Food And Culture In Medellín, Colombia

Medellin Is Foodie Heaven

We’ve heard from Kathleen. She’s exploring in the Chaco, scouting agriculture and land investment opportunities in Paraguay’s most fertile regions. She promises a report soon.

Meantime, we continue coverage today from another of Kathleen’s favorite South American towns, Medellín, Colombia.

An audible gasp came from the group when the platter of food was placed on our table. The Bandeja Paisa (or, “local’s tray”) overflowed with an assortment of delectables, including chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), rice, beans, chicharrón (fried pork belly), eggs over easy, avocado, ground beef, potatoes, and plantains. Our guide Nicole explained that this breakfast dish is the typical fare a local eats to start his day.

In Colombia, many folks have only one substantial meal per day, and that meal must provide enough fuel for many hours of farming or other physical labor jobs.

This, however, was not the start of our day. This was our sixth stop on La Mesa’s Colombian Street Food Tour in Envigado.

The town of Envigado lies just south of Medellín, the second-largest city in Colombia. While Medellín is a city of three-and-a-half-million people, Envigado has maintained her traditional atmosphere with a much smaller population of around 200,000. Her friendly residents provided an outstanding sampling of traditional Colombian food on a warm February afternoon.

To appreciate the culture of a different country, one should experience its food, prepared and served by those who know them best. In this area of Colombia, the natives are known as paisas, and they are a proud, friendly, welcoming people. A great way to experience the food culture in Medellín is to join one of the food tours offered by La Mesa, conveniently located in El Poblado, Medellín.

La Mesa (“The Table”) is the brain child of Nicole Furnace and Jeremy Hand, two Americans who have made Medellin their overseas home. Teaming up with Colombian chef Juan Felipe, these self-proclaimed foodies are bringing the gastronomic world of Antioquia to all who want to learn more about this unique part of South America.

At the start of our tour, our group standing in front of the white marble church in Parque Envigado, Nicole explained, “La Mesa’s goal is to allow you to experience the local culture through food, and we do more than just scratch the surface…” Throughout the afternoon, Nicole explained the history of each dish we sampled. She discussed how life in Medellin has evolved, as reflected in its food and day-to-day paisa life.

The tour was geared specifically to our group so we could experience the places that most interested us. For example, the exotic assortment of fruits at the crowded indoor market can be overwhelming. Nicole arranged for us to taste everything that caught our eye and explained how each fruit is traditionally used.

We made seven stops in all. We tasted churros, arepas de chocolo, and empañadas, drank exotic fruit juices prepared fresh with water or milk, sampled Colombian beers, and, of course, feasted on the Bandeja Paisa.

To end our tour on a sweet note, we were treated to typical Colombian ice cream creations that were as pretty to look at as they were delicious to eat. Needless to say, we were all pleasantly full by the end of the four-hour tour.

I have lived in Colombia for four months, so I had already tried several of the dishes we sampled. However, La Mesa’s choices for these Colombian specialties surpassed my prior tastes. Maybe it was the fresh air, the company, or the experience of walking from vendor to vendor, but the food on La Mesa’s tour was just better than anything I had tried before or elsewhere.

I had such a great time that I have already booked four spots for the Medellin Foodie Dream Tour at the end of March when friends from the States will be visiting. I can’t wait for the white tablecloth dining experience that tour promises.

La Mesa offers four specific tours (Colombian Street Food Tour, Market & Exotic Fruits Tour, Medellin Foodie Dream Tour, and Bites & Boutiques Tour) and can also arrange private events, including for larger groups.

Tours are typically intimate, with four to six people per group. Prices range from US$25 to US$125 per person. Tours do not run on Sundays. For more information, take a look at the group’s website here or contact La Mesa by email here.

All guides are fully bilingual (Spanish and English), and no two tours are alike.

Wendy Howarter

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