Excited to try as much as possible and to practice our Spanish, we headed out on our own little ‘do it yourself street food tour’ in Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena’s unique location on the Caribbean coast means it has a fascinating selection of street food on offer. With inspiration from the ocean, jungle and mountains and the country’s rich cultural history, the food we found was rich and varied.
We tried all ten items pictured for just under £6 for the two of us and really enjoyed getting to know this fascinating place through its street food.
Vendors blend cornmeal and fresh corn kernels with milk, salt and sugar to make a batter for these thick pancakes. They then sandwich them together with cheese, butter and sometimes meat and griddle them up in front of you. You can find sweet arepas sometimes too and savoury ones with an egg cracked inside, but the cheese ones are the most common.
We really liked these, they were super-cheap (about 30p a go), very filling and gooey in the middle. If we hadn’t read up on them, we would have thought they were made from mashed potato and every Brit we know likes mash with cheese in it!
Fritanga – ‘Fried Food’
They love their fried street food in Colombia, so there were plenty of options for us to try some Fritanga. From Papas Rellenas – deep fried potato and meatballs – to empanadas and other treats. We went for the pictured snack as we had no idea what it was and were feeling adventurous. It turned out to be a donut style bread, filled with – surprise – cheese! We enjoyed it, although a few bites were enough, especially after the arepas.
You’re never short on fresh fruit in Cartagena. There are people selling it every couple of metres! From freshly sliced fruit salads from Las Palenqueras ladies, to the vendors selling pineapples and strawberries to residents through their living room windows. One to look out for is Mango Biche – unripe mango tenderised and flavoured with lime juice and salt and sliced up ready for you to snack on.
Not exactly ‘fresh’ fruit but you should also watch out for Bocadillo Con Queso – slices of guava paste served with slices of cheese – an acquired taste!
These deep fried plantains (yes, more fried food!) were not our favourite thing to try. They were greasy and quite flavourless, but we wonder whether we were unlucky enough to pick some from a poor batch. Served with almost every traditional Colombian dish in Cartagena and also on their own as a street food snack – they’re definitely worth a try.
Natural juices are very popular in Cartagena, from the traditional limonade served by young guys with their huge vat of icy goodness, to the more sophisticated street vendor set ups with blenders and every type of fruit and flavour available. We personally think you can’t beat the limonade though…
Many of the juice vendors have been enterprising enough to add spirits to their set of tools for when the sun goes down and people fancy a boozy alternative.
Colombians love their coffee – they produce 11.5 million bags of the stuff a year making them the third biggest coffee selling country in the world. If you’re a fan, you’re never more than a couple of feet away from someone willing to sell you an espresso in a small plastic shot glass or a short black for the equivalent of about 20p.
Colombians have a sweet tooth as well as a love of fried food – it must be all the salsa that keeps them so slim and healthy! We tried three options from one of the friendly ladies peeking over her mounds of jars full of sweet treats. First up was a piece of fudge, strangely shaped like a baby! It was really sweet and creamy and one between us was more than enough. Definitely our favourite of the three.
Next up we had a fruity coconut patty, chosen from one of many brightly coloured options. Again very sweet and pretty tasty. Third we had a liquorice flavoured chewy toffee-like stick. Our least favourite but it was nice to have something with an unusual flavour to it that we weren’t expecting.
You’d probably call these snowcones if you’re American or an overly frozen slush puppie if you’re a Brit! Either way, this was a very welcome treat in the Cartagena heat. A man shaves ice from a large block and covers it with the syrup of your choice. Condensed milk can also be added to make it creamier, but we were happy with the refreshing icy treat without it.
So there you have it, ten great options if you’re looking for a do-it-yourself street food tour in Cartagena! You’ll notice we didn’t try a Cartagena speciality – fish in many forms. I’m vegetarian and Patrick isn’t keen on fish, so we weren’t particularly excited about buying any from a street food vendor – even though there are plenty of very fresh options out there. However, Patrick did try fried fish and coconut rice during a recent beach trip and was a fan.
See all our photos from our do it yourself street food tour in Cartagena below: