The true taste of Colombia


By Verónica Poveda, Metropolitan Touring Ecudor

I never imagined how the culinary culture of Colombia would change my life, nor how much would I enjoy it while being there… and even in my own country, Ecuador!

The story of how I fell in love with it started right at the start of my trip there: dramatic combinations and presentations of dishes that everyone took notice of. And, I must say, Colombia’s attraction didn’t end with its culinary culture. Colombian’s kindness and the courtesy of the people at all times, shows the warmth and love that accompanies every meal.

So, which dishes captivated me, you may ask?

Ajiaco

The ajiaco is the dish of the highlands of Cundinamarca and Boyacá in Colombia. It is a soup made with potatoes grown on their own land. The ajiaco soup we tasted in Bogotá is prepared in different ways, usually with the same ingredients in different proportions, although you can change the chicken for beef. It contains chicken, potatoes, onions, corn cobs. You get very excited when you get the soup with its companions: boneless and frayed chicken, mixed with cream, avocado. Do not forget the arepa! I will talk about it later.

 

 

Bandeja Paisa

Well, calling it delicious is nothing to actually trying it. It can be found throughout the country. It generally consists of a portion of beans (with spoon hogao above), dry white rice, ground beef, pork, sausage, blood sausage, fried green banana, plantain slices, a fried egg, sliced ​​avocado and corn cakes, served all together in a tray. Unfortunately I could not eat it all, but would have done it “with pleasure”.

 

Lechona

I have heard of the preparation of the pig for this, but decided not to explain it. The desire of eating something so delicious might be lost. Anyway, the preparation is also very different in each area of the country, but the one we tried, at the Hacienda San José in Pereira, included special dressings that showed us why this is a dish that cannot fail to be tasted in Colombia.
 
 Patacón

 Patacones or tostones are made from green plantains peeled and cut cross-wise. Patacones are fried twice and served in restaurants all over Colombia as a side dish for fish dishes or as an appetizer with guacamole, hogao (tomato and onion sauce) or ají. I tried this giant one right after planting a Wax Palm Tree at the Cocora Valley – a unique experience, followed by a unique flavor! After planting a tree I still have to write a book and have a child!

I could still mention lots and lots of delicious dishes and drinks that you can find there…

But here’s what I think. You have not been in Colombia if you have not eaten arepas!!

The arepa is a recognized icon of Colombian cuisine. According to recent research, the arepa is part of the Colombian cultural heritage and can be considered as a national culinary symbol.

In the paisa Region, the arepa accompanies every meal of the day and a necklace of arepas is given to decorate many famous people.

I wish I were one of them!

In Colombia, the arepa can be found anywhere! Neighborhood stores, supermarkets and market places ready for grilling or frying. There are also specialized restaurants and the arepas are also getting popular as an element of the menu in other restaurants.

It is also very difficult to decide which one is better! There are different types, like the the “arepa de maíz calentao”, “arepa de huevo” and the best one: “arepa paisa”.

I have not found something tastier than the arepas! And could eat them every day for the rest of my life! In fact, I will!

If you want to know more about Colombia, ples visit Metropolitan Touring’s website.

Una ‘Taza Sin Fondo’ de Sabor – El Triángulo del Café en Colombia


Hacienda Venecia, Manizales, en el Eje Cafetero de Colombia

Su taza de café por la mañana, o el espresso al final de la cena, no volverán a ser los mismos luego de viajar al Eje Cafetero en Colombia.

Si es un aficionado al café, esta región le producirá la misma sensación que cuando tenía seis años y entraba en una ulcería.  Ese mismo sentimiento de deleite, en cada curva. Café, cafecito, tinto, cortado, machiatto, cappuccino, latte, mochaccino… Rico, negro, aromático.  ¡Una taza sin fondo de sabor!

El Triángulo del Café lo forman tres capitales departamentales – Pereira, Manizales y Armenia – entre los pliegues y ondulaciones de la cordillera del Pacífico del oeste central colombiano.  Esta parte de los Andes nunca es plana,  nunca es monótona.  No existe ninguna carretera recta.  Es como el opuesto topográfico de Holanda.  Las distancias son engañosas.  Una población que se ve cercana, quizás a 20 minutos por carro, toma realmente alrededor de dos horas en caminos sinuosos para llegar a ella.  Es una tierra arrugada, rugosa, agreste.  Los flancos de las montañas descienden desde cumbres nevadas, que se alzan hasta los 5.000 metros, como los dedos gigantes de un nigromante que quiere agarrar esta tierra para llevarla a su corazón.

En los valles más bajos, cada loma y colina, montículo y depresión del horizonte está cuidadosamente cultivado.  Un poco más alto, se han cortado los árboles para dar paso a pastizales, la hierba recién cortada de un verde casi fosforescente.  La región posee gran exuberancia, ya sea natural o hecha por el hombre.  Es ese resplandor vibrante que uno solo encuentra en el Trópico.

Juan Pablo Echeverri catando cafe

Pequena casa campestre de la Hacienda Venecia

Al lado este del Triángulo, cerca de Manizales, escondida en un hondo y empinado valle, cuyas laderas producirían vértigo a un pastor galés, está la Hacienda Venecia.  El camino de tierra que conduce a ella desde la ‘autopista del café’, curva, gira y vibra mientras se desciende 400 metros hasta una altura de 1500 metros sobre el nivel del mar, para finalmente llegar al lecho de un río y ascender un tramo para llegar a la propiedad.

Una casa blanca y simple, rodeada por árboles centenarios, plantaciones de arbustos de café y el canto de las aves, dan la bienvenida al visitante.  La propiedad ha pertenecido a la familia de Juan Pablo Echeverri por más de 45 años.  Luego de servirnos una taza del mejor café de la hacienda, que nos pone en onda, Juan Pablo comienza a contarnos sobre la historia, las variedades, procesos y productos de su mundo del café.  Un mapa nos muestra el trayecto de la pepa desde África a Europa y a las Américas.  Los granos frescos son examinados y tostados en un tostador especial, se intenta percibir los distintos aromas desde diminutas botellitas, se discute su consistencia, la bebida se sorbe para estimular el paladar, la taza perfecta surge desde una cafetera italiana.

Visita a la plantacion de la Hacienda Venecia

La lección sigue luego en el exterior, en el aire fresco y aromático, cuando Juan Pablo se adentra entre las nítidas filas de la plantación de arbustos de hojas brillantes, haciendo frecuentes pausas para explicar puntos de interés en el proceso de cultivo.  Nuestra visita es en febrero, y los arbustos están floreciendo, sus ramas más altas buscando la luz con sus brillantes flores blancas que parecen jazmines, y cuyo perfume se percibe en toda la plantación.  Emergemos por un sendero que desciende bordeando el Río Rosario que fluye montaña abajo hacia el Pacífico y lo cruzamos por un puente colgante.

En esta parte baja de la hacienda, Juan Pablo explica cómo se procesan las pepas y nos cuenta sobre la maquinaria, la certificación y los cuidados que se requieren para transformar la fruta del arbusto en el precioso grano apetecido por los conocedores del café.

Cerca de los edificios donde se procesa el grano, sobre una colina, está la hermosa casa de la familia, la típica casa de plantación de café de fines del siglo 19, pintada de blanco con acentos de rojo vibrante.  Hacia el lado oeste, la baranda hace eco del murmullo del agua del río, con hamacas colgadas de sus postes de madera, sofás y sillas de colores tropicales bañados por la luz de la tarde.

En la casa principal

Esta es la casa de huéspedes principal de la hacienda.  La madera oscura del piso de sus barandas exteriores, que da acceso a habitaciones cómodas y sencillas, se aviva con docenas de coloridas orquídeas.  Es un estilo de alojamiento B&B, donde los huéspedes comparten la casa con Juan Pablo y su familia cuando no están viajando y están en la hacienda.  La piscina ocupa el jardín del lado este, y también un área para parrilladas.  Un laguito, patrullado por una docena de gansos y patos, está en una esquina del perfecto jardín; jacintos y heliconias florecen con colores intensos entre la sombra que proyectan los árboles cubiertos de orquídeas.

En una visita típica a la hacienda, los huéspedes almorzarían aquí.  Pero nosotros estábamos con un horario diferente y ya era el atardecer cuando iniciamos la caminata de vuelta a la casa blanca de la entrada (que es también una casa de huéspedes más económica, con una pequeña piscina).  Las montañas se tiñeron de dorado a negro.  La niebla se extendía como velo por los valles más bajos y el río.  Los fragantes arbustos con sus ramas entrelazadas lucían de color esmeralda, las hojas de los cafetos resplandecían brillantes.

Llegamos a la casa, acalorados por la caminata cuesta arriba.  ¿Una última taza de café? preguntó Juan Pablo.  Era ya tarde y realmente teníamos que regresar.  Pero cuando se está en una de las mejores plantaciones de café del mundo, realmente uno no puede negarse.  Es como volver a estar en la dulcería cuando uno tenía seis años.  En el Triángulo del Café, no sólo se trata de una ‘taza sin fondo’, sino de una copa que rebosa.

Para más información sobre los itinerarios de Metropolitan Touring en el Triángulo de Café de Colombia, visite:http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=3051

Para mas imagenes de la Hacienda Venecia y del Eje Cafetero de Colombia, ver esta galeria: http://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitantouring/sets/72157626176790436/show/

Para mas informacion sobre la Hacienda Venecia, ver www.haciendavenecia.com

A Bottomless Cup of Goodness – Colombia’s Coffee Triangle


Hacienda Venecia, Manizales, in Colombia's Coffee Triangle

A morning cup of coffee, or an espresso after a meal, will never be the same once you travel to Colombia’s Coffee Triangle.

If you like coffee, the region is like stepping into your favourite sweet shop when you were six. Around every bend, there’s goodness. Coffee, cafecito, tinto, cortado, machiatto, cappuccino, latte, mochaccino… Rich, dark, aromatic goodness. Rocket fuel goodness.

The Coffee Triangle is made up of three departmental capitals – Pereira, Manizales and Armenia – wedged into the pleats and folds of Colombia’s western, central cordillera. It’s never flat in this part of the Andes. It’s never monotonous. Straight roads are unheard of. It’s like the topographical opposite of Holland. Distances are deceptive. A town that looks close, a twenty-minute drive away, in fact takes two hours of snaking roads to reach. It’s a crumpled, wrinkled, wizened land. Ranges tumble down from peaks that can soar right up to the snowline above 5,000 metres, like a wizard’s fingers reaching out to grasp the land to his heart.

In the lower valleys, every hill and hillock, hump and bump in the landscape is keenly cultivated. In the upper, the trees have been cleared to make way for pasture, the grass almost fluorescent green after cutting. The region is washed with a lushness, whether man-made or natural. It’s a vibrant glow that one only ever finds in the Tropics.

 

Juan Pablo Echeverri in tasting mood

Out-house on the estate, with rose garden

Off the Triangle’s eastern side, close to Manizales, tucked into a steep, deep valley whose flanks would give a Welsh sheep farmer vertigo, lies Hacienda Venecia. The dirt road to reach it from the main ‘coffee highway’ bends and kinks and judders its way down some 400 metres in altitude to around 1,500 metres a.s.l. before finally reaching a river bed and climbing a stretch to enter the estate.

A simple white house, surrounded by centenary trees, groves of coffee bushes and the chatter of birds, greets the visitor. The estate has belonged to Juan Pablo Echeverri’s family for over 45 years. Following a pick-me-up cup of the hacienda’s finest, Juan Pablo begins to enlighten us on the history, varieties, processes and products of his coffee world. A map shows the history of the bean’s progress from Africa to Europe to the Americas, fresh beans are examined then roasted in a special toaster, aromas sniffed and dissected from teeny tester bottles, consistency discussed, a brew expertly (or not) sucked in through the mouth to tease the palate, the perfect cup coaxed from an Italian coffee machine.

Tour of the plantation at Hacienda Venecia

The lesson is then taken outside into the fresh, aromatic air, where Juan Pablo wanders through the neatly-planted, rolling groves of shiny-leaved bushes, stopping frequently to explain points of interest in the cultivation process along the way. When we visit in February, the bushes are flowering, their upper branches catching the light with their bright white Jasmine-like flowers, whose perfume washes over the entire plantation. We emerge onto a trail that hugs the left bank of the Rio El Rosario, following it downhill to a bouncy suspension bridge that we ford in giggles as the river continues roiling down the mountains to the Pacific.

In this lower section of the farm, Juan Pablo runs through how the beans are processed and explains all the machinery, certification and care involved in transforming the bush’s fruit into the coffee-connoisseur’s cherished bean.

At the main house

Close to the buildings for processing the beans, the family’s very handsome late 19th-century coffee plantation house, painted white with accents of rich red, perches on a hillside. On its west-facing side, the veranda echoes with the shimmer of the river below, hammocks slung between its wooden posts, sofas and chairs in tropical colours bathed in afternoon light.

This is the hacienda’s main guesthouse. The dark hardwood floorboards of its external verandas are enlivened by dozens of orchids, linking the homely and unpretentious rooms. It’s a B&B style set up, with guests sharing the house with Juan Pablo and his family when they are at the farm and not travelling. A swimming pool occupies the east-side garden, with a barbecue area nearby. A pond patrolled by assorted gaggles of geese and ducks fills a corner of the immaculate garden, hyacinths and heliconia flowering in intense colours between the shade cast by orchid-festooned trees.

On a typical visit to the farm, guests would have lunch here. But we were on a different schedule and it was late afternoon by the time we began the walk back to the white house by the entrance (which serves as another, less expensive guesthouse, also with a small pool). The hillsides bled from gold into inky black. A haze began to veil the lower valleys and the river. The fragrant, tangled forest turned emerald, the leaves of the coffee bushes almost sparkling in their shiny finery.

We reached the house hot from the walk uphill. One last coffee? asked Juan Pablo. It was dusk and we really had to be going. But when you’re in one of the world’s finest coffee plantations, you really can’t say no. It’s like being six in the sweet shop all over again. In the Coffee Triangle, not only is the cup bottomless, it truly runneth over.

For more information on Metropolitan Touring’s itineraries in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, visit: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=3051

To see more images of the Hacienda Venecia and Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, see this gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitantouring/sets/72157626176790436/show/

For more information on Hacienda Venecia, see www.haciendavenecia.com

Let’s Tango…!


I don’t like the word “show” very much… It somehow says “artificial and superficial”. During our past trip to Argentina (Mac, Soñita, Paito, Andre, Kari, Moni, Dom – you are fab travel mates, by the way…thanks for an unforgettable trip!) our itinerary included the visit of a Tango-Show in Buenos Aires. I was keen to see the Tango and not the show, to be honest… It is common to combine Dinner & Tango (superb concept, by the way) and we chose the “Tango Porteño” at the Porteño Theatre on Corrientes, formerly a cinema-theatre owned by Metro Goldwyn Meyer.

The place is big (like so many things in Argentina…); all the tables are well laid (you can chose to either come just for the Tango, or include dinner); the food is delicious, wine good and the ambience perfect to immerse oneself back to the golden decade of the 1940s, when Tango had its heyday. For over an hour and a half, we are taken back in time, to a glamorous Buenos Aires, full of passion & love.

I am surprised by the staging, orchestra, dancers, singers, costumes, music – all is of fantastic quality – I am dazzled by the moves, the energy, accuracy, flow, dynamism, elegance, passion… There is this one scene, modern, where the performer dances blindfolded (!) with her lover… we witness the utmost perfect, and sensual, declaration of love of two top performers who seem to read each other’s minds constantly, not one movement has room for failure, a mastery of bodies that provokes in me pure admiration and stir the humble feeling of being so privileged to experience this breathtaking show. And wanting to share it immediately with my family, especially with my daughter, who is devoted to dancing, singing and spectacles of any description.

Tamara giving tango a try in San Telmo

Tamara giving tango a try in San Telmo

Buenos Aires and Tango: thank you for a more extraordinary encounter with my inner passion for music and dance. I´ll be back, that is a promise! I know that I have just had a glimpse of a great city and part of its culture, and crave more!

There are more Tango places, of course, that our office in Argentina recommends, such as Tango Gardel, El Viejo Almacén, and Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel – what a place!

It is impossible to separate Buenos Aires from the culture of Tango: you can feel it, hear it and sense Tango on every corner… next time I´ll take lessons and give it a try myself!

By Tamara W. de Karolys, Commercial Director, MT Ecuador. tkarolys AT metropolitan-touring.com

Discover Tango in Buenos Aires, and wines in Mendoza, with Metropolitan Touring: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=2159

Wine-tasting in Buenos Aires


As the saying goes: “When in Rome…”

It would have been churlish of us not to have spent at least one night concentrating on one of Argentina’s finest, and probably most famous, exports – and tourist attractions – this was a ‘fam’ trip, afterall. Research, research…

So we descended the metallic spiral staircase of El Querandí restaurant (www.querandi.com.ar) in downtown Buenos Aires, to the wine cellar called La Cava, for an evening of deep appreciation of one of the finer things in life.

The evening was hosted by the affable, skinny and funny Sebastián, an Argentine sommelier in his late 20s who wore his knowledge lightly and had a Roman nose apt for his job.

With him, we tasted three wines in all, aided by a map of Argentina projected on the wall, which helpfully explained the three main wine-growing regions in the country: the North, the Centre and the South. Each region produces different types of wines – nearly all of them more alcoholic than other countries – with different-tasting varieties of the same grape in some cases.

To give you an idea of just how important wine is to Argentina these days, you need to know that it’s the world’s 5th-largest exporter and 7th-largest producer, generating an estimated $600 million for the economy every year, with over 1,300 wineries employing hundreds of thousands of people.

Now, to get an idea of how important wine is to the average Argentine, you need to know that they rank 8th in the world’s top drinkers (although Sebastián said 6th, I checked and it’s 8th – no surprise perhaps, in the porteño exaggeration), knocking back around 30 litres each a year. That’s quite a bit.

We were introduced to the Torrontés grape , which I hadn’t tasted before. The one we had was La Pumila, a green-tinged white wine that was refreshing when combined with a nibble of meat, but too acidic for my linking. Interestingly, when we were in the Salta region later on the trip, we were invited to try a different Torrontés and it was sweeter. I preferred the second one.

Then came a Pinot Noir called Malma, which had some body and some kick, and would gone down all-too-easily on a sunny day for lunch. It comes from the southern Patagonian wine-growing region, from the NQN bodega, which can be visited in the famous Neuquén wine region.

Passing along via another nibble provided by an excellent waiter, we moved on to my preferred territory of the dark, richer reds: Finca Intimayo from the Mendoza region, the central part of the country that produces really what many now regard as the world’s best Malbecs. This was the highlight of the night for me. Excellent bouquet – you can’t help get into the terminology…  — not too sharp, not too heavy, an astringency that played on the palate, leaving you with a delicious, lingering taste. Following a glass of that, we then passed on to the main course, a fine – and almost mandatory in Argentina – steak.

Gabriel Nicolai, Manager of Metropolitan Touring Argentina showing us how it's done

All in all, an excellent way to pass an evening among friends: a bit of learning, a bit of tasting, good food, cool decor, fine wine. Salud!

By Dominic Hamilton, Head of Communication, MT Ecuador. dhamilton AT metropolitan-touring.com


To experience ‘tango and wines’ with Metropolitan Touring, see: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=2159

For more images of wine-tasting at La Cava, see our Flickr gallery

Useful info:  www.winesofargentina.org