Colonia, Uruguay – A Perfect Little Town

Colonia has classic cars for those who like to spot.
Colonia has classic cars for those who like to spot.

The United Nations got there first. It’s a World Heritage site. But, Colonia, unlike, say Cartagena, may not seem so obviously a world heritage site. It is quiet in Colonia. Even sleepy. The contrast is great if you take the Buquebus ferry from the loud metropolis of Buenos Aires.

It's quiet here.
It’s quiet here.

When you get off the ferry (which takes about an hour), it’s a twenty minute or so walk (depending on how much luggage you are carrying) to the old center of the town of Colonia. The international passport control for leaving Argentina and entering Uruguay are both done in Buenos Aires so it’s easy to just walk off the ferry and be on your way. Likewise, when you leave Colonia, the passport control to depart Uruguay and enter Argentina is literally at the same window. The two officials stand one foot from each other. It’s a little surreal in that bureaucratic way.

Glimpses into a real life?
Glimpses into a real life?

I really liked Colonia. A lot. I liked how civil and nice everyone and everything seemed to be. I understand that many folks from Buenos Aires take a day trip to Colonia when they need a really quiet day. I stayed overnight and I’m glad I did. I wandered around enjoying the fort, watching the local’s try to catch fish, the hand made ice cream, the seafood, and all that. But, mostly I enjoyed walking down cobble stone streets. There were so many and each one had a secret wine tavern or hidden artist’s studio or some other treasure for the photographically inclined.

I found this by wandering around but I'm sure it's in Lonely Planet.
I found this by wandering around but I’m sure it’s in Lonely Planet.

An example of how unusual (to me) Colonia felt to me was what happened when I tried to cross the street. I was on my way to find the post office and I was following verbal directions so I stopped at an intersection. I got distracted by a kiosk in a park. Then I noticed something very odd. The few soft sounds of traffic had died down. I looked around at the intersection. All, wait, ALL, the cars and bikes had stopped. Waiting for me, the pedestrian, to make my move. Wow. I was flabbergasted. I did cross the street so that I didn’t cause a rush hour.

Okay, maybe you did buy that car new...
Okay, maybe you did buy that car new…

Another reason to visit Colonia is for the restaurant down by the sea wall where the waves lap up like silver applause (I’ll have to blog about it another time once I’ve dug up the card).

The river like a sea of silver.
The river like a sea of silver.

Next time I’ll rent a golf cart so I can explore more of the city. And feel the wind in my hair.

Looks fun!
Looks fun!

Plus, I want to stay at the lemon grower’s bed and breakfast. Also, I need to go back to that restaurant. AHA! I remember now. It was called Charco. I had one of the saddest eating experiences there. But more about that some other time.

Artsy house sign.
Artsy house sign.

A Funny Feeling In the Pit Of Your Stomach – The Pitaya Fruit

The pitaya or yellow dragon fruit.
The pitaya or yellow dragon fruit.

My goal of trying 100 new fruits in Colombia has lead to some funny experiences.

The pitaya is extremely good for you, by most accounts. Some think it should be sold as a diet fruit. If I were to market it in the U.S., I would call it the “Golden Dragon Fruit” because that’s essentially what it (it’s called the “yellow dragon fruit” which has a much less regal tone). The pitaya is a cactus fruit which when opened up looks and tastes like the better known pink skinned dragon fruit (I have yet to see a pink dragon fruit here in Colombia — just like I have yet to see a lemon).

I was looking up about the pitaya on Wikipedia and learned not only how healthy it is (same amount of potassium as a banana) but also about the other names for the pitaya. Of the various names, I liked “Queen of the Night” quite a bit. The pitaya is a native of the Americas — and did you see that pink fleshed one? I can’t wait to try that one.

The easiest way to eat the pitaya is to slice it in two, take a spoon, scoop it out, and eat. Delicious. It’s a mild sweet juicy flavor. The seeds in the white flesh can be eaten as well. The yellow skin cannot be eat (as far as I know). Some people put this in juice or a smoothie but I think it’s easiest eaten out of the half-skin. The pitaya are pricey as far as fruit goes, as I bought a whole bunch at Paloquemao and as they cost 4,000 pesos per pound — that makes it about 85 cents per fruit.

Very few fruits make me giggle. But the pitaya does, solely because of its digestive effects. It is like the Vitamix or blender of the fruit world. After having eaten these for several days in a row, I discovered that each time I ate one, I got a funny feeling in the pit of my tummy. Gurgling. A rumble in the jungle. It was comical… Unlike most fruits, the pitaya requires some forethought: know where you will be 110 minutes after consumption!

Eating Street Food in Bogota

Bunuelo, a cheese ball bread.
Bunuelo, a cheese ball bread.

Don’t be afraid. Go for the goods. Bogota’s street food is very easy to try. There’s is everything from fresh juice, fruit salad, bunuelos, empanadas, arepas, hotdogs, sandwiches, coconut, and even breakfast carts where they will fry up an egg and put it in a sliced arepa, sandwich style. Because the tap water in Bogota is drinkable, the street carts are also fairly clean.

Spiralized mango dressed with lime, salt, and pepper.
Spiralized mango dressed with lime, salt, and pepper.

I enjoy the luxury of being able to find, on almost any street corner, a fresh pressed glass of orange juice, or carrot and orange juice, or mandarin juice, or sliced pineapple, or a watermelon slice, or a deep fried yucca dumpling.

A classic sight here in Bogota. In the foreground is a fruit mix with papaya.
A classic sight here in Bogota. In the foreground is a fruit mix with papaya. This lady’s juice was good because she removed the pips.

During Ciclovia, there are lots of stalls offering all kinds of food, though most of it is fruit.

I think they were going to grill chitlins and sausage.
I think they were going to grill chitlins and sausage.

Koller – My Butcher in Bogota

The Koller butchery in Bogota.
The Koller butchery in Bogota.

As an expat, it can take a while to venture out and find all the “bare necessities” like bacon. My go-to place for meat is a butcher shop called “Koller” and it’s located near the corner of Carrera 15 and Calle 95 (not sure what the exact address is but it’s easier to remember 15 and 95). The building’s facade is blue so it’s easy to find once you know where it is. Also, usually there’s a avocado cart outside, but this doesn’t distinguish it from other street corners.

I use Koller's beef when I serve bulgogi at home.
I use Koller’s beef when I make bulgogi although the meat doesn’t really need marinating.

When you go inside, it’s so sort of like shopping in Ye Olde Europe. Shopping is a three stage process. There are chairs in the center of the shop for those who are not actively shopping. Right inside the door is a red number dispenser (just like in Europe) and once your number is called or is visible on the flashing sign, you go round the butcher shop’s meat counters from right to left. First is the counter with cuts of beef. Then, as you move to your left, with the butcher lady mirroring your move on the other side of the counter, you reach the pork, deli meats, sausages, hotdogs, bacon, pates, and so on. All the meats are prepared by Koller and other grocery stores and restaurants advertise that they carry Koller brand hotdogs or ham. The butcher lady puts all your meat in a plastic basin. When you move to the sandwich stand and checkout, another person will ring you up. Then you take the chit from that person over to the cashier which completes the circle around the room. Once you’ve paid (you can pay by credit card), you go back to the checkout and get your (now) bagged meat. The security guard offered to help carry my bag to my car.

I find the prices at Koller to be slightly less than in the U.S. as I’ve bought three pound filet for about $30. The shop is very clean and the only part that is a big strange is that you can’t buy just a part of the tenderloin. All or nothing. They do have pre-cut pieces so I guess one could buy those. I just buy the whole thing and cut them myself. The bacon is almost without fat so it cooks up really fast. It’s more like Danish bacon or pancetta.

This is where I get my chiles.

Best Burger in Bogota

14,000 pesos for a huge meal!
14,000 pesos for this meal (here with Belgian fries) at Street Gourmet.

Hamburgers are a popular food here in Bogota. There are so many hamburger restaurants here that I can’t keep there names apart. But, when I want a burger, these are the places that I’d recommend Xarcuteria, located down the street from McDonalds in Parque 93. This place grinds their own meat, makes their own sausages, and they make good burgers. Some people find the experience unpleasant because they perceive that the waitstaff aren’t nice to non-Spanish speakers. I don’t really care. But, recently I’ve found that the mushrooms (on my burger) have something funky going on that is not so much to my taste. A burger with fries (not included) costs about US $23.

Vegetarian with meat.
Street Gourmet’s vegetarian with meat.

Agadon, Carrera 13 # 85-75 across from the Sofitel, was the place recommended to me. Lots of people like these hamburgers. I don’t but that doesn’t mean that others won’t.

The food cart and tables.
The food cart and tables.

Street Gourmet, a food cart on Parque Virrey and 19A (technically that corner of Parque Virrey is Calle 88 but just walk down the park). This is my new favorite burger joint. The chef is Belgian as are the fries (or Dutch depending on their provider). They also grind their own beef. With two tables and picnic blankets to borrow (where they will deliver your burger to you), the couple who run this place are smiley and charming. A huge burger (the buns are from a specialty baker), equally huge portion of “frites” and a small soda costs only 14,000 pesos (that’s under $7). The burger patty is a flatter style to fit the bun. Street Gourmet makes their own spicy sauce (and I insisted on mayonnaise for my Belgian fries), and a subtle garlic sauce. Yes, they also have vegetarian burgers (and they will even make a vegetarian burger with meat for you if you ask for it). The down side to this burger cart is that they are only open during lunch on the weekends. But, it’s a good reward for walking Ciclovia?

The short menu at Street Gourmet.
The short menu at Street Gourmet.

And then there is El Corral which is the Colombian answer to McDonalds. Carl’s Jr. is also opening up in Parque 93 so now I’m wondering if In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys will also enter the Colombian market?

Street Gourmet have picnic blankets for use in the park.
Street Gourmet have picnic blankets for use in the park.