|Althea Romeo-Mark in Bucaramanga, Colombia. Our host holding my carry-on.|
Bucaramanga, Colombia: Part 1
A culinary journey becomes an adventure when it takes place in a country not your own. Faced with food you are unaccustomed to, it can be like bungee jumping. You can put on a brave face and take the plunge, or be boring and safe and return home with a stomach free of ailments.
As a visitor, you worry about eating unwashed fruit or experimenting with fresh, pressed tropical juices or an exotic dish you have never heard about.
In Medellin, Colombia, fresh, sliced fruit wrapped in plastic bags can be bought on the street and you can easily be tempted to indulge in healthy eating.
At the hotel where I and fellow poets stayed, I gulped down fresh sour-sap juices. Sour-saps are rarely sold in Switzerland. When one is seen, you whip out your Smartphone and take a photo. It is a fruit I love and I can only indulge in its sappy sweetness when I am in the Caribbean.
So in Medellin I was in sour-sap juice Heaven. I knew very well that it was a natural laxative but drank many glasses of it anyway. My stomach later gave me notice.
In Colombia to attend the 20th International Poetry Festival of Medellin, I read along with one hundred invited poets at designated venues around Medellin. It is a city where poets are rock stars; a city where the masses hunger for the words of poets, a city where people sit in the rain and listen to poets; a city where fans line up to get autographs and take photos with poet-stars.
|Italian poet signing autograph|
The poetry festival has become a tradition and is part of the social and cultural fabric of sprawling Medellin.
Poets were also flown out to different parts of Colombia to bring poetry to the people.
|Bob Holman, poet|
American Poet, Bob Holman and I, were flown to Bucaramanga on the 14th of July 2010 to do readings along with a local poet and artist, Negro Navas.
Public sources tell us that Bucaramanga is the capital city of the department of Santander, Colombia. It has the fifth largest economy by GDP in Colombia, has the lowest unemployment rate, the highest GINI index, and has the eighth largest population in the country, with 530,900 people.
Girón was the first and most significant town founded by Spanish colonizers in the region, and Bucaramanga (founded on December 22, 1622) did not overtake Girón in population or economic significance until the early 19th century.
One of the most interesting experiences about our visit to Bucaramanga, in addition to reading and some sight-seeing, was our introduction to local dishes. One of the foods we were tempted to try was “changua,” a soup made of potatoes, egg and bread. It is a traditional breakfast meal.
|Potato eggs and bread soup|
|Our host in Bucaramanga.|
Our generous host wanted to make sure we had this local dish before returning to Medellin. We also had tamales cooked in banana leaf cups.
Typical dishes from Bucaramanga include: the Santander-mute (a soup made from various grains and accompanied by various types of meat), the fricassee, a preparation of viscera and goat blood mixed with white rice, oreada meat, arepa de pelao', and the tamales. We did not get around to trying all of them.
We were informed that the hormiga culona (roughly large-bottomed ant) is perhaps the most striking and unique of the dishes in Santander, these ants are abundant in the months of March and April.
To make this dish, they remove the head and wings of local giant ants and roast them. They are then generally sold on platters on the streets or in jars of hundreds.
We learned that other seasonal foods found in abundance are: traditional sweet celery, lemon, citron, rice, caramel, and pineapple. Most are produced in neighboring Floridablanca. The Oblea wafer and veleño bocadillo (candy) are two other dishes found in great quantity in Bucaramanga.
I bought a hormiga culona (fat ass ant) from a man on the street as a souvenir. It was kept in a match box size container and was used for show and tell in my classroom. In the end I threw it away some months after returning to Switzerland. It was not something I found appealing.
I would love to see the beautiful Spanish, colonial architecture Bucaramango again. I found the structures fascinating because of the history. I would try “changua,” tamale cooked in banana leaf cups once more but will give “fat ass” ants a pass.
© Althea Romeo-Mark, 2016
Next: Having snacks in Kisii, Kenya.