Food Friday: Papas Criollas

Between my three-quarters German heritage and my Bostonian (so, Irish by osmosis) upbringing, it should surprise no one that I would choose potatoes to make a major appearance in my hypothetical last meal. I could happily eat potatoes nearly every day, in whichever form they wished to appear: fried, slathered in mayo and cubed into salad, baked with rosemary and salt, covered in butter and mashed into topography on my plate — you name the potato, and I’ll be there to eat it. I thought I knew everything there was to know about my favorite vegetable, but it turns out that I didn’t really know what true tuber love was until I arrived here in Colombia and met the papa criolla.

Salty criollas and a michelada on the sunny lakeside boardwalk: my ideal recipe for happiness.

Papas criollas are one of several species of potato native to Colombia, and they’re reason enough alone to convince any true potato aficionado to visit here. They’re small, gold-skinned potatoes with soft insides, ranging from the size of a marble to about a ping-pong ball (although they don’t play games, as far as I know). Papas criollas are one of the three types of potatoes used to make ajiaco, Bogotá’s traditional soup, and they show up alongside everything from hot dogs to picadas (essentially a plate of meat with toothpicks). This is one of the sides I’m thrilled to receive with meals — no matter how many other starches the Colombians throw on the plate (and rest assured, they will be many), you’ll never catch me complaining about the criollas.

I’ve consumed them in towns across the country, eaten them with forks and toothpicks, found them rolling across plates, tucked in napkins and piled in plastic cups. I don’t know why they taste so much better than other kinds of potatoes, but the fact remain that they do, and I’ll just have to keep eating them until I figure out what the secret is. In the meantime, does anyone know how the USDA would potentially feel about the import of really, really tasty potatoes?

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3 thoughts on “Food Friday: Papas Criollas

  1. Frozen criolla havee been here for years and are of inferior. Because of this, I have become a collaborator in the Miami area working with the USDA potato genebank in Wisconsin trying to develop a fresh criolla variety for the US. They have conducted trials of criolla type potatoes this fall and have developed a cultivar from true seed of Andean origen that approximate papa criolla commonly available in markets in Bogota. If you are interested in encouraging USDA to do more study and ultimately release a paper encouraging commercial growers to produce this cultivar for test markets in the US or if you are a potential market or growwer for fresh papa criolla please let it be known by response to this post. Without known potential markets growers are reluctant to plant. Without a reliable source of fresh criolla potatoes restaurants and grocers are reluctant to offer this procuct. Establishing that there is a market seems to be the next step required for USDA to consider committing the money, time and effort continue their research.

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