Epicurious – Heading to Cartagena de Indias? Lucky you! Here are 12 foods and drinks to try in Colombia’s stylish and sultry city by the sea.
Ceviche at La Cevicheria. We’re joining the legions of folks (most famously, Anthony Bourdain) who have championed this bright and welcoming restaurant specializing in the freshest, tangiest lobster, shrimp, and fish ceviche you may ever have. Our red snapper came in a sublime bath of lemon, lime, and mandarin orange; the coconut milk/lime version was just as addictive (see both above). Use your saltines to soak up that citrusy goodness.
Limonada de coco. Don’t leave the city without trying this Cartagena specialty, a frothy, icy blend of coconut water, lime juice, and sugar, the perfect refresher after a day of sightseeing. You can find the sweet-tangy concoction all over, but we like the versions in El Centro’s wonderful Mila Cafe and La Mulata, a pleasant, highly affordable cafe (and a great place to try typical Colombian fare) in the San Diego neighborhood.
Fresh tropical fruit. We’re only slightly exaggerating when we say you can spend all your time in Cartagena sampling the mind-blowing selection of sweet, sour, acidic, and just plain fascinating found-only-in-Colombia fruits. Try as much fruit as you can, whether it be a salad from one of the brightly dressed Palenqueras setting up shop in the shady Plaza de la Inquisicion; a street-vendor-sold fruit like uchuva or anon, with its pineconey exterior and sweet and custardy interior; or a morning juice of nispero or maracuya (passion fruit).
Arepa con huevo. Arepas–cornmeal cakes–are a Colombia staple, and they can be found just about everywhere in Cartagena. We love the street-vendor-sold arepas con queso, grilled and oozing with cheese, but the real treats are arepas con huevo, deep-fried (deep-fried!) arepas stuffed with egg, and sometimes beef, too. You’ll find them sold from street carts all over the cobblestone streets of Old Town, but we like Mila’s version, too (pictured above).
Cocktails at Cafe del Mar. You may be surrounded by tourists at this open-air cafe atop the historic city walls, but you won’t care, as the sea breeze and sunsets are near perfect, and your mojito tastes that good.
Gelato at Gelateria Paradiso. This charming, well-located parlor serves up heavenly scoops of all-natural Italian-style gelato in such zesty fruit flavors as lulo, zapote, and maracuya, but the chocolate is so intensely chocolaty good, we’d recommend a two- or three-scoop combo.
Paletas at La Paletteria. Step into this cool little nook by Plaza Santo Domingo in the old town and just try to resist the colorful, eye-popping display (pictured above) of water- or cream-based paletas. Flavors range from pistachio and nutella to arequipe (dulce de leche) and maracuya.
Mojitos at Cafe Havana or Quiebro-Canto. Cartagena comes alive after dark, and the lively street music scene is one of the things we love most about this irresistible South American city. That said, a night at one of these two excellent live-music spots is essential. With its overhead fans, black and white photos of Cuban music legends, and hot salsa beats, Getsemani’s Cafe Havana feels like a step back in time to Old Havana. Tiny Quiebro-Canto, overlooking the clock tower on the edge of Getsemani, is super-hot, super-crowded, and super-fun.
Mote de queso. With cheese, yam, garlic, onion, and lime juice, this traditional costeno (from the Colombian Caribbean coast) soup couldn’t be simpler–or more soul-satisfying. We recommend the version at La Mulata restaurant, but locals have raved to us about the mote de queso at Donde Socorro.
Fried fish with arroz de coco (coconut rice). There’s no better way to enjoy this typical costeno meal than beneath a swaying palm tree, by crystalline water, on one of the Islas del Rosario–accompanied by a Club Colombia beer, or fresh fruit juice, of course. Book a day trip through the Hotel San Pedro de Majagua.
A splash-out meal at a swanky hotel. Thanks to a steady stream of well-heeled food- and design-loving visitors, Cartagena’s boutique hotel scene is flourishing. We love the excellent Italian fare–not to mention the glass-encased waterfalls–at Vera at the Tcherassi Hotel.
Treats from the Portal de los Dulces. Visit the Plaza de los Coches and amble through the Portal de los Dulces, where jars (pictured above) full of tooth-tinglingly sweet coconut, tamarind, and other sugar-dunked delights await.
Have a great trip!