So after 2 weeks of a lot of rice and beans, we came to Cartagena and the food was something else! Maybe we hit better restaurants, but they were more affordable, so why not treat yourself. . . It also helped that when we arrived, our expat host in Cartagena gave us a few tips on her favourite restaurants. Considering we had already been to the city and done much of the usual sites, we might as well spend our time eating through the city, right?
Our first night, we went to La Cocina de Pepina, a small restaurant in trendy Getsemani district. Described as hearty Caribbean Colombian food, it was definitely so, so, so good!
Erwan started off with a ceviche corvina (sea bass): On top of the standard red onion, lime juice and fish, it was served with plenty of secret herbs and sweetcorn. Very refreshing, zingy, and swimming in lime – just as Erwan likes it! Jen had a mash 4 ways which included plantain mash, cassava mash, and a combination of both served with chili sauce and sour cream. Cassava is usually quite dry, but with sour cream, it added softness to the texture. It was very unique, and for a vegetarian dish, definitely a good pick.
On to main course! Jen had borgnia, which was an eggplant puree to eat with dried plantain. Sounds pretty standard, but the secret herbs and spices did the difference (even Erwan’s subtle palette couldn’t really tell what they were). In Jen’s words – awesome! It did not taste like your regular Turkish babba ganoush, but had a real Caribbean feel to it. As for Erwan, he had caldereta camarones, a seafood stew in tomato sauce onion, garlic and clove served with yam crackers. The clove was subtle enough to give a twist to the stew, but not overpowering.
Verdict: excellent recommendation for higher end local food.
Next day, we had a breakfast again in Getsemani, in Belyu, a slow food cafe.
The vibe was cute, relaxed and kinda hipster. Jen loved their menu layout, which included a page on how the ‘new individual’ sought out living instead of owning as well as a ‘coffee map’ of Colombia showing their options and describing the difference based on region.
On to the eating, Jen had huevos pericos – scrambled eggs with cheese, tomatoes and onions, which came with homemade toast. Erwan had a plate of fresh local fruits topped with granola and yoghurt. The fruits of Colombia are amazing! So fresh and so unique, such as corozo, maracuya, and mora (look them up and if you can try them!). Seriously, people should visit this country for the fruit alone. . .
Anyways, breakfast consisted of very hearty portions, so we were full for the morning. But the highlight of the meal were the drinks. Even how they described them in the menu was interesting – for instance one stated “this fruit is a poetry of sips”. Erwan had a juice of passion fruit, corozo and orange. Corozo is a typical Colombian fruit, which apparently grows on palm trees. Its taste ranges between grape and blueberry. The combination of all 3 fruits in the juice worked very well. Jen had a ‘lojito lojito’ smoothie, which consisted of corozo (again), strawberry and blackberry – so sweet and tangy!
Verdict: Great place for breakfast or just coffee.
Due to such a large breakfast we just had snacks for lunch, so onto dinner. . .
We were meeting friends for dinner (the Canadian couple who also didn’t get to go to the San Blas – see November 23rd post), so we went for easy pizza, at Di Silvio, the best pizza place in Cartagena – according to our host. The place was very trendy – a historic building done up with a contemporary interior that opens completely to the outside.
They had the standard pizza choices (margarita, hawaiian, etc), but we, of course, were going to try the original ones. Jen went for the ‘manzana’, which had blue cheese, apple and balsamic vinegar. The contrast of sharp blue cheese with the sweetness of apples, topped up with caramelised vinegar – A.MAZ.ING. Erwan had one with pancetta and prunes – once more contrast of salt and sweet, which was so, so very pleasant. Definitely two new flavours we will try to recreate at home, but not sure it will taste the same without the sea salt in the air. . .
Verdict: Great choice for unique pizzas.
The next day, we spent the time at the beach – an experience to say the least (and not all good), but we’ll write about that in another post. On the beach we took a ‘menu del dia’ option. Jen’s was uninspiring, as many menu del dias are for vegetarians – rice, salad and french fries. The rice was decent though. Erwan’s was a bit better. A scary looking grilled fish, with a mohawk and 2 layers of bones… quite hard to eat with plastic cutlery provided, so after a bit of hand sanitizer, it was easier to eat with bare hands, picking the meat around the bones. It came with rice and uninspiring tomatoes and salad.
It was not on our recommendation list, and there might be a reason. The local stray dogs enjoyed the leftovers though. . .
Away from the beach and back in the city, for dinner we went to La Mulata. When we arrived and sat down, we realised we actually ate lunch here the last time we were in Cartagena. Although it was mostly a local hangout last time, but after many raving reviews on TripAdvisor, it was now mostly packed with tourists. This has not changed their cuisine though. Their ceviche mixto, (squid, octopus and prawns) was very good. Jen went for fried rice with vegetables in coconut milk.
The highlight of La Mulata however, was their coconut limeade. Served in an empty coconut shell, both coconut and lime were perfectly balanced, neither overpowering the other and SO refreshing. Jen says it was the best limeade she’s ever had. She was in love, seriously, she’s salivating now thinking about it. Our only suggestion would be to add rum, and then it would be a drink made in heaven.
Verdict: YOU MUST DRINK THE COCONUT LIMEADE!
Onto Lunch on day 3. We went to La Laguna Azul – sold as the freshest ceviche in town and it did look like a local hangout for sure. It is just a cube in a shopping arcade with only 3 tables, and then 30 bar stools all around the restaurant. As a proper ceviche place, there was no vegetarian option, so Jen sat watching, while waiting for the verdict (she also ate the side avocado salad). Ceviche bomba was a ceviche mixto with extra chili. It was tasty, but not as good as at La Cocina de Pepina. Here, it was presented on a bed of salad, while Erwan likes his ceviche to be swimming in lime juice. Aesthetically, it was definitely nicer than your standard ceviche, but Erwan still prefers taste to aesthetics…
Verdict: Fresh, local, go for lunch.
Our last meal in Cartagena (sad face) was a brand new looking Peruvian sushi restaurant, Pezetarian. The decor was characterised by lime green features, designer white counters, and sleek LED lighting. It would not be out of place in London!
This was not recommended by our host, but had great reviews online for vegetarians – Jen was in! They specialise in ceviche and sushi, yet as a modern restaurant, visited by crazy foreigners, they have a vegetarian ceviche! Mango, cucumber, red onion, lime, chili – very thinly diced, so all cubes could soak up the lime juice. It was very interesting. Jen followed that with the green sushi roll. It was mostly avocado on the inside but covered in beets on top – it looked fantastic when served. Taste-wise, it was good, but not as unique as the veggie ceviche.
Erwan also started with a ceviche – seabass with dried sweetcorn. It was up there, probably in top 3 ceviches, but maybe after having had ceviche for every meal, it did not feel as special anymore. . .
The best part was the sushi bowl! The tuna and mango sushi bowl! Presentation was impressive again, with the diced tuna and mango resting inside a pink (yes, pink!) sushi rice ring, and a second ring of cucumber. Taste and freshness this time did not disappoint! And the sushi rice was perfectly cooked!
Verdict: Definitely go there.
So, in conclusion, if Jen liked the cats in Cartagena, for Erwan, it was definitely the food that won it. . .