A Taste of Cartagena (or, How I Outgrew My Entire Wardrobe)

I’ve come up with a theory that coastal Colombian culture resembles that of the American South.  I realize that the land of Pablo Escobar and Shakira might seem inconsistent with that of Paula Deen and Larry the Cable Guy.  But hear me out.*

  • The pace on the coast is slower than it is in Bogotá and other big cities in Colombia, and the people are calmer and friendlier for it.  Much like how my Southern friends like to distinguish themselves from those cold, cranky Yankees, the costeños are proud to be considered more pleasant and open than the cachacos from the interior of the country.  Hospitality, friendship, and downtime trump the stress and prisa of the big cities.
  • Jesus is a BIG deal.  Praise the lord, marica!
  • Women in both regions love to wear bright, color-coordinated outfits.  Standing out is the prerogative, and femininity is maintained dutifully with manicures and vibrant lipstick.  So bring on the neons, the florals, the high heels, and the Bedazzler, baby!
  • Speaking of “baby” (or sweetie, sugar, honey, precious, etc.), Southerners, particularly of the older female demographic, are masters of hospitality and pet-names.  Colombians are just as sugary sweet, melting hearts with their talk of mi vida, mi amor, mi hija, princesa.
  • Finally, both regions seem to have a particular appreciation (and culinary skills) for all things fried.  Fritos make up a significant part of the Colombian diet (and my thighs, now, muchas gracias).  And their love of good food doesn’t stop with the deep fryer…
      Which brings me to How I Outgrew My Entire Wardrobe.  Where shall we begin?


Arepas are a staple of Colombian cuisine.  An arepa is a round patty made of cornmeal or flour, usually fried (see below), grilled, or baked.  I enjoy arepas for breakfast with a slab of salty queso costeño (my favorite cheese), but they can also be served with eggs, butter, chorizo (sausage), or whatever your clogged arteries desire!


Quibbe (or quidbe, kibbeh, quipe) is actually of middle eastern origin, and was introduced to the Caribbean by Lebanese and Palestinian immigrants.  The name comes from the Arabic word for ball (the version I ate looked like an American football).  These little bundles of joy are stuffed with ground meat (lamb or beef), bulghar wheat, onion, and spices, and fried till brown and crispy.

Quibbe and empanadas

Fresh fruit juice to accompany the fried goodness

Spicy toppings for your fritos

Quibbe! Or quidbe, or kibe… Whatever you want to call it, it’s delicious.

Portal de los Dulces

Move over Willy Wonka, this is Colombian Candyland.  The Portal de los Dulces is a row of arches yawning over table upon table of handmade sweets.  It is also, for those who remember my recent post, the location of the Great Cake Theft of 2012.  Generally my strategy is to ignore the dulces at all cost, just put my blinders on and walk on by.  But you can actually smell the sugar wafting from these jars of coconut, sesame, and milk candies.  And since they cost like 25 cents a piece, how could I not just buy one… or seven… every time I walked by?

Coconut and sugar patties, aka sugar-high in a jar.

“Muñecas de leche” — Milk dolls.

An average lunch

Just down the street from the language school I attended earlier this year, there is a small family-owned restaurant called Sabor Mulatto where I used to stop daily for a fresh fruit juice.  Do you know how many calories are in fruit juice when you add sugar and milk?  Me neither, and I am joyous in my ignorance.

Every traditional lunch here starts with soup, usually with beef, potato, yuca, and other presumably healthy veggies.

Icy, sweet, tangy, refreshing, high-calorie jugo!

Salad! Look how well-behaved I am!

Patacones (fried smashed plantains) and arroz de coco (coconut rice). I. Die.


Pan de Bono.  It’s gooey on the inside, cheesy on the outside, and freshly baked within walking distance.

Cafe Tinto.  Ok, I can’t blame my butt on coffee, but I would be remiss not to mention cafe tinto in any discussion of Colombian cuisine.  Men carry thermoses of strong, sweetened black coffee around on the street and sell it by the thimble-full.  Perfect warm up before a night of dancing!

Plantains in any form.

Sliced and deep fried plantains. And, naturally, happy children.

Arequipe.  Ermahgerd.

Photo credit to the Arequipe fan page on Facebook. Yea, it’s that good.

So, that about wraps up what I stuffed my face with for the past three months, and why I need to diet before and after any trip to Colombia.  Sadly, I returned to the United States just a few days ago, but I plan to keep myself busy by starting an online dating service to match up Southern belles and Colombian costeños (because how could they not be compatible?).  Just kidding, I need a real job.  And to go to the gym.

Stay tuned for some awesome updates from the Mashable Social Good Summit in NYC this weekend!

*And pardon my sweeping generalizations.  All in good fun!


  1. Dezi

    I loved everything that you said about Cartagena. It has been three years since the last time I visited my city (I am costeña) and looking at your pictures just brought so many good memories. Thanks you for sharing!!!! I grew up eating Colombian and Arabian food so you can imagine… My aunt has a great restaurant in Cartagena, you must visit it next time you there. The food is GREAT …check their website http://www.deolivarestaurante.com/

  2. I love this so much. ❤ Mexicans are really fond of fried food too – I don't think most know what an oven's for other than to hold all the pots and pans in their kitchen! I knew I had to start cooking my meals at home when my clothes started getting reeeeeeally really tight when I was eating all the local street food. So much fried stuff and soooo much sugar and bread!

  3. Where do I even start with this post? I think gaining weight while traveling is a must! It means you really enjoyed yourself! I say, bring it on!

    All of that food looks AH-mazing! I want everything and in my belly, now!

    If you need your first Southern Belle test subject for your dating service, you know where to look. 🙂 Just don’t tell them I can’t really cook… or do housewife things in general! Haha! Welcome back!

    • I’m glad you approve, Jill! Besides, in Colombia I didn’t really mind getting a little more bootylicious. 😉

      I think we might have a business idea right here for the two of us to develop! And don’t worry about not being able to cook in Colombia, there are plenty of other people who will try to stuff your face anyway. The guys I lived with were way more skilled in the kitchen than I was!

  4. I’m putting shopping for new clothes to fit our new hips on our itinerary for our twincation (the Boston edition). Right under “leaf watching”, “pumpkin spice latte sampling”, and “arepa-making.”

  5. Oh, wow. Every single thing looks extremely delicious. I have a great arepa place nearby and adore them. I had no idea that dulce de leche/manjar was also called arequipe. Yum!

  6. Sid Dunnebacke

    I don’t eat meat anymore, for the most part anyway – but, yeah, kibbeh at our local Lebanese restaurants is difficult to pass up. Interesting that it’s a staple (?) in Colombia. So if you’re back and looking for a job, do I then need to request that you at least make up more heartwarming and beautiful stories to pass on here, like those I’ve grown accustomed to?

  7. Nico, your roommate :)

    you should mention the “arepa con huevo”, the top of the fried food. I guess you didnt like it so much…and your theory about southerns can be used in Germany, too! But in the end is just generalizations, that have great power….greetings from Cartagena!

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