Colombian Style Arepas in Medellin- by Creon
Whenever I travel I like to choose the cheapest route to get to a destination, and the most affordable accommodations as well. I save money by booking flights that might have a layover or two, and opt for apartment rentals when I can. Traveling this way definitely stretches your budget for activities, but sometimes increases your odds of getting a sketchy place to sleep and keep your bag. C’est la vie! 90% of the time I’ll end up with a place that is comfortable, clean, and well maintained. Traveling bohemian style puts you closer to the real city and not just the touristy parts.
One of the best ways to get to know a country, is its people and their food culture is by going to a grocery store, supermarket, or farmers market when you travel. For me a trip to a trendy new grocery in my own town can be exciting, so in foreign city a market is like an amusement park. When I go to a market while on vacation I go in the middle of the day, most often on a weekday. Half of my time is spent being pleasantly surprised at the food similarities, “Oh, they have Hellmann’s mayo, but it’s in a squeeze tube,” and the other half of my time is seeing the unique foodstuffs for the region. It’s easy to put together an amazing lunch picnic with your grocery store finds, and it’s easy to cook an authentic meal when you are using the same ingredients as the locals do.
A few months ago, I found myself traveling through Colombia after my friend’s amazing wedding in the beautiful city of Cartagena. I had stayed in a more budget-friendly accommodation for the wedding, so when I decided to go to Medellin I decided to splurge on a $40 a night apartment high in the hills. The share-economy gods were shining down on me on that trip and I got the most baller apartment I have ever had! I rented a deluxe condo in Medellin Colombia with all loads of amenities for the same price of a motel in the states!
My temporary condo had features much better than the share-houses that I had become accustomed to over the last few years. The door man, rooftop pool, gym, and sixty-inch flat screens all paled in comparison to the kitchen in this place. The “chef’s kitchen” begged to be used! I saw the kitchen and completely changed my game plan for attacking the city. I would relax in the am, make a leisure brunch, sit by the pool for a bit, and then explore the city from the afternoon until it was time for a late dinner and drinks.
While wandering the streets one afternoon I found a jumble of food carts in one area. Most of the food carts were the kind operated from the back of a motor bike, so I knew I had hit the jackpot! There was plenty of street food to be had, but the things I remember the most were the arepas de choclo. They were captivating! Some foods are so amazing that after you have tried them for the first time they completely rewire your brain. The best way to describe these street treats are that they were sweet corn griddle cakes, warmed lightly, buttered and served with 2 thick sliced of queso fresco. They were sweet, salty, cheesy, and just amazing.
As a chef, as soon as I ate them I started to think about how I could incorporate this style of arepa into my repertoire. There were thicker and more tender than any I had ever had, and I knew I had to be on the lookout for more of them! Actually, when I was leaving the plaza where I had discovered my new favorite Colombian food I tried looking for the same vendor, but he had moved on leaving me wanting more! I went to the grocery store by the condo and got way more groceries than I should have, but I had a taste of the local fare and needed to try to recreate it. I ended up finding a packaged version of the arepas that were stuffed with cheese. Getting my local bounty home, I realized two things: I had too many ingredients, and and and! No salt!!
The next morning, I ended up going to the Burger King down the street for a small fry and 15 of those little packs of salt and pepper to season the food. Ha, it was kind of funny, but now I travel with the small salt and pepper packets all of the time. The meal I ended up making was fairly simple like what a group of Colombian friends might cook for brunch. My cheesy arapas, a local hot sauce and sunny eggs were a perfect combination, and an easy way for me to get to know the products of the country. I left my hillside palace in Medellin full of memories and ideas; glad that I had gotten to delve in to the food of Colombia in a meaningful way.