Food Friday: Granadilla!

I’d been saving this one until all of my visitors from home had come and gone, because I didn’t want to ruin the utterly unique experience of meeting (and eating) a granadilla. Now that I’m here all by my lonesome, I can finally enlighten the rest of the non-Colombia-visiting world about the very weird joys of the granadilla.

See? They look perfectly normal like this!

I’ve waxed poetic before about the plethora of amazing fruits that Colombia has to offer — the granadilla is one of these exotic delights (well, they’re not exotic here. People walk around all the time here eating them like they’re apples). On the outside, they’re pretty unremarkable — slightly oval, with a mottled orange skin that makes them look like a not-too-distant citrus cousin. Like a citrus, you can also poke your thumb right through the peel — and that’s where the similarities end. That’s where it starts getting weird.

As soon as you pop your thumb through the skin of the granadilla, you notice something peculiar about it: the peel gives way in tectonic plates of chunks, like Styrofoam. Directly under the thin peel, the inside of the rind is white, fluffy and aerated, as if it were designed to keep the innards safe on long, transcontinental journeys. But that isn’t the weird part. Those innards are what has spooked every person new to Colombia — hell, I even thought they were inedibly bizarre the first time I saw them.

grana-fingers

AHHH! Alien food!

The inside of a granadilla — the part you eat– is a slimy, dark cluster of seeds surrounded by clear goo that bears a strong resemblance to frog eyes, or what I imagine alien eggs look like. And as if that weren’t bad enough, those gooey seeds are enclosed in a layer of little white tentacles, like baby stalactites or ghost fingers, that seem to serve no biological purpose other than to freak people out. There is no way this is not alarming the first time you encounter it. It does not look like something that is meant to be consumed by humans, much less eaten in a casual fashion while walking along the street. And “eaten” is a generous description, since by necessity (unless you have a fork), it’s pretty much mandatory to stick your face into the opened shell of the granadilla and slurp out the seeds in the loudest manner possible. This is infinitely more satisfying than it should be.

People sometimes talk about things being “an acquired taste.” This usually confuses me, since they’re often referring to things that I find so revolting I don’t understand why anyone would want to acquire the taste for them. Granadillas, however, are a perfect example of an acquired taste. Once you get past the initial shock of slurping down something that looks like it’s about to spawn tiny amphibians at any moment, you realize that the gooey insides actually have a nice, light, not-too-sweet flavor that’s a refreshing break from all the rice we’re eating all the time here.

Some of us really, honestly like these things!
[photo courtesy of the lovely Jamie Wiebe, who tried a granadilla once and decided that was enough]

Plus, eating fake frog eyes is kind of fun, in a spooky, Halloween-themed-food kind of way. And then there’s the insistence of my Colombian friends that the best way to loosen the seeds (a necessary task before opening the fruit), rather than banging the granadilla against your hand a few times like I do, is to whack it against a certain, very specific spot on the back of your head — or, more amusingly, your friend’s heads. Any food that combines tasty flavor, weird appearance, the possibility of alarming my friends and family members AND the potential to hit my friends in the head is a winner in my book!

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Food Friday: Chontaduro

So this is more or less the evil twin of my cholado post. When I arrived in Cali, one of the first things my friends living there asked me was, “Have you tried chontaduro yet?” Since they were asking with a tone of voice that implied less the sharing of a really exciting secret than some serious schadenfreude, I was already a bit suspicious. But when in Rome, etc.

who knew the knife wasn't the scariest thing on that plate?

They look innocuous enough, right? They could totally be plum cousins!

At least I had braced myself, though, so the next day, when one of our gracious hosts came into the room I was sharing with my two other visiting Bogotá friends with a full plate of the shiny red fruits, I was ready. Or so I thought.

I was ready for something weird, for sure, but at first they didn’t look that strange. Chontaduro, which grow on palm trees and go by different names all across South America, have shiny red skin and are about the size of a large strawberry or one of the mini plums here that I love so much. So far, so good. Normal-looking, normal color, nothing deeply frightening. Maybe it’s not so bad, after all.

Instead of biting into the little beasts, though, you peel them — I’m not sure if the rind is edible at all for anyone besides birds, but in Cali at least, they don’t eat it. And that’s when things get a little stranger. Since it bore a passing resemblance to other small pitted fruits, I was expecting something like a peach or plum to emerge from that bright red skin. Wrong. The innards of a chontaduro are orange, flaky and fibrous — they look kind of like a tiny, round sweet potato with a big pit in the middle. And that’s more or less how they taste, too, except without the “sweet” part.

otherwise I'm going outside and corralling a few bees

Wait, where did the honey go? There’s no way I’m getting through this plate without it!

That’s right. Chontaduro are a fruit that taste like the terrible cousin of a potato (if they tasted like potatoes, you can believe I’d be eating a pound of them every week). I don’t even know why they bother calling them fruit, since they seem much closer to a starch like yuca than a juicy fruit. In Cali, they eat them with salt and honey, which makes the taste marginally better, until you realize that you’re essentially just covering it with enough honey to hide the flavor of the fruit itself. Once I took one bite, I realized why my friends had been smirking when they inquired about my chontaduro experience.

Maybe it’s an acquired taste, since most caleños don’t seem to mind it at all, or maybe they place more importance in its alleged power as an aphrodisiac (can someone explain to me why all the most disgusting foods — with the exception of chocolate — are the ones reputed to be aphrodisiacs?), but either way, I’m somehow missing the appeal of the whole thing. Even after eating a whole plate of them, because I’d rather eat some gross stuff covered with honey than be rude.

Still, though, the next time I have an opportunity to enjoy the culinary delights of Cali, I think I’ll be sticking with cholado.

whatever the opposite of 'nom' is, that's this photo

One bite down, ten more (and a plateful of salt) to go….

Food Friday: Cholado

they look just good enough to eat, don't they?

Oh so tempting…

On my trip to Cali a few weeks ago, I think it’s safe to say that about 30% of my conversations with my best friend revolved around cholado. How excited we were to eat cholado, where we were going to buy cholado, how much cholado we could possibly eat in one weekend — if it involved cholado, you can be sure it was discussed at great length.

So what, you ask, is this magical, delightful treat that so captured our imaginations and taste buds? WELL. Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about raspado?

that is a brave woman, right there

DO YOU SEE HOW MANY BEES ARE ON THIS CONTAINER RIGHT NOW??

Cholado is more or less its bigger, sugarier, fruitier cousin — and man, is it delicious. It’s also a specialty of Cali and the Cauca department, appearing under brightly-colored carts every few blocks in the cities and towns of that region. I guess icy treats are a much easier sell in places where it doesn’t rain every two hours.

Imagine if a sno-cone and a fruit parfait had a baby and shoved it into a giant cup with a straw. That’s essentially what cholado is: a sugar-high in a cup. It’s made by tossing a bunch of different kinds of fruit (pineapple, maracuyá, papaya, strawberries, etc.) into a plastic cup the size of a Big Gulp, adding shaved ice and food coloring, and topping the whole thing off with a strawberry, sticky-sweet condensed milk and a vanilla wafer, just for the hell of it.

all of that color is purely natural, of course

Bet you’re jealous you don’t have one of these right now

Grab a long-handled spoon and a straw (yes, you’ll end up needing both), and you’re good to go.

I only ate one of these treats during my weekend in Cali — not because I didn’t like it, but rather that one per weekend is about the limit that a normal digestive system can handle. Any more and I would’ve been bouncing off the walls for the whole week. It’s been long enough since that delicious day, though, that I think I’m just about ready for another.

Food Friday: Get Me to a Juicery

I think at this point I’ve waxed poetic enough about the fruit of Colombia that y’all have a pretty good idea of the plethora of vitamin-packed options just hanging off the trees (or whatever else they grow on) here. But the great thing about fruit, you know, is that it’s versatile. You can just snack on it, which is usually my preferred method, but you can also squeeze it, shake it, mix it with other liquids, and turn it into glorious, drinkable juice.

it's called the aloha smoothie, because of course it is

Our group's circle of glorious breakfast smoothies in Santa Marta. Mine was something like papaya-pineapple-mango, and I could happily drink it every day for the rest of my life.

Now, if you’d asked me about six months ago, I would’ve told you that I’m not really a juice person. However, my time here has convinced me that I’m just not an American juice person. What passes for juice in most supermarkets or restaurants at home is some sort of terrible joke, Technicolor liquids made from a 9:1 ratio of concentrate to actual fruit juice, packed with fructose, food coloring, and basically everything else except the fruit itself. Well, to let all of you guys back at home in on a little secret: that shit is not juice, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for letting kids drink it without telling them what they’re missing.

oh bob, you never let me down

The biggest glass of mora juice in Bogotá. Juice courtesy of Bob's Pizza (you laugh, but it's damn good pizza); photo courtesy of the lovely Tasha Miley.

Because what they’re missing is this: the amazing range of fresh fruit juices available in almost every restaurant here, in flavors from mora (blackberry) to mango to guanabana (try to say that three times fast). My personal favorites are piña (pineapple) and durazno (peach) — I mean, where the hell can you even buy fresh peach juice in the US, besides maybe Georgia? Juice can be mixed either en leche (in milk) or en agua (in water), depending on your personal preference. I find that some flavors tend to taste better with one versus the other, but I’ve yet to buy any truly bad juice here. And they don’t cheat you on quantity, either — since the basic fruit juice is mixed with another liquid, it tends to arrive in a massive glass usually reserved for bar crawl quantities of beer. A pint glass of pineapple juice for about $2? You won’t hear any complaints from over here!

can I bring this home with me, please?

Step right up! Get your fresh-squeezed guanabana! (Note: I have no idea if squeezing is the correct way to juice a guanabana)

And restaurants aren’t the only place to find tasty juice, although they’re better if you’re looking for more exotic flavors. If all you need is a shot of Vitamin C, though, the street vendors have you covered. Every few blocks in most busy neighborhoods, you’ll come across a juice cart, selling fresh-squeezed naranja or mandarina (different variations of orange/citrus) juice for about the equivalent of a dollar a pop. The vendor will squeeze the juice right there in front of you while you wait, which can be a pain when you’re in a hurry, but is a really satisfying reminder of exactly how fresh that juice is. At some markets, especially on weekends, it’s also possible to find stands with several kinds of fresh juice, like guanabana (a soft white fruit which yields a juice that looks deceptively like coconut) and papaya (I’m still working on warming up to it. Give me some time).

yeah, so I play with my ice cubes. what of it?

Ice-cold pineapple juice: the perfect way to cool down on a hot coastal afternoon.

Even the supermarket juice kicks our ass. Every market, even tiny corner tiendas that are basically like three 7-11 shelves packed into the space of one, stock bottles and boxes of different flavors of juice. Did I mention that it’s also socially acceptable here for adults to drink juice boxes? I can’t wait til that trend catches on back at home. Listen up, health advocates: I’m telling you right now, the trick to getting people to drink more fruit juice is juice boxes. Everyone loves juice boxes! My personal favorite supermarket juice, a brand called Ades, does, in fact, come in a large box, decorated with a tasty-looking colorful picture of whatever fruit it contains — because it’s actually made with real fruit. It’s also made with soymilk and various other tasty, good-for-you ingredients and generally just kicks the ass of any packaged juice I’ve ever had in the U.S. (with the possible exception of Newman’s Lemonade, but they don’t sell lemonade here, so that’s an unfair competition).

Like lollipops, arepas and diet soda, juice is something my body has learned to develop cravings for since coming to Colombia — but unlike those other things, juice is actually good for me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a peach juice box calling my name, and who am I to deny its siren song?

Fruit Friday!

You guys.

I have been here for 71 whole days, and I have yet to really write about the fruit. I am the worst Colombia blogger ever. A million apologies. But let me make it up to you, right now, with a smorgasbord of fruit-related musings and photos. Hope you ate a good breakfast this morning, because otherwise your salivary glands may not be able to handle this.

ALL OF THESE

Some of these look familiar, right?

So. If you know anything about Colombia, besides the crap you see in movies — if you know anything real about Colombia — you’ve probably heard about the fruit. When the Great Gods of Biodiversity were designing the world, they were obviously feeling particularly benevolent toward Colombia, because the variety of fruit available here is just out of control. There are fruits here I’ve never seen or even heard of before in my life, much less tasted. They have names like granadilla, lulo, maracuyá and guanabana — not only are they delicious, but they’re fun to say, too!

You can find your usual suspects here, of course: ripe yellow mangoes, papayas that could double as free weights and little tart apples. Most neighborhoods have at least one fruit store every three blocks or so, packed with crates piled high with almost every source of vitamins you could ever want. And did I mention how cheap they are? At my friendly local frutería, I can pick up two mangoes, four mandarinas (located somewhere between oranges and clementines in the International Citrus Registry), and a nectarine for about US$3. This is a habit I have no intention of kicking anytime soon.

hey dude! at least smile if you're going to bust into my picture!

Fruit juice: for when you can't be bothered to use your teeth to ingest your Vitamin C.

I’m sure I’ll end up writing more about fruit in the future, as I acquire more photos of them (especially granadilla. I just can’t write about granadilla without a picture of it. Visual evidence is integral to understanding it). Honestly, I could write about fruit every week until I leave and still have neglected a ton of them, but I’ll do the best I can in the oh-so-brief time we have. Let’s start with the Ms, shall we?
More delicious treats straight ahead!