Colombian Fruit Review: Week 231

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Tomate de arbol, uchuva, curuba, papayuela, granadilla, pitahaya, maracuya, feijoa, guyaba, zapote

Colombia’s overwhelming preference for meat is the reason I was surprised to discover vegetarian and even vegan restaurants in Manizales. Barret and I tried two different places over the same weekend- Rushi and Laurel. Both had a menu of the day, which included soup, a main dish, a small dessert, and a drink.

While the lack of meat is obviously what distinguishes vegetarian restaurants from traditional Colombian restaurants, there are a few things they share in common. Even at traditional restaurants, soups are often vegetable-based and the beverages are almost always fruit juices. I kind of find it amusing that someone eating a slab of beef might also be sipping strawberry juice.

There is such a great variety of fruit in Colombia and the majority of it is offered as a juice. I feel like I should be writing more about the vegetarian restaurants, but it is the fruit that gets me so excited. So instead, here is a sample of the exotic fruit that Colombia has to offer (starting clockwise with the red tomate de árbol above).

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Tamarillo, sliced

Tomate del árbol- This fruit is sweet but also has the tang of a tomato. Most of the time this is available as a juice, but I personally enjoy eating it raw- just scoop out the center, seeds and all.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Uchuva, sliced

Uchuva – These are also known as cape gooseberries. They have a strong and slighty tart flavor and are very slippery once they’ve been washed. I’ve only ever seen them in people’s gardens, so Colombia is the first place I’ve noticed them commercially for sale. Lucky me!

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Curuba, sliced

Curuba – It is also known as the banana passion fruit because of its fuzzy, yellow exterior. Unfortunately though, it its raw state it tastes like the boring cousin of a passion fruit and the seeds are very hard. On the other hand, I have been assured that it makes for a delicious juice when blended with milk.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Papayuela, sliced

Papayuela – There’s a reason why the guy at the grocery store did not remember the name of this fruit. It is a small variety of papaya with all the seeds and hardly anything edible. It’s the jungle equivalent to eating sunflower seeds in the shell, except a lot less satisfying. Next time I’ll get a regular papaya.

Tropical fruit in Colombia, Granadilla, sliced

Granadilla – The rind of the granadilla is kind of like crème brulee. The shell is easy to crack with a fingernail while the lining inside is soft and spongy. The Granadilla’s seeds are similar to those of a passion fruit in terms of texture, however they are not tart at all. This fruit is refreshing- like flavored water.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Pitahaya, sliced

Pitahaya – The center of the fruit has the texture of a kiwi and a taste that’s just as delicate. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought the Asian variety of this fruit, but I don’t remember it tasting nearly as juicy as the pitahaya.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Maracuya, sliced

Maracuya- This one tricked me a bit because it is passion fruit, but it doesn’t look like the purple ones I am used to. It is very tart and best juiced or on top of something like plain yogurt.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Feijoa, sliced

Feijoa – These South American fruits also happen to grow very successfully in New Zealand. In Colombia they are most often found in juices, but I love them raw. The scent is what stands out most about them- they smell like a soda bottle full of Sprite.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Guyaba, sliced

Guyaba – In its raw state, the fruit is firm and the seeds are numerous and quite hard. That is the reason that guyaba is most often made into pastes or sugary cubes called bocadillo. I would have to agree that is the best use for this fruit. Bocadillo and a slice of salty campesino cheese are absolutely delicious.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Zapote, peeled

Zapote – The dark exterior is rough and kind of looks like an acorn, but the edible part is pumpkin-orange. There are five large seeds that are cushioned by a sweet flesh that has the texture of a ripe mango. The flavor was sweet and one description that came to Barret’s mind was maple syrup.

Although this feels like a good list, there is still so much more to discover at the supermarket!

How to get to Rushi: Kra 23C 62-73, Manizales

How to get to Laurel: Calle 56, near the intersection of Calle 56 and Carrera 23

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Gallinazo: Week 228

A man on horseback in Gallinazo: Caldas, Colombia

Gallinazo is a vereda, a very small rural town, on the outskirts of Manizales. If it weren’t for the nearby hot springs, it probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s map.

However, given its fortuitous location, Gallinazo is a popular weekend destination for traditional Colombian food. Of the three or so streets in the entire vereda, one is almost entirely dedicated to restaurants.

At the foot of town was a dessert stand. I knew we’d come to the right place because the vendor had the teeth of someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of sugary treats.

The arequipe was soft and delicious. It’s similar to caramel, but not as sticky or as thick. Arequipe can be enjoyed on its own or on top of something traditional like cooked figs. There were also several different versions of postre de natal, which is made by boiling milk and then continually skimming off the foam. The foam is collected in another cup and when it cools it almost has the texture of a rice pudding.

After starting the day with a healthy dose of dessert, we picked a popular restaurant for an early lunch. The food was delicious, but I made the mistake of ordering Bandeja Paisa. It is a regional dish that has steak, sausages, chicharrón, red beans, rice, plantains, a fried egg, an avocado, and an arepa. It is also often preceded by a bowl of soup. The food is great- but the sheer quantity of it is staggering. Barret and I once shared a smaller version of this dish and the two of us together couldn’t finish it. I don’t know what I was thinking; I need to start asking for a different dish.

Around about the time we finished lunch, Gallinazo was beginning to fill up with day trippers. Sunday morning brunch is not a popular concept, perhaps because of church, but lunch is king. And what better way to enjoy a meal than out in the country with a train of horses clip-clopping down the street?

How to get to Gallinazo from Manizales: At the intersection of Avenida Kevin Angel & Calle 69, catch a buseta in the direction of the Termales (hot springs).

First Week at SENA: Week 226

Happy 58th birthday SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Now that I have been at teaching at my center for a few weeks, I can look back on the first week with wisdom. A few observations on teaching at SENA, a technical college in Colombia:

The cafeteria is awesome. I might almost be 30, but picking a seat in a cafeteria still dredges up old anxieties. When I was younger it was all about having the cool friends to sit with. Now that I am older, it is finding the perfect empty table.

There is only one cafeteria at school and for this reason it can be quite busy during the middle of the day. During my first week I happened to see a long queue snaking outside the cafeteria and decided I was better off finding an alternative location. Outside the school gate was a food cart that I had never tried, so I decided it was as good a time as any to give it a go.

They were selling arepas (kind of like a corn pancake), which I love, so I ordered one and rounded off my meal with a cup of salpicón (fruit cocktail). The salpicón was refreshing, but the arepa was a bit of a shock. It ended up being served with a paper-thin meat patty, covered with an inch of sauce, and sprinkled with potato chips. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted. I was not disappointed when a bug happened to land on my food and then promptly drowned in the sauce.

Since then I have gone to the cafeteria for all my meals and it never disappoints. For roughly USD $1.80 a meal comes with juice, a bowl of soup, meat, rice, salad, potato/plantain, arepa, and a small desert. And you know what? If all the tables are taken, it just means it’s a good time to practice some Spanish.

The students clean the room. The school does have janitors, but students are expected to clean the room just before class ends. They sweep the floor, tidy up, wipe down the desks, and empty the trashcans. On Wednesdays and Fridays they are also supposed to mop. All this responsibility makes me feel like I had it easy when I was a student.

Happy 58th Birthday function at SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Classroom supplies. I had been warned that there could be very few supplies available, so I was quite happy to realize that 5/6 of my classes had computers and internet in the classroom. Another thing I was warned about was the lack of classroom space. While this has been a problem for other SENA teachers, I have been lucky enough to have no classroom-availability drama. The biggest downfall- there are absolutely no books for any of my English classes.

My specific department within SENA, Automatización, also has an equipment office. This is where I go to checkout laptops and cables, pick up print jobs, and find someone to unlock my classrooms. Most importantly, this is where I learn all my palabras groseras. Those are the words you don’t say in front of your colleagues. I learned this the hard way.

Adults are just as demanding as children. A full day of teaching kindergarten was exhausting and I kind of had this idea that technical college would be easier. I quickly realized though that while the type of work is different, the quantity is identical. Kindergarteners are so easily distracted by a song, dance, a crayon, or a funny voice that if the lesson is a bit half-baked, it’s not the end of the world.

Young adults, on the other hand, don’t think twice before telling you they would like to, “go to the home.” They have so many more opinions, “emergencies”, and cell phone distractions.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my lesson plans at home and coming up with creative ways to keep their attention. The upside to the extra effort though is that my students are a ton of fun. I hope to be the kind of teacher that they enjoy working with and if, at the end of the day, they think learning English is enjoyable, then I’ve done my job.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá: Week 223

Inside the underground Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

I spent my first two weeks in Colombia at a teacher’s orientation in Bogotá. Monday to Friday was filled with activities- from teaching methods to applying for national ID cards. Most of it went smoothly and most of it required being up early in the morning.

By the time the first weekend rolled around, I was more than ready for some sightseeing. I was also feeling a bit lazy, so when the program coordinators announced that they had chartered a bus to Zipaquirá, I was happy I didn’t have to plan anything.

Zipaquirá is a small town about an hour outside of Bogotá and it is famous for the Salt Cathedral. The Catholic cathedral was opened to the public in 1995 and, as its name suggests, it was built inside an underground salt mine.

Two women praying inside the underground Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

I have been to an underground church in the past, so I thought I had an idea of what it might look like- the passageways would be dim and the walls would be roughly hewn. However, that was about where the similarities ended.

Main nave of the underground Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

For starters, the scale of Salt Cathedral was massive. I had been satisfied with the first few rooms I saw and it took awhile for me to realize that those were only the Stations of the Cross. We hadn’t even gotten to the main nave! If only my Spanish were better, I might have been able to relay some of the interesting facts that I’m sure we were told.

The gift shops at the Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

The other thing that surprised me the most though was the shopping arcade. There were tons of emerald shops, booths that sold religious salt figurines, and anything else that could benefit from the addition of a little Virgin Mary.

It was going to be awhile till I got my first paycheck, so I decided to save my money and instead purchase an arepa from the underground cafe- La Tienda del Minero. The restaurant was decorated like a 1970s living room and had the lighting of a TV sitcom. I kicked back with a few other teachers and just absorbed the surroundings.

The underground cafe at the Salt Cathedral: Zipaquira, Colombia

I hadn’t arrived in Bogotá with high expectations of the capital city. Everyone I had spoken to had told me to get out as soon as I could. However, after a week in the city, I realized I was actually enjoying it. I was glad I’d eventually be living in Manizales, but for now I was in a nice dark salt mine, surrounded by good company and Catholic guilt, and eating a delicious arepa. You can’t ask for anything more than that.

About: The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

The Neighborhood Pub Crawl: Week 216

The Rose Hotel in Chippendale: Sydney, Australia

I have often contemplated the curious color palette of The Rose Hotel on my way to work. In the nicest way possible, I would say the names of the paint chips were Victorian Christmas and baby vomit.

Although I was very familiar with the exterior of the hotel, I hadn’t been inside until the ‘fight of the century’ between Mayweather and Pacquiao. The main bar with the trompe l’oeil ceilings was full, so Barret and I found a wood bench in the spacious courtyard and ordered a round of Bloody Marys with lunch. With the exception of one loud group, the audience was cheering for Pacquiao and when he lost the hotel quickly emptied.

A laundry line outside a house in Darlington: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I followed the exodus of people back out onto the street, but the afternoon weather was so nice that we decided to take a different route home. From Chippendale we walked through a quiet residential street in Darlington before ending up in Redfern.

A faded and peeling wall in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

It wasn’t so long ago that Redfern was a rough neighborhood, but the last decade has brought about significant gentrification. Strolling down Regent Street, Barret and I popped into an antique shop and against better judgment we left with two small spoons made from cow bones. Thin black decorative lines were carved into the polished surface.

Front door of The Bearded Tit in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

A few doors down from the antique shop was an establishment called The Bearded Tit. It’s an LGBT-friendly bar named after a puffy white bird that breeds in the reedy swamps of Europe and Asia. The backyard housed a ‘caravan of love’ and the gender-less bathrooms had a large moose hanging near the sinks.

A coaster at The Bearded Tit: Sydney, Australia

The best part about The Bearded Tit was its support for art. Local and international artists can apply to have their work displayed in a number of unique ways- from a wall to a curiosity cabinet. A ‘taxidermy tableaux’ surrounded a TV that was perfect for video art and resident artists could receive free bar food and 50% off drinks.

A small bakery on the Regent Street in Redfern: Sydney, Australia

After a round of champagne, Barret and I continued our circuitous journey home. Small family-owned restaurants, bakeries, and video rental relics lined the rest of Regent Street.

A terrace house in Erskineville: Sydney, Australia

It was dinnertime when we reached Erskineville, but neither of us wanted to cook so we walked through our neighborhood and towards the southern end of Newtown.

The Union Hotel in Newtown: Sydney, Australia

The Union Hotel had a lively cover band in the front and a large self-contained restaurant in the back. We ordered food and sat down near a father and his young daughter whom were both reading books. While there are more charming hotels further up King Street, Barret and I were both drawn to the classic brick Aussie hotel circa 1946.

The reason that I like Sydney’s inner west neighborhoods so much is that they are a perfect combination of historic buildings, livability, and community culture. It’s definitely not a cheap place to live, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better area for a stroll and a neighborhood pub crawl.

How to get to The Rose Hotel: 52-54 Cleveland Street, Chippendale NSW 2008

How to get to The Bearded Tit: 183 Regent Street, Redfern NSW 2016

How to get to the Union Hotel: 576 King Street, Newtown NSW 2042

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