Food Friday: Arequipe, or Whatever You Call It Where You Live

If you’ve visited pretty much any country in South America, you’re probably already familiar with arequipe, or at least with one of its cousins. It goes by many names: arequipe here in Colombia, dulce de leche in Argentina, manjar in Ecuador, and something in Mexico that I won’t write here because it’s a dirty word in Argentine Spanish and I don’t want to offend my former host family. Google it yourself.

evidence of my non-love for the 'quipe

Not all arequipe is created alike. Some comes in a plastic container from a roadside stand somewhere west of Bogotá….

Whatever you want to call it, arequipe is a sugary treat made from heated, caramelized milk and, obviously, a lot of sugar. Like many of the dulces here, I often find it overwhelmingly sweet — a little bit goes a long way. Conventional wisdom has it that Americans have a serious (and seriously problematic) sweet tooth, so maybe I’m just an abnormality, but to me it seems that people here eat way more sweets than at home, and  dulces here have a hell of a lot of sugar. Lunch at my school always comes with some kind of candy, and everyone from kids to adults walk around snacking on sugary confections. You’d never see an adult in the U.S. walking around with a lollipop, but here, it’s pretty common.

but really, I'd probably eat dirt if it were covered with chocolate

…some comes slathered in chocolate and baked into a cake…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re talking about arequipe. Colombians put arequipe on/in EVERYTHING — cakes, pastries, croissants, cookies, you name it. There are arequipe-flavored lollipops, ice cream, chocolate bars and cappuccinos. And that’s if they even bother pairing it with something — half the time, people will just eat it right out of the container with a spoon, like a sugarier version of me with a jar of peanut butter.

GET AT ME, arequipe con cafe

…and some is coffee-flavored and further evidence of the brilliance of the Colombian people.

I have to admit, I still haven’t totally adjusted to the national obsession with arequipe. Don’t get me wrong — I love my sweets, but I prefer my sugar fix to arrive in the form of chocolate or possibly frappes (I believe those of you who aren’t from the Northeast call them milkshakes. Colombians call them batidos). I didn’t really love dulce de leche while I lived in Argentina (unless it arrived inside alfajores, which I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life, or at least until they gave me diabetes), and apparently my taste buds haven’t changed significantly in the last three years.

who am I kidding? I totally want to shove my face in it

You know what? At least I’m bothering to put it on cookies instead of just shoving my face in it. Small victories, people!

As with every rule, of course, there’s one exception: last week I discovered, lurking in my second-closest supermarket, arequipe con café. Yeah, that’s right, kids: it’s coffee-flavored arequipe. Because the only thing that can make a bowl of sugar better is caffeine. Friends and family, expect me to return to the U.S. with about ten jars of this stuff.

Still, while this product was obviously designed specifically with me as its target consumer, I’m not yet a full-fledged arequipe convert. Sure, it’s tasty in small doses, or as a topping, or when flavored with my biggest food vice after chocolate, but for the foreseeable future, I think I’m going to reserve my spooning-empty-calories-directly-from-the-jar impulses for Nutella.

Food Friday: Cake or Death? Colombia Chooses Cake.

suck it, people who wait in those long lines in new york

The cupcake trend has even made it to Bogotá! Her bakery is actually only about 10 blocks away from me -- I have yet to visit, for fear that I may attempt to move in there.

Let’s talk about CAKE, baby….

Seriously. Let’s talk about it. Because they do cake like it’s their job here (even the people for whom it is not their job). Colombians love their desserts — which, now that I reflect upon it, may have a lot to do with why I’m falling in love with this country so quickly. I’ve found that dessert only tends to hasten the seduction process. But putting aside the psychological effects of chocolate for a moment, Colombia really is a country of glorious sweets, and there’s something for pretty much every palate, whether your idea of a perfect post-dinner snack is a bowl of fresh papaya or a just a container of arequipe and a spoon. Sure, the helado might not be quite as rico as in Buenos Aires, but there’s just as much of it, and you hardly notice the difference once it’s covered in chocolate sauce and sprinkles.

oh hey chocoflan, i see you back there

This is why I never end up eating actual lunch on weekends. It's not my fault that my ears are just fine-tuned to the siren song of sugar.

And the bakeries! There are bakeries practically everywhere — it seems like you can hardly walk three blocks without stopping to peer in the window of a pasteleria to admire the piles of merengones (fluffy meringues in a dozen different flavors, so delicious they’ve converted even this non-meringue-fan) and elaborate cakes decorated for every possible occasion. Want a mora (blackberry)-flavored cake to celebrate a holiday, or a massive icing-slathered construction for a quinceañera? Bogotá bakeries can make it happen.

nom, and so forth

The cake for our friend Brighid's birthday. Nothing says "feliz cumpleaños" like a pile of fruit and frosting.

Oh, and remember how we discussed the fantastical cornucopia of fruit available here? Well, the all-powerful cakemakers are well aware of the amazing range of flavors they have to work with, and they make excellent use of them. I’ve seen cakes in every flavor from orange to banana to maracuyá (passionfruit). The motto seems to be: if it grows here, let’s make a cake with it! And that, my friends, is a motto I can definitely live — and eat — with.

pretty sure nobody who comes to usaquen is on a diet

I will have one of each, please. (And this photo doesn't even include the Oreo cheesecake. Oh yeah. There was Oreo cheesecake.)