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.

100 Restaurants in Bogota

A margarita in a margarita.
A margarita in a margarita.

100 restaurants in Bogota. No, I have not been to 100 restaurants in Bogota (like I did in Dhaka)… yet. I might get there accidentally. In Bogota, an emerging foodie city, there are thousands of restaurants. Here are my reviews of the ones I’ve tried to so far (though this list is not of 100, it made for a catchy title)… Strange to think that just a few weeks ago, I wondered what types of food I would not be able to get in Bogota). As usual, I have used my own rating system for this collection of bakeries, food stalls, restaurants, pubs, and other eateries. Abasto, Carrera 6 # 119B-52, Usaquen (11/13): Good and friendly service. The staff are as diverse as the goods offered. They offer food, fresh vegetables, fresh bread, cheese, candy, honey, jams, and so on. The crumble a la mode is delicious. Their bread is the best I’ve had in Bogota. It’s yeasty and actually smells like bread. Plus, I bought a roll of goat cheese (at a hefty $20) which was moldy and rolled in black ash. It was yummy and actually tasted like goat cheese.

Abasto's crumble with home made ice cream.
Abasto’s crumble with home made ice cream.

Afternoon Tea, Carrera 15 No. 94-51 (12/13): Super friendly staff. Delicious, pillowy clouds of wheat, baked goods and bubble tea. It’s got an elegant interior (hip in the way that Bogota seems to like) and it is conducive to staying a while with friends. Afternoon Tea opened July 13, 2014 and I think they will become a hugely successful chain. Agadon, Carrera 13, No. 85-75, good for “American” dishes (12/13): Good fried winglets (called “alitas fritas” on the menu) appetizer. These are less breaded than the “fried chicken wings on waffle” which is a main course. The “alitas” cost about 13,500 pesos (about $7 U.S. bucks) and the “fried chicken wings” cost around 20,255 pesos (about $10). They also are known for their burgers. The baby back ribs fell off the bone and were pretty good. But, what was different here was, first, that bottles of Sriracha were on every table, and second, their pork belly buns. These “bun pork belly” are served in very authentic pillowy buns with pork belly slices that are fatty and livery. Supposed they are served with kimchi inside but it was more like a salad. Two buns per serving cost 20,255 ($10). This restaurant is one of the better restaurants around. Good for a date night and good for friends. I’ll be back in daylight with my camera! Antigua Santafe Sabor de Antano, Calle 11, No. 6-20, Candelaria (11/13): It claims to have the best ajiaco soup in the world. Located in Candelaria, this place could be much more touristy than it is. The juice (with milk!) was sweet and I’d never had that kind of fruit before so it is another one to add to my list of new fruits. The soup was filling and good. The use of “guasca” a local herb, adds a unique thickening agent and flavor to the soup. Adding my own avocado and rice just makes it even nicer. Burger Market, Calle 93, No. 13B-56, near Parque 93 (9/13): They grow some of their own vegetables. The burgers are acceptable. Tomato soup is made from their own tomatoes. El Oasis, Calle 47 with Carrera 15: (10/13) It’s a few open doors and counters like a mega-stall. “Best” empanadas in town. The picante “aji” sauce is really hot (on the Scoville scale). Who told me that things weren’t spicy in Bogota?

Bok choy at Gran China.
Bok choy at Gran China.

Gran China, Calle 77A # 11-70 (12/13): This place is owned by Taiwanese people and Chinese people eat here. It’s elegant in the old school Chinese restaurant way. Calle 77A is a sort of open plaza but the restaurant is tucked away and their sign is not visible from Carrera 11 so you have to wander down the street on blind faith, although I followed my nose. If you are Chinese and you know how to ask for spicy, you might actually get spicy here! They don’t seem to have a website but you can order delivery via domicilio.

Dumplings from Gran China. They tasted authentic.
Dumplings from Gran China. They tasted authentic.

Mercado, Parque 93, Calle 93 (8/13): They have salads, meat on a stick, ceviche, etc. Nothing special but okay. Portions are not huge. It is child-friendly.

At Mercado, you choose the juice that is mixed in your ceviche.
At Mercado, I chose lulo juice for my shrimp ceviche and mandarin juice for my drink.

Miro, Avenida La Esperanza, Carrera 43A, paella (5/13): It advertises “La paella desde 1963” which of course makes you wonder if the paella is from 1963. The best thing was the shrimp bisque. Museo de Tequila, Carrera 13A #86A-18 (Zona Rosa), Mexican food (6/13): It’s a sensory overload of Mexican kitsch. The “margarita tradicional” is served with a flower in it (a daisy which is a “margarita”) so it’s pretty and strong. While I liked their iPad visual menu, the service was too argumentative for my liking. The chips and salsa were small portions and getting more than ten nachos was a whole extra serving, at cost. The servings were unreliable. I didn’t like the weird miniscule quesadillas (the four quarters were about the size of two iPhones) but the burrito was a normal size portion and cost between $13-16 (I can’t recall exactly but I think it cost about the same as the margarita).

A burrito at the Museo de Tequila.
A burrito at the Museo de Tequila.

Restaurant Ramen, Calle 26C # 4 – 42 , La Macarena area, Japanese (6/13): I was hopeful once I saw the name. At least it was not obviously instant noodle (although I do like instant noodle — just not at a fancy ramen restaurant). The restaurant served deep fried fake crab pieces as a free appetizer. This seemed like a good sign. But, the ramen, tonkatsu, sushi roll, and salad were not Asian but the Colombian diner found it good. I could not finish my soup because the flavor was too bland while paradoxically, the egg was too salty.

The banh mi sandwich at Sr. Ostia's.
The banh mi sandwich at Sr. Ostia’s.

Los Sanduches de Sr. Ostia, Calle 79A, #8-82, Andino mall and other locations, sandwiches (11/13): This place is famous for having the most “authentic” banh mi sandwich in Bogota. The banh mi is a good pork sandwich but it is not a banh mi. It lacks the pickle in the vegetables and there is no sriracha. It also has a green cream sauce which is definitely not Vietnamese. Next time, I may buy it and doctor it to make authentic. The bread roll was good and airy. Sushino, Avenida La Esperanza 44A-63, sushi/Japanese (3/13): The best thing was the lemonade. I tried the “Hong Kong” ceviche, the California roll (which were shaped like tear drops), and the “Eye of the Tiger” roll which involved several types of raw fish. It was all slightly off and dirty. The upstairs has two dining rooms of which the one is supposed to give the feel of a small bamboo forest patio but instead feels a bit like a zoo cage. The Ugly American Bar and Grill, Calle 81 #9-12, American food (7/13): Another swank bar cum restaurant. It’s in a basement so dark that reading the menu was done by light of an iPhone… but, everyone looks even paler and thinner in the darkness. The menu is fairly basic with some classic “gringo” foods. They didn’t have several of the items on the menu but my fish of the day was a white flaky filet. The Brussels sprouts had too much honey on them but were still very firm (I had to spoon them as I couldn’t get a fork into them and I didn’t want to launch them at my table mates in the dark). They didn’t have cheese cake or red velvet muffins… and the large slice of chocolate cake was so bland and boring that it was left on the plate! The best dessert they have is the “popcorn mousse” dessert. It was caramel corn in a jam jar filled with marshmallow fluff, some chocolate sauce which detracted from the dish, and topped with a caramel candy wedge. Wok, Parque 93 and other locations, pan-Asian food (9/13): Their menu is the size of a magazine and includes everything from ramen, curries, maki rolls and sashimi, pad thai, larb salads, and so on. They also offer various juices and grown-up drinks. I had to try the “inca roll” which consisted of a deep fried fish finger inside a rather bland roll. The outdoor seating is heated so that it’s not unbearably cold to dine outside. The interior is all blond wood and glass. They take credit cards and the toilet is clean. The clientele are the usual “boot-wearing, jean-wearing, involved with our own hipness” selves of Parque 93. There are still some restaurants out there that I’ve heard about… I’ll get there.

Trying the National Dishes of Colombia? Ajiaco, Sancocho, Empanadas, and Arepas

Ajiaco, soup with chicken breast, guasco, rice, corn, and avocado.
Ajiaco, soup with chicken breast, guasco, rice, corn, and avocado.

Every place has it’s national dishes. Here in Colombia, if you ask, they’ll probably mention the two most famous soups: sancocho and ajiaco. Or the empanadas and arepas.

I really like ajiaco because it’s got cream on it and you can add your own rice and avocado (like bacon, avocado makes everything better). The distinctive taste and color of ajiaco is a herb called “guasca” which is translated into English to “gallant soldier” but I’ve never heard anyone call it that. It also has medicinal uses. There are many types of corn in the world. The cob in my soup was different than in the corn in the U.S. The corn that most of the world, outside from the birthplace of corn — the central Americas, eats is the small and sweet variety. This corn was starchier and each kernel was much larger (choclo, like what I’ve had in Peruvian restaurants). The way to eat the cob in the soup is to take the handy skewer, turn the cob, and spear the skewer into the end of the corn. Then it’s easy to bite the kernels off the cob. I’ll write more about the restaurant where I had the ajiaco another time.

Freshly deep fried empanada and salsa.
Freshly deep fried empanada and salsa.

Every country has a dumpling of some sort, sometimes boiled, steamed, or fried. The other day, I had a delicious fried Bogotano empanada. The sauce was surprisingly spicy. Everyone told me that Colombians don’t like spicy food. That may be, but this salsa did not take prisoners. Wowza. Eating these empanadas from a street stall reminded me of the fuchka of Bangladesh.

Inside is rice, beef, and chicken.
Inside is rice, beef, and chicken.

As for the arepa. This one was made of white corn, griddled and brushed with butter. Inside was a center of melted cheese. I didn’t actually like this very much as it had a slightly soured yogurt-like tang to it which I didn’t find all that appealing although I love that flavor in dairy products (more about dairy another time). I’ve had arepas before which were spliced and stuffed like sandwiches but this one was more like a pupusa. Will have to try others along the way.

Arepa, straight up with melted butter.
Arepa, straight up with melted butter.

Farewell and Hasta Luego Food

Brisket with fixings, if you want.
Brisket with fixings, if you want.

In the frenzied days before my move to Colombia, each evening involves, sometimes twice, a “farewell and hasta luego” dinner. Each evening, the question is the same, “what type of food will you not be able to get in Colombia?” That’s something we’ll find out, but for now, my farewell meals have included: Vietnamese pho, banh mi, Chinese hot pot, Korean barbecue, American hamburgers, Italian pizza, British pub fish and chips, donuts, and coffee cake topped with coffee flavor ice cream.

A pork salad with 11 ingredients. It must be mixed up and made ugly.
A pork salad with 11 ingredients. It must be mixed up and made ugly.

During my time in Washington, DC, I have enjoyed exploring the eateries, and of the the new restaurants I’ve tried, I’ve most enjoyed the new “it” restaurant, Rose’s Luxury. The last time I went there, the tattooed-swears-like-a-sailor-waitress remembered me from my visit in February… and then she guided us through most of the menu, including drinks. I didn’t think all the dishes were worth it but since they change their menu on a continuous basis, there is usually something you’ll like, but it may not be on the menu the next time. Sometimes the dishes really work and the staff (with *#&&^% added for emphasis) are eager to explain how to eat the dishes to get the full alchemy of the flavors.

Fish? Chicken? Whatever topped with sandfire, a chefy vegetable.
Fish? Chicken? Whatever topped with sandfire, a chefy vegetable.

Okay, maybe this posting was just an excuse to post food photos.

The Best and the Worst Fruit in the World

The mangosteen, succulent luminescent segments inside the dull hard padded
The mangosteen, succulent luminescent segments inside the padded exterior.

In preparation for my goal in Colombia to try 100 kinds of fruit that I’ve never tasted before, I was thinking back to the best and worst fruit I’ve had so far. Surprisingly, it is not durian.

So far, the best fruit I’ve tried is the mangosteen. The mangosteen, which is commonly found in Southeast Asia, has an aubergine brownish color and carapace-like leaves on the top. Inside, the pulpy exterior is red and bleeds like the blood of berries. The edible parts are the white segments inside. A few of these segments have a large soft pit inside. The other segments have no pit so they glide down like manna. Having looked coast to coast for this fruit in the U.S., I had just about given up eating it here. But, then I went to a local “Little Vietnam” or Eden Center, in Falls Church, Virginia, and there, sitting on the sidewalk, was a lady selling mangosteens. At $16, the price for a bag for these well-traveled, dessicated, and bruised fruit was exorbitant.

The worst I’ve tried so far is the wood apple. The wood apple, which I tried in Sri Lanka, is brown, pulpy, and fibrous with the flavor of tree stump.

When I told one of my friend about my new challenge, it turned out that he had actually written a book on fruit. With the weary look of a man who has chewed his way through hundreds of bushels of fruit, he said to me, “Get a juicer. You will get tired of all that chewing.”

In Colombia, they have 150 official commercial types of fruit so my goal of 100 shouldn’t be too hard. Some of the names of the fruit I may find dance like sugar plum fairies in my head: curubas, badeas, caimones, chontaduros, guamas, mamuncillos, mairoños, grocellas, piñuelos, zapotes, and nísperos…

 

10 Iconic American Eats In Washington, D.C.

Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.

1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?

2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…

A burger from Shake Shack.
A burger from Shake Shack.

3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.

4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.

5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).

6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.

Vietnamese pho soup, fried rolls, and summer rolls.
Vietnamese pho soup, fried rolls, and summer rolls.

7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.

8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.

9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.

10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).

Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.

When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.