I recently spent some time in the tiny Pacific jungle village of San Cipriano in Valle del Cauca; it might not be quite on the coast, but the menus are dominated by Pacific coast seafood, as the closest major settlement is the coastal city of Buenaventura. This got me thinking about Colombian cuisine (which is rarely held up as the world’s best to be fair), and how much incredible, fresh, and unique seafood is available in the only country in South America with both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. I love fish and seafood more than any other kind, and so here are my Top 5 Colombian coastal foods…buen provecho!
1. Cazuela de Mariscos
This list is in no particular order…but this is totally number 1! This thick, seafood stew is a staple on the coast in both coastal regions of Colombia, and is especially connected with Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. A cazuela I ate in Camarones in La Guajira was among the best meals I have ever eaten, and Anthony Bourdain concurred when he came to visit. It usually contains lobster, shrimp, prawns, squid and white fish….I can’t do it justice, just taste it!
2. Encocado de Muchilla
I just had this dish for the first time in San Cipriano…and, just wow! Muchilla is basically like a giant crayfish/mini-lobster, and the dish I had served a bunch of them whole in a stunning coconutty broth, seasoned liberally with herbs. You pull them out ans crack them open and the meat is just like lobster. At 35.000COP for the dish it’s a little on the pricey side, but worth it for a treat!
3. Fried fish, cocount rice and patacones
The costeno classic: a local, fresh fish (I like the red snapper), fried up and served with arroz de coco and a few patacones. You find this available in the every coastal restaurant, but it’s best served on the beach – where you can pick your fish from a fresh platter, and have it served on a little beachside table with the Caribbean gently rolling in front of you…paradise!
I know, I know, ceviche is Peruvian…but the Colombians have put their own little spin on this classic dish, and essentially turned it into at ’70s shrimp cocktail! It’s fresh prawns/shrimp, served in a ketchup/mayo sauce, seasoned with Tabasco for that extra spice. If that sounds like a perversion of a classic to you then fine, but if you just treat it like a unique dish in itself, it’s deliciousness is hard to argue with! Best tried in Cali and the Pacific region…
5. Arepa de Huevo
OK, so it’s not fish…sue me! This spin on the arepa can be found all over Colombia, but it’s a costeno invention to begin with. Essentially a great big, greasy, fried arepa with a fried egg cooked inside…it might not be good for you, but damn, it’s good eating!
If you have any other suggestions, or ideas about where to eat great coastal food in Colombia, please get in touch via the comment section…