Karen Attman left her hometown of Philadelphia almost twenty years ago to pursue expat life in Latin America. Her work has been published in more than twenty publications in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. She now lives in Bogota and blogs about restaurants, chefs, food events and anything edible at FlavorsofBogota.com
San Andrés Island is a beach lover’s dream, surrounded by warm, multi-colored water. Of course, in between swimming with sting rays and spotting colorful fish among old ship wrecks, you’ll want to keep your strength up by eating some local delights. Islanders have developed their own Caribbean treats, and here I’ll share some that the Flavors of Bogota team tried recently when an islander friend showed us around the island. Here are the top 5 foods to try on San Andrés…
Fried fish platters
One of the most common foods to eat on these beaches is, not surprisingly, fried fish. We had our fish platter on the spectacular Haynes Cay, also known as Aquarium. A short boat ride from San Andrés, this tiny island is uninhabited – the only buildings to be found there are small restaurants. That’s my kind of island – they obviously have their priorities straight.
For lunch we ordered the fried mojarra platter. The fish couldn’t have been fresher – the fishermen brought it off the boat and the cook fried it up right in front of us. It came with the customary coconut rice, with just a touch of sweetness, and fried breadfruit that was pleasantly creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Conch ball sandwiches
We found these at a fair table. “At a what?,” you might be asking. Fair tables are a typical San Andrés experience, a tradition that you won’t find elsewhere in Colombia. In the evenings and on weekends, the islanders set up little tables outside their houses where they place all the tastiest family traditions for people to buy.
Although key lime pie, carrot cake, and cinnamon buns were offered, what captivated us were the conch ball sandwiches. As you might guess, they are made of conch meat. You know those pretty pink shells you get in the Caribbean? Well, they have an inhabitant inside. The meat is ground up, cooked with spices, formed into meatballs, and then fried. Covered in gravy and tucked inside a roll, they are delicious. Don’t miss them if you go to San Andrés.
Another fair table find, these patties are obviously made with crab, an abundant raw material in the waters surrounding the island. To prepare the patty, cabbage and spices are cooked with shredded crab meat, tucked inside wheat flour dough that is folded over to form the turnover, and fried. The result is a slightly sweet, somewhat spicy, scrumptious snack.
On San Andrés we ate the best carimañolas I’ve ever had. The ideal place to get them is a small, non-descript place, really just a makeshift kitchen with a few wood benches and skinny tables to eat at. But once you bite into one of these, you won’t notice the furniture. Hot in your hand, wrapped in napkins to catch the inevitable grease, they are made of the freshest yucca dough fried to crispy goodness with gooey cheese inside.
Arepa de huevo
This is an interesting kind of arepa because, in my opinion, it involves impossibilities. You see, it has a whole cooked egg inside the fried arepa. I always wondered how they did this, and on San Andrés I got to watch the cook making them. After forming the arepa and frying it, the cook fishes it out of the oil and slits it open, then cracks a raw egg and drops the whole thing into the open arepa. Then she patches up the hole with more dough and throws it back into the oil until the egg is cooked. With ground beef in there, too, it’s delicious and addictive.