Luckily, I was able to find a beach like that ten minutes south of where I was staying by bus, which was the highlight of my trip. If you’re looking to visit San Andres, make sure you visit during the low season and be ready to explore the island beyond just the touristy areas. In addition to being accessible by plane from Colombia, which is the owner of the island, you can also get to San Andres from the countries of Panama and Costa Rica. With the right planning and set-up, you’ll be able to walk to the nearest tropical beach when you stay in San Andres for your visit.

Cartagena

A city with an interesting mixture of colorful, colonial buildings and modern, towering skyscrapers, Cartagena is the most popular tourist destination in all of Colombia and has been growing in popularity in recent years. Known most for being the location of the oldest Spanish colony in the Americas, Cartagena offers a lot of history, culture, and diversity to those tourists who visit its’ colonial streets, coastal beaches, or plentiful hotels. Cartagena is very easy to get to by bus, by boat, or by plane with its’ modern international airport named after former President of Colombia, Rafael Nunez who was a Cartagenero.

If you’re short on time, it would not be a complete trip to Cartagena without visiting sites like the Felipe de San Barajas Castle, which was a Spanish fortress designed to protect the city from foreign invaders and from scheming pirates. There’s also the walled colonial city with its’ colorful buildings, which have been somewhat transformed to offer restaurants, boutique hotels, and artisanal shopping to its many tourists. In my opinion, the walled colonial city still has a lot of character and its architecture is really pleasing to the eye. Costenas are among the friendliest people in Colombia and are truly welcoming to the sheer amount of tourists that come to the city each year.

While I was not able to go there during my recent trip, the La Popa hill has great views of Cartagena and you can take a tour of a monastery there with a history dating back to the 17th century. While Cartagena has a number of beaches, the best ones take some effort to get to, which can take a whole day trip back and forth. The most famous beach in the area is La Playa Blanca located on the Baru Island, where you can find white sand beaches and the crystal blue water that can’t be easily found elsewhere in Cartagena. Lastly, Cartagena is a big city with over a million residents and thousands of tourists. If you don’t get to do everything in one trip, you can rest assured knowing that it’s a city that is worth more than one visit.

Comparison

Overall, I had an excellent time during my two separate visits to Cartagena and San Andres Island. Both of these destinations have a lot to offer to the average tourist and are relatively affordable and easy to get to from other parts of the Americas. If you’re looking for a warm destination with friendly and open people, these two locations should be high on your list.

If I were to give recommendations based on what each place can offer as its’ specialty, you’ll want to give San Andres the edge in terms of its’ beaches and its’ water sports activities. The manageable size of the island to navigate along with its various modes of transportation makes it easy for the traveler to explore different beaches, coral reefs, and outer cays without having to go very far. San Andres is also a bit cheaper of a destination in terms of average lodging and food costs compared with Cartagena.

While San Andres has the advantage with its’ beaches and its’ overall costs, Cartagena shines when it comes to the history of the city, its’ open and friendly people along with the numerous options for dining and lodging. In all of the cities of Colombia, the walled colonial city of Cartagena is very special along with the San Felipe de Barajas Castle. The restaurant and nightlife scene is also much more vibrant giving the average tourist a lot to do, see, and explore at nighttime compared with San Andres.

I would suggest that while Cartagena has a number of accessible beaches, the special ones like Playa Blanca take some time to get to and are not located within the city. When it comes to crystal blue waters and white sand beaches, San Andres Island is a destination that offers that in a number of locations without too much effort needed.

The beauty of these two destinations is that they each have something special to offer the tourist, the traveler, or the backpacker. If you’re looking for beautiful beaches and water sports activities, head to San Andres Island but if you’re looking to learn more about history, culture and to experience good restaurants and nightlife, head to the city of Cartagena. Either destination has its’ own specialties and advantages. You won’t regret your time in either destination and it will be a good travel experience that you’ll have fond memories about.