Restaurants in Cartagena: Gastronomy and Typical Cuisine
The true essence of Cartagena's traditional cuisine resides in the word "combination". This gastronomic fusion started long ago with a blend of races that began between the indigenous people known as the Calamari, and the European lineage descended from Spanish conquistadors. Groups of African slaves, brought over by the conquistadors to work in their new territories in the Americas, also became part of the mixture, creating Cartagena's predominant Creole population. Through the years, each race added its own rituals and customs to the local culture, including food preparation methods.
There was also a fusion of ingredients and methods when innovative spices, vegetables and recipes were brought to Cartagena from Spain. Those new elements, mixed with the local traditions and components, produced delicious Creole cuisine: the authentic culinary conception of this Colombian coastal region. Seafood and tropical fruits, like coconuts and bananas, were the common ingredients used by the local indigenous people to prepare their traditional dishes. Potatoes, cassava and similar tuberous roots were also used in this land centuries before the Spanish conquerors came to the Americas. Nowadays, those traditional ingredients and recipes are still used in restaurants in Cartagena, where you can savor authentic "Cartagenera" cuisine.
Traditional food in Cartagena
Typical dishes of the Caribbean coast of Colombia are offered at many Cartagena restaurants. Those delicacies include "arepas con huevo", "carimanolas", "butifarras" (starters, similar to sausages), "sopa de mondongo" and rice with coconut or seafood, along with hearty "enyucados" or "sancochos" (stews prepared with vegetables, potatoes or other tuber roots and different kinds of meat), and seafood soup made with melted cheese to thicken and season the already delicious broth.
For a better comprehension of what's contained in these tasty specialties, here's a quick explanation. "Arepas con huevo" are thick, fried tortillas made with corn flour. Before the arepas are cooked completely through, a hole is made and raw egg yolk is placed inside. They are then put back into the frying pan, and both the corn dough and the egg get cooked to perfection, making a delicious treat for breakfast. "Butifarras" and "carimanolas" are the perfect starters for lunch. The butifarras are cut and served as entrees, and carimanolas are fried wrappings made of cassava, filled with small portions of ground beef and cheese.
Coconut is undoubtedly a key element in Cartagenera cuisine. It's commonly used to sweeten and enhance the taste of other traditional ingredients in dishes such as fish with coconut and rice with coconut, both delicious combinations of salty and sweet flavors. Enyucados, sancochos, sopa de mondongo and seafood soup are tasty broths that include a mix of vegetables, sometimes tropical fruits, and different kinds of meat (such as pork, chicken, beef or fish). These hearty stews are enough to satisfy even the largest appetite.
Juicy tropical fruits, traditionally used in Cartagena, have a very important place in local culinary traditions. They sometimes work as an ingredient for many heated dishes, but they are more commonly used to make delicious refreshments, such as ice pops, ice-cold fruit shakes or natural ice cones. On the other hand, fruit salads and "palenqueras" are an old tradition in Cartagena. The picturesque palenqueras are Creole ladies dressed in bright, colorful fabrics. They walk along the streets and beaches offering fresh salads made of the fruits found year-round in Cartagena, such as mango, watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, banana and "lulo", a small fruit with a unique tangy flavor. They usually season the salads with lime juice and a bit of salt or chili powder, made to order.
Restaurants in Cartagena
Cartagena offers visitors a huge array of restaurant options. It includes everything from traditional hotel restaurants, always ready to serve international food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to elegant restaurants specializing in the world's most contemporary cuisines. The best recommendation here in Cartagena (something you can't miss during your next trip to this wonderful Caribbean city) is the authentic local cuisine. Guided by the phrase "when in Rome, do as Romans do", it's common sense to try the traditional local specialties when in Cartagena. Otherwise, you cannot say that you've truly experienced this extraordinary Colombian destination.
How can you recognize the best places to eat in Cartagena? It's easy. Walk along its modern hotel zone or inside the old walled city and search for restaurants filled with clientele. Follow your instincts and choose the places whose aroma makes you want to stop whatever you're doing just to grab a seat at one of the tables. Another tip: look for the eateries whose friendly staff welcomes you with a kind smile or joke. Following these clues, you'll undoubtedly find the best places to eat in Cartagena.
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