Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Salty Beer and Rich Papaya

"No dar la Papaya" 
The literal meaning is-- "To not give a papaya." 
But in Colombia this expression is known by all and translates to - "don't show off your stuff, or put yourself out there to be taken advantage of."

 Sandra and Maria (my two Colombian soul sisters, and present guides) explain this expression to me as we sit in a rooftop bar at midnight in Medellin. This Colombian night club was pouring over with fashionable and beautiful young adults. Dressed to the nines, with stilettos and laced with jewelry frosting. And yet even out here, you do not show your goods off.

I quickly recall that Maria had changed her earrings from earlier in the day to something else for night, something simpler as opposed to the chunky pearl studs she rocked when she picked us up at the airport. Sandra and I have just arrived from Cartagena to visit Maria for a long weekend and to see the famously, infamous city of Medellin. At night the city glows up the mountains that frame it, much like any city would. But the tumultuous history of Medellin has become something I am suddenly very interested in absorbing and understanding. So I begin to ask questions.

Both women had stories of their childhood growing up in Colombia- stories on the news, bombs, drug lords, killings, kidnappings, friends of family affected by tragedies... etc, oh AND Maria's childhood under house arrest.....

"Wait. what? I'm sorry, come again? House arrest?"

After her father was kidnapped and held for months until the family could pay for ransom, the Farc threatened to take his youngest child. Maria was 3. For nearly 10 years she stayed in and never went out without adults surrounding her. He father was kidnapped a second time, and unfortunately never came back to the family after that. 

An incredibly positive and talented woman, now in her 40's, she is a private chef and cooking instructor. Incredibly close to her family and her goals, she is in love with her country and speaks with tenderness on her life experiences and the loss of her father. Based out of her 5th district, Medellin apartment, she has the "Papaya" within the confines of her sanctuary, but she lives carefully outside the walls of her home. To me, she evokes all that is Colombia. Through strength and gratitude, her stories silenced me in curiosity of what it is like to be a true Colombiana.

The countryside of Medillin
The country itself is much different now than it used to be. Take for example the club in which we had drinks - a renovated mall, that was once under the care of Narcs to hold money, weapons, drugs, etc. Now, it's comparable to an expensive Manhattan-style trendy hot spot. But again, all this glamour is just a facade. 5 years ago it was illegal to travel in your personal car between major cities, for fear of Guerillas. It is a different Colombia now, with room to move around and experience the country's natural wonders.

We took a day out of the city to experience the thrill of the countryside. Winding through mountains of farmland with the brilliant sun guiding our path. Stopping for freshly baked cheese bread and handmade sausage. It was the countryside that committed me to loving the country of Colombia.

Homemade chorizos curing outside a home in the still, dry mountain air.
Roadside assistance- fresh baked cheese bread

A classic Paisa man on his way to church.
Tucked in shirt, hat, and wool blanket over the right shoulder is a symbol of the men from this region.

After connecting our beings with the earth of the country through mountain hikes, we were prepared to properly fill our bodies with some local magic. Seated outside at a traditional restaurant, micheladas were promptly ordered to cure our sun-strained fatigue. The menu was written in the local dialect of Medellin. I understood nothing.
from left to right: chicharon, blood sausage, chorizo, arepa, fried egg, dried beef, avocado, plantain, and white rice.
This is a classic Paisa plate (the meal of Medellin)
30 minutes later after grazing upon fried plantain chips and sipping our salty, thirst-quenching micheladas, the food arrived. A bowl of creamy beans, the color of warm caramel and the taste of wood-fire, this was the base. Garnishing the bowl with chicharon- fried pork belly, as the ultimate in crouton glory. Finely ground and dried beef to dust the surface of the bean soup. Slices of perfect avocado, white rice, and spoonfuls of Aji (hot chilies, onion and cilantro in vinegar) finish off the bowl. One dense, light yellow, and rich corn flavor arepa remains on the plate for dipping. Along with a fried sweet plantain to offset the array of flavor profiles before me. Incredibly rich and balanced, this meal struck me at the core with comfort and intrigue.

Sopa frijole
No thought or space in my being was left available for dessert. A rich flan-like pudding or sweet guava jelly filled rolls were offered, but not even a papaya could be craved. I was filled and fulfilled with Colombia and all it's simple, humble, and frosted decadence.

Colombian Micheladas

1 central American beer (Aguilla, Corona, Pacifico...)
Juice of 1 lime
dash of tabasco or chalula hot sauce
1 salt rimmed pint glass

Serve cold or on ice. 
Preferably on a hot day in the countryside. 
Buen Provecho!