Street food is incredibly popular in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Cartagena (and probably others that I haven’t visited…) but it can be rather intimidating to try as a visitor, especially if you don’t speak Spanish (like me!). A good way to try the street food without feeling intimidated is to sign up for a food tour. Side note – I love food tours and take them anywhere and everywhere. I find food tours particular useful in places where you do not speak the language and/or you are uncertain about the cleanliness of some of the food – Cartagena in my case!
I signed up for Cartagena Connection’s Street Food Tour last month to avoid the language barrier and belie my sanitary concerns. The tour cost $30 a person, lasted 2 hours and, rather than visiting local sit-down restaurants, went from street food stand to street food stand without reservation. This was a pretty awesome way to see a local side of Cartagena (which can be difficult to accomplish) and to taste some delicious Cartagenian food! The tour also included some interesting history that you do not necessarily get from the guide books.
Our tour started in the late afternoon when our guide, Kristy, met us in the Plaza Fernandez Madrid in El Centro (old town Cartagena). She gave a brief introduction and then headed to our first stop – fried plantain chips. Basically plantain smashed into a chip/cake and fried into a disc the size of an English muffin. Very common in Cartagena, but this was the first time that I had it from a street cart. I like this dish and I was super excited that we stopped at this street cart, as I noticed it on days before. Everyone got about half a disk. This was a good way to ease into the street food.
Our second stop was just around the corner at another street cart. This gentleman was slicing a green melon super fast and then shaking the sliced melon in a ziplock bag with lime, salt and pepper. Sounds odd, but it was quite the tasty and healthy snack. Everyone got to taste a few pieces of melon.
Our third stop was just another block away: two types of arepas! Arepas are corn cakes typically stuffed with cheese, and sometimes other goodness. Arepas are found everywhere in Colombia and each region, if not every little town, has its own special type. We sampled two types of arepas here – a sweet one and a savory one (1/2 of each). My favorite was the sweet one, but the group was split on which tasted better. This was our guide’s favorite arepa stand, so we knew we were in good (and sanitary) hands.
After the dueling arepas, we left El Centro and walked into the Getsemani, which is the neighborhood bordering El Centro. The Getsemani looks a lot like El Centro, but without all the tourists. We stopped at a local bodega for water and beer (not included). Here are some pictures from the beautiful Getsemani:
After the beverage break, we stopped for yet another arepa, this one stuffed with meat and egg! Everyone got another 1/2 of arepa here, and this was a lot of arepas in a row… However, this type is typical of Cartagena, so it was a necessary stop. My favorite thing about this particular arepa stand was the little “bar” of sauces just on the side of the cart. I tried spicy green salsa, red salsa and a chipotle ranch type sauce. All amazing.
Our fifth stop was just one store over for chicharrones, AKA fried pork. My second favorite stop of the trip. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the food. It did not last long. It was paired with some type of delicious spicy sauce, but you could get it without the sauce. Everyone seemed to love this stop.
After the chicharrones, walked for a bit and our guide offered to stop for coffee from one of the street vendors. It was too hot for me to have coffee, but it was a good opportunity to try it!
After a brief walk and some more interesting history, we stopped at my very favorite street cart – the below cheese/cheeto type things. I am not sure what these treats are called or what they are actually made of, but there is cheese involved and they tasted a lot like cheetos, but in a healthier and less unnatural way. Really, really, reallllly delicious!
After the cheese snacks, we wandered through a fruit stand area and tried uchuva – the small, yellow cherry tomato looking fruit below. It actually tastes nothing like a tomato and is sweet. One of my favorite Colombian fruits!
After the fruit, we started on our dessert course. Seventh stop: another popular Colombian treat, sliced Colombian cheese and a slice of guava paste eaten together. An odd combination yes, but also quite tasty. I had this “treat” several times throughout Colombia. It is super popular! Although it was not my favorite Colombian food (the cheese is bland and the guava paste is too sweet for my tastes), you have to try this in Colombia! The vendor sliced the cheese and guava paste right in front of us.
Our final stop was a homemade ice pop from a lady’s home in the Getsemani. Seriously. Our guide (seen below) went up to this lady’s window and asked what homemade ice pops were available. She had three that day. I tried the coconut. It was served in saran wrap and was definitely home made. So crazy. Hopefully sanitary. Quite refreshing.
The tour ended in a small park in the Getsemani shortly after we got our ice pops. Kristy collected money for the tour and gave instructions on how to get back home. Keep in mind that if you are taking the tour alone, you will have to walk back about 15 minutes to El Centro by yourself (assuming that’s where you are staying). I found it to be a safe walk in daylight with lots of people out (and we saw a SLOTH), but “super nervous” travelers may be put off by this.
This tour was really fun and very different from other food tours that I have done. In the theme of street food, this tour was super casual and a lot of the food was passed around, rather than providing each person with their own plate, and nothing took place in an actual restaurant. I did not mind, and thought that it added to the ambiance of the tour, but those with germ issues may want to skip the tour. Also, the tour lasts about two hours and you are walking pretty much the entire time. Keep that in mind if you, or someone in your party, has mobility issues.
STEAL OUR TOUR
Cartagena Connection’s Street Food Tour: $30 per person, includes all food samples but not beverages. Everyday at 2:30 except Sunday and public holidays. Book by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Payment in cash only. Meets in El Centro at Parque Fernandez Madrid and ends in Getsemati. Lasts about 2 hours – all walking on flat ground. If you sign up for this tour, I recommend having an early breakfast and scheduling a late dinner.