The last part of my travels sees me return to what could potentially be my favorite place in Colombia…Cali. I first visited with my sister in January, returned in May and managed to squeeze in one last visit before I head back to the UK. Why do I love it so much? Well, Cali is the country’s (if not world’s) capital of salsa, the weather is hot, the people are friendly and it’s just a lot of bloody fun. They also eat a hell of a lot of meat. What more could an offal-loving salsa enthusiast possibly want?
To begin this meat filled post, I present the fritanga caleña. Not a dish for anyone watching their waistlines, this is some seriously heavy stuff. Eaten at the famous J&J in the iconic and picturesque old barrio of San Antonio, a fritanga is a mix of fried meat and fritos (pasty type goodies). J&J know how to do it right, with this epic basket containing fried beef, morcilla (black sausage), pork rind, lung, plantain, new potatoes, empanadas, marranitas (fried plantain balls with pork) and aborrajados (fried plantain balls with cheese). This famous spot features a bar dedicated to condiments and offers guacamole, three different types of tomato salsa, peanut sauce, tartare, sour cream and salsa verde. How will I ever be satisfied with just ketchup again?
It’s highly likely I am so drawn to Cali due to it’s affinity for offal, a sentiment I very much share. On a friends recommendation I headed to the Galeria de Alameda, the place to go for a delicious lunch at an incredible price. I had been told I couldn’t leave Cali without trying the typical (and extremely potent) caldo de pajarilla. This essentially translates as ‘offal soup’ and is a stew featuring kidney, heart, liver and…spleen. This soup is pretty robust and makes for a hearty and heavy midday meal. Whether I actually liked it is perhaps up for debate. Even for an offal lover such as myself, I felt the mix of quite so much offal in one dish created ‘a too many organs spoil the broth’ situation. Oh, that old chestnut!
But if you thought spleen soup sounded a bit much, perhaps you’d be interested to know about the ‘caldo peligroso‘ as advertised in the sign above. This translates as ‘dangerous broth’, but for a keen traveler and adventurous foodie such as myself, I couldn’t fathom what the danger might be. Chatting to the chef, turns out that this ‘dangerous soup’ contains bull penis, testicles, heart and feet. She also alluded to it being some sort of aphrodisiac. While I tried to imagine how eating genitals might get your own private bits somewhat excited, I personally failed to make the link.
This rather impressive looking stuffed pigs head is known as lechona, a whole pig stuffed with rice, vegetables and spices, slow cooked in a brick oven. This is a dish I’ve wanted to try for a while and in all places I found it while passing through a shopping centre! Just another reason to love Cali – pop into a shopping centre in search of a loo and find a whole stuffed pig instead. This dish was a perfect combination of textures and flavors, as you get crispy pork skin along with the soft, richly flavored rice dotted with shreds of slow cooked pork. My lechona lunch certainly beat any other shopping centre food court meal I’d eaten before!
But what’s this? Something that isn’t meat? Sometimes Cali’s hot, sticky summer days call for something this isn’t a fried dead animal and that is when the very famous cholado fits the bill perfectly. There are various versions and recipes for this typical caleño sweet treat, but, in essence, it features shaved ice, fruit syrup, fresh fruit and a wafer. From there, the sky (or plastic cup’s capacity) is the limit. Popular additions include ice cream, chocolate shavings, sweets, dried coconut – your options are endless.
Leaving Cali for the third time, I was more enamored with the city than ever before (although perhaps feeling ready to eat some vegetables). However, this is something that can wait until my return to the UK, as in a last minute decision I booked myself a flight to my old home of Buenos Aires! Bring on plenty of steak and red wine, along with all the other cuisines Argentina’s capital has to offer.