Cultural Spotlight – Tejo

Most visitors and newcomers who arrive in Colombia may be surprised to find out that the national sport of the country is not ‘football’ as most people would guess given how popular the sport is around the country and due to the high quality of the national team shown in international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup. While Colombians may have the most passion for ‘the beautiful game’ of football, the national sport of Colombia is actually the game of ‘Tejo.’ This was actually an official decree made by the Congress of the Republic of Colombia back in 2000. While not as massively popular as football, Tejo is considered the second most widely played sport in the country and actually fields both teams and competitions in different cities.

Tejo is the oldest sport in Colombia and dates back over five hundred years and is said to have originated with the Musica indigenous tribe who speak the Chibcha language and were based in the northwestern part of Modern-day Colombia. Luckily, the game of Tejo hasn’t changed much since the Musica indigenous people first introduced it in the early 1500’s. However, it’s likely that they used a golden disc known as the ‘Zepguagoscua’, and the game of Tejo was known as ‘Turmeque’ back then and was played mainly by the indigenous peoples located in the modern regions of Cundinamarca and Boyacá.

The Spaniards who came to Colombia are known to have used wooden disks when they played the game and focused more on the accuracy of their throws than the distance of the throws, the latter which is more of a factor when playing the modern game today. From gold disks to wooden disks to stone disks to now using iron metal discs for playing, the game has evolved mainly in what material you’re using in order to get the furthest yet most accurate throws.

The main objective of Tejo hasn’t changed that much though in that you’re going to want to take the iron metal disc in your hand and underhand toss it about 15-20 meters so that you’ll hit the metal ring known as the ‘bocin’ as well as the ‘mechas’, which are triangular paper packets that are filled with gunpowder. You get the most points for hitting the bocin in the middle of the clay landing field but you can also receive from three to twelve points from hitting the different mechas and causing some loud explosions that are likely to earn you both some cheers and high fives.

While players should focus on the metal ring, you’ll also want to focus on hitting as many mechas as you can when you step up to throw the iron disk. When you hit the gunpowder packets, there is a loud bang like an actual gunshot and you may even see some white smoke emerge from the exploded triangular packets. Tejo is a pretty simple game to learn and only takes a couple of tries for you to get the hang of it. The iron disk only weights about two kilograms or so and if you get a good arch on the underhand throw, you’re likely to hit the clay field or even the mechas, bocin if you’re lucky. Tejo is a mix of skill and luck in my opinion but it’s quite exciting to play especially when you make some of those gunpowder packets explode for everybody to hear.

Both men and women are welcome to play Tejo and the only difference is that guys use the two kilogram iron disc and the ladies can choose to use a smaller, one kilogram iron disc if they would like to as well as being able to do the underhand throw from about fifteen meters away, which is a bit shorter than the regular distance of twenty meters or so. These rules aren’t mandatory for women so it is up to the individual lady what kind of distance or disc that she intends to use for Tejo.

Tejo is also a team game so you can play with up to five other people on the same time to face another team with the same amount of people. You’re often rooting each other on to hit the bocin or mechas in order to reach a certain amount of total points in order to win the match. There are numerous amounts of teams and competitions that are held all across Colombia and even in the neighboring countries of Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, etc. Prize money is often involved in these competitions so certain Tejo players take this game very seriously if you’re playing for more than just bragging rights.

Tejo has become quite a popular sport with tourists and foreigners who come to Colombia and you can include me amongst those people. One of the aspects that Tejo that first time players find to be interesting is the ability to drink alcohol such as beer, rum, or aguardiente during a game. While this next statement can be disputed, it’s possible that you will get better throwing the Tejo at the clay field the more you drink although it depends on the individual player. It’s important to note that you can play Tejo completely stone cold sober and you would still have a lot of fun. Tejo is overall a social sport that should be enjoyed either amongst friends or between close-knit teams.

Unfortunately, it took me about ten months of living here in Colombia to finally play the sport of Tejo but it’s easy to say that I’m glad I finally did. While I wouldn’t play it competitively, it’s a sport that is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people or locals in your city. The combination of throwing metal discs at gunpowder triangles while drinking a cold beer is a good one overall. Tejo has been apart of Colombian culture going back to over five centuries ago and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

 

Cuisine Spotlight – Cazuela

This second post in the new ‘Cuisine Spotlight’ series will focus on another favorite dish of mine here in Colombia, which is known simply as ‘Cazuela.’ Despite the unassuming name, this popular South American dish is quite diverse in what it can offer you when it comes to mealtime. Depending upon what you’re craving, a good cazuela can be made up of seafood, beef, chicken, etc. as its main base food. ‘Cazuela’ is a Spanish word, which roughly translates into ‘Casserole’ in English.

Similar to a casserole, a cazuela dish is a mix and match of different kinds of foods with tasty results. Usually, cazuela is considered to be a soup made up of different vegetables and meats mixed together. You can’t have cazuela without some flavored cooking stock put in there to form the soup-like appearance. Depending upon which South American country you’re visiting or living in, there will be a different spin on what cazuela looks, smells, and tastes like.

In Chile, cazuela comes with a piece of meat, which can either be turkey, pork, chicken, or beef. Specifically, a leg of chicken or some beef ribs will be the meat in the cazuela dish. Underneath the meat would be a piece of pumpkin and individual pieces of potato with a base of white rice doused in the flavored cooking stock. For the vegetables, it varies depending upon the cook’s preference but there’s usually celery, carrots, green beans, cabbage, etc. that are sliced and diced up to be soaked in the cooking stock and added to the rice and meat. In the summer time, some Chileans will add some sweet corn to the vegetable mix. The Chilean version of cazuela is known as being very similar to the ‘Olla podrida’, which is a colonial dish from Spain that has gained in popularity in Chile and other South American nations.

Cazuela is also quite popular in Peru, the southern neighbor of Colombia. Cazuela is often prepared in the Amazonas region of Peru and is made in different ways depending on which area of the department you’re in. For the meat, there are often more creative choices like hen and sheep that are added to cabbage, rice, carrots, and the broth juice. Usually, this kind of cazuela is cooked over a flame in a sauce pot as its mixed together and served to a large group of people.

Beyond just being a soup or a casserole, Cazuela can also be made into a traditional kind of pie as it is in Puerto Rico. During Christmas season, the Cazuela pie is made up of sweet potato, pumpkin, and coconut milk. It’s quite a popular desert that is easy to make and is popular for its’ sweet flavor and light texture.

Multiple countries in Spain, Ecuador, and Colombia have embraced the ‘Cazuela de Mariscos’, which is made up of a number of different kinds of seafood. The Colombian version is easy to make and is known for being a thick kind of soup and also is rumored to be an ‘aphrodisiac.’ The seafood that comes in the soup includes calamari squid, prawns, clams, shrimp, and small pieces of fish.

The kind of ingredients you want to add are olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, coconut milk, white wine, some seasoning, heavy cream and minced garlic. To top it off, you need some vegetables including carrots, celery, red pepper, tomatoes, and bouillons. You got to mix up everything together, serve it in a clay pot or bowl, and enjoy the delicious broth and food. Sometimes, you can find that there are cazuelas for shrimp or prawns separately which can come with rice and a heavy broth mixed together with the seafood.

The type of cazuela that I have become most familiar with over the past couple of months is the ‘cazuela antioquena.’ You can find it throughout the department of Antioquia and most commonly in the city of Medellin. I find it to be unique compared to other kinds of cazuelas given the emphasis on ingredients that are known well to Paisas making it a local favorite.

You start with a base of Antioquian brown beans mixed in with some white rice. On top of that is the meat, which are usually ‘chicharron’ or fried pork belly and some cooked chorizo. Instead of more common vegetables like celery and carrot, this favorite dish of Antioquia comes with pieces of avocado and some cut-up sweet plantains. To add some flavor, the Colombian creole sauce known as ‘Hogao’ is mixed among the meat, plantains, avocado, rice, and beans.

Like many other local dishes here, a small arepa is added to the mix, and placed at the top of the ‘cazuela antioquena’ to be eaten with the rice, beans, chorizo and whatever else would go along well with the arepa. Second only to the ‘Bandeja Paisa’, the ‘cazuela antioquena’ is likely to be a fulfilling dish for lunch that can satisfy your cravings for some local cuisine.

It’s likely that you’ll run into some kind of ‘cazuela’ if you’re traveling or living in South America. The various kinds of cazuela unique to a certain country or region makes it an exciting dish due to its diversity. Whether it’s meat, seafood, vegetables, rice, and beans in the cazuela, it’s important to bring a big appetite to the table because it’s likely to fill you up and leave you satisfied.