During my recent trip to Amsterdam, I walked past the most interesting store. It specializes in British and American goods. Being American, I was instantly intrigued to see what they sold. Sadly, it was mostly junk food. Among the items sold were:Cheerios, Ritz Crackers, Apple Jacks, Oreo cookies Goldfish, Gushers, Pam, Fluff, Helmann's Mayonnaise, Nerds, Bone Suckling Sauce, Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, Betty Crocker cake mixes and of course Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I was a little disheartened. Surely, there must be something better than this to represent the United States abroad. I will leave Amsterdam hoping that the US food companies of the future work towards making a better food reputation for the US.
What do you get when you combine divine architecture, art, Etruscan Tombs, breath-taking landscapes, food and wine? You get the ultimate dream destination – this is how I describe the Italian region called Tuscany.
Italy is one of the world’s most important wine producers. In fact, Italy is number one in wine production beating out France and Spain. It is the nestling ground to some of the best wines that the world’s palates have ever tasted. And of all of Italy’s premier wine makers, Tuscany is probably the home to best known wine regions: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. These are the regions that produce some of the best wines that are being sold worldwide. Tuscany' wine production is rich in tradition, and they use that advantage to stay on top of newer rising international wine varieties that yearn to take that number one spot.
According to history, wild grape vines were already abundantly growing in the hills and land of Tuscany, even before the Etruscans had settled in the region. It is said they grew and cultivated of what appears to be the most famous grape varietal in the history of Tuscan wines, Sangiovese (as well as Lambrusco). Wine making in Tuscany certainly has changed throughout the years, but the main grapes and wine making traditions run strong.
What makes Tuscany such a great region for growing wine grapes? One reason is that Tuscany’s soil is poorer as compared to other regions. You may think this is bad, but it is the complete opposite. Crappy soil makes it so the roots of the grape vines have to grow deep into the earth, and down there is where they get their complexity.
There is more than just Sangiovese in Tuscany. Cabernet Sauvignon, a French varietal, has been grown in the hills of Tuscany for over hundreds of years, but bloomed late in the season, when the Super Tuscans began to be produced and sold worldwide. These are regional wines, which have a special distinct quality, something that can be recognized by the international palate. Since the 70’s, notable, expensive wines (exceeds the limits of the Italian wine classification system) were then called Super Tuscans.
But enough about the dorky, boring aspects of wine. You're heading there to taste some, so let's get to the down and dirty of how to get some great visits in the region, where to stay, and what else to do:
TIPS FOR YOUR TUSCANY WINE REGION TRAVEL
- When to Visit: You can visit any time, but if you go during Sept/Oct, that's harvest season and some wineries will let you work the harvest.
- Driving: Stay in the middle lane. Italian drivers are aggressive and will ride up on your car if they feel you aren't driving fast enough.
- Bring someone who drives stick: Most cars in Italy are stick, an automatic rental will wipe out your funds, so make sure you either drive stick or have someone with you who does.
- Benzinai: That' the gas station. Pump your own gas, or you will pay extra for it.
- ZLT Zones: Many of the hill towns (like Cortona) will have car free areas. If you get in there by mistake you'll pay HUGE fines. So be aware of signs.
- Make reservations: Most wineries here are either family owned or small. They don't really have the staffing for a random visit, so I recommend you make reservations prior to going, especially in the fall when it is harvest time.
- Do one winery per day: Don't stack up. First of all, you don't want to drink and drive. On top of that, Italian roads are usually snaky and tend to go up and down hills. Getting lost is easy and you don't want to be late and miss out.Space things out and stay safe.
- Buy a bottle or two: Especially at the smaller wineries. Wine making is a tough business. Just think of it, the grapes vines need years to grow, the grapes need to be harvested, the wine needs to be made, then it needs to be aged (in Chianti for a minimum of two years). Then there is climate and boars to worry about. While it is not mandatory that you purchase at the wineries, it certainly helps there families and farmers survive.
WHERE TO STAY IN TUSCANY
You can stay anywhere you want, but I like to stay in one of the "main" cities and do day trips to the wineries. Most of the wine making areas are about two hours from Florence or Siena. It's almost required that you have a car. You can either do a day trip, or book a hotel in the area for the night. Buses and trains are an option (but they really aren't).
PRO TIP: Make sure someone drives stick in your group. Most rental cars in Italy are stick and when you get lucky enough to have an automatic available, they are super expensive.
What cities should you stay in? Here's a few we loved:
You got the Uffizi, tons of churches, restaurants, the Calcio Storico, and so much more. I've made this home base twice and loved it. I usually stay at the Palazzo Corsini al Prato which has lodgings available on Airbnb for very affordable prices. The flat that is rentable is part of a huge property that just feels like a storybook tale. While you're there make sure to check out the Mercato Centrale di Firenze, it's a combination market and food hall where you can delight your palate.
Great tiny hill city with lots of history. Just remember that it is quite popular during the Palio (which I am not so fond of), so if you go off season, you'll save tons.
Did you see the movie Under The Tuscan Sun? It was filmed in Cortona. This city is so easy to fall in love with (and the food is spectacular). Stay at Casa Chilenne, Jeanette who runs it will make sure you have an incredible visit.
If you're going to wine country, why not stay in the middle of things. Besides, if you stay here...you don't have to go to the wineries, there are plenty of tasting rooms and incredible restaurants like La Grotta.
WINERIES TO VISIT
Barone Ricasoli was one of our favorites. Their experience is based on the history of the family and most importantly their history with Chianti and Sangiovese. We got to see the museum, gardens, the chapel (and we pulled some strings to see the vineyards). The tour ends with a wine tasting. The tour takes all of about 2 hours and costs €25 per person. Their restaurant, Osteria Del Castelo, located not too far away is outstanding. We ended up going twice when we were in the region.
Barone Ricasoli is located at Madonna a Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti Province of Siena, Italy
Hours of Operation: Daily 10:30am (Monday and Thursdays the winery is only open at 3pm Mon, Thu, and Fri from March-June). Make reservations prior to arriving.
Le Miccine is a ground breaking winery in Tuscany. It's winemaker, Paula Papini Cook is not only a woman, she is also young and comes from Canada.
Le Miccine is located at Località Le Miccine, 44, SP2, 53013 Gaiole In Chianti Province of Siena
Fontodi is one of the Tuscany wine region's iconic wineries. The Manetti family has been at the helm since the late 1960's.
Fontodi is located at Panzano in Chianti, Greve in Chianti,Italy
What do you get when you combine the wine making techniques of Bordeaux with the soil and climate of Tuscany? You get San Felice. Their wine maker, Leonardo Bellaccini studied in Italy, but perfected his craft in France's most coveted region. He even received accolades from the Consorzio del Chianti Classico. These wines are worth the visit.
San Felice is located at Località S. Felice, 53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga SI, Italy
Monsanto means quality in Chianti. The winery began in 1962 when Fabrizio Bianchi received the winery from his parents as a wedding present. Fabrizio and Laura, his daughter work the vineyard together to produce some incredible wines. You can sign up for a tour. They usually take 1:30 minutes and include information on the region, wines, and wine making techniques. You can also book a vertical tasting - well worth the money.
Castello di Monsanto is located at Via Monsanto, 8 - 50021 Barberino Val D'Elsa
Colle Bereto's wines really show off the terroir their grapes grow on.
Colle Bereto is located at Localita' Colle Bereto, Radda In Chianti
By Blanca Valbuena / in Travel, Asia Travel / April 4, 2011
I never thought I'd be able to fly business class on my own dime. But then I learned about churning on credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve which is awesome for travel. This has allowed me to travel in comfort to over 50 countries, even Japan. On my way back from Tokyo to Newark, I flew on Continental/United airlines. The flight was comfortable, the food was outstanding as was the service. I have flown Continental on other occasions which were not as good. It really depends on what country you are flying to and from. This makes a huge difference. I would highly recommend this leg if you are traveling back to the New York area from Asia. This and ANA are the best flights I've had so far. To start, the seats reclined a full 180 degrees. This means you had a perfect flat bed to sleep on making this super long flight incredibly comfortable.
Our flight attendant started us off with toasted nuts and my new favorite: Japanese snackmix (must remember to buy this for home). The Snack Mix had sesame sticks, dried wasabi peas, and corn sticks. They also were quite generous with the Champagne pours (not Cava, not Proseco, Champagne).
The best thing about flying business first is the food choices. It makes this incredibly long 16 hour flight significantly better.
After the nuts and bubbly, the flight attendant came around with quite an appetizer cart. It included: a demitasse of Japanese clear soup, sauteed shrimp, chicken sate and assorted sushi. I was in heaven. The soup had seaweed and an egg to break inside. The shrimp was nicely cooked; not rubbery or dry. The rice for the sushi was not overly sweet and the fish was super fresh. A girl could get used to flying Continental Airlines Business First Tokyo to Newark quickly.
A bit later, we were presented with a gorgeous salad of greens, red and yellow tomatoes, cucumbers and roasted pine nuts. The pine nuts added great texture and the dressing (creamy wasabi) was a delight.
The airline gave us the choice of a Western or Japanese meal. I opted for the Western option (I was being gluttonous). Within the Western choice there were three different options: grilled tenderloin steak (Antonio's choice), roast breast of duck or Japanese Seabass (my choice). The Seabass came in a light consomme sauce over sauteed leeks (added a bit of sweetness) with vegetables (zucchini and carrot) and with sauteed shrimp. I would gladly eat this dish at home.
Antonio's steak was delightful. Again, like most flights, it came well done...but not dry. It was dressed in a red wine sauce with potato gratin and vegetables. Another lovely dish. Next time I need to travel with more people so we can taste every dish available.
As if this was not enough, the flight attendant came around with a gorgeous cart with cheeses, fruits and Port.
This was followed by dessert: vanilla ice cream and assorted pastries. I have to admit that Continental had defeated me; I had to skip dessert.
Breakfast I did not skip. I have to apologize for not putting up a picture, but after flying for 17 hours my photography skills just were not there. Breakfast started off with a fruit plate and croissants. The Western choice was an herb omelet with tomato concassee, pork sausage (delicious), grilled pork loin and hash browns. The Japanese option was made up of a young sardine with spicy cod roe, vermicelli with chicken, braised saury, hijiki seaweed and a Japanese omelet...oh yeah it also came with Japanese pickles, miso soup and steamed rice.
One thing is for sure, on this flight, Continental (now United) will not let you go hungry. I'll have to go with the Japanese option on the next flight, something I am actually looking forward to.
After flying on Delta to Tokyo and the Philippines, I needed to make my way back home. I was lucky enough to fly ANA airlines (All Nipon Airways). ANA is the biggest airline in Japan and also a member of Star Alliance. It's ranked one of the best airlines in the world, so needless to say, I was excited to fly this airline again. I had already had a very pleasant experience and my expectations for my meals were now pretty high. This new flight was just the flight from Manila to Tokyo where I would have an hour and a half layover to the Continental leg of the trip to Newark Airport. The seats on this flight were quite comfortable. They were not the cocoons of Delta, but were spacious and reclined fully; good stuff. If you're wondering what is it like to fly ANA Airlines Business? It's all sorts of wonderful.
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When we sat down the flight attendant offered us drinks. I opted for Champagne. It was Charles Mignon Brut Grande Reserve Premier Cru (made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), the stuff was delicious. Not overly yeasty, with a bright acidity and citrus on the nose. Exactly what I was craving at the moment. I had a feeling this would be a good flight.
The menu was separated by month. There was only one choice for the appetizer for April. Not to say that they were being cheap. The meal included a black peppered sliced pork loin, a huge simmered prawn and steamed chicken terrine. Thankfully I had learned from my flight from Detroit to Japan (to Manila) to go easy on the eating. I already knew this multi course meal would be enough to make me full, so I made sure to leave some food on the plate. Delicious, the pork had just a tad too much pepper, but it was juicy (something most airlines do not accomplish). The prawn was cooked to perfection and the chicken terrine was sinful. I could have used some crackers or a piece of bread for the terrine, but I made do.
For the main course, there were two choices; either steamed seabram or a roasted pork fillet. I went for the fish and Antonio selected the pork. The fish was lovely; sake steamed sea bream. The meat was clean and not overly fishy (as it should be with white fish) but it had a light sweetness that was contrasted by a bit of umami. The light sauce that the fish came in was perfect for pouring over the steamed rice. Along with the fish and rice were mushroom, bok choi and other Japanese veggies; quite a delight. This dish was impressive and obviously built to please the majority of people.
Antonio's roasted pork fillet was rolled in bacon and served with a bacon-three mushroom sauce and buttered rice. I have to say, his rice was splendid. The texture was a bit crunchier (in a good way). The flavor was rich and decadent and only 482 calories (yup, caloric content was stated on their menu). This airline meal was definitely a win. For dessert, ice cream...but not just any ice cream. The flight attendants came around with individual containers of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I skipped that and went for a little more bubbly. The service, food and goodies on this airline made everything better. This is an airline that knows what it is doing. If you are a foodie, I would highly recommend this as an option. Sure beats out the Continental meal on the way to Colombia.
By Blanca Valbuena / in Travel, Asia Travel / March 18, 2011
Our trip to the Philippines began on March 16. We spent a week eating delicious food in Austin, TX during the SXSW conference. Some highlights were La Sombra, Torchy's at Trailer Park Eatery and Uchi. Those were my two favorite places in the whole town. In order to make it to the Philippines from Austin we made a quick pit stop in Detroit. The layover was long enough to require a hotel, but not long enough to head to town so we stayed at the Westin at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Besides this hotel being lovely, the food at their restaurant, Dema, was off the hook. I was actually glad to enjoy dinner, lunch and a light breakfast there before the flight. Wanna know what is it like to fly Delta BusinessElite from Detroit to Japan? Keep reading - cause it was AMAZING!
The flight would have cost $12k, which I could not have afforded. I saved points for a long time. My last long flight (to Chile about 3 years ago) was over 11 hours and absolute torture. My back was destroyed for a full week. I knew that this would be worse. The trip took a total of 15 hours and I imagined myself with jet lag and an achy back. It was worth it to cash in the points. When we boarded we were given the menu which was designed by one of my favorite chefs: Michelle Bernstein. My first encounter with Michelle's culinary talents was at Azul in Miami over five years ago. Ever since that day I have looked forward to her future projects. You can imagine my pleasure when I saw that she was the chef responsible for designing the menu. Better still, the wine list was put together by (insert name). Quite a nice wine list. I sat down in my super comfortable chair and was greeted with a glass of Champagne, not sparkling wine...but actual champagne; insert name to be exact. It was pleasant: dry, not overly yeasty with nice perlage. Although the list had some nice options, I decided to stick with sparkling for the rest of the flight. The flight attendant came by to take our menu order. A few minutes later, I was presented with another glass of champagne and a nice bowl of mixed nuts. Pleasant, small and a nice way to set the mood.
Black Swan was playing and since I had not yet seen it, I hit play. Good movie, but something was lacking...maybe a little more development between the characters? Maybe I was just frustrated that Nina was not under psychiatric help? I'm not really sure. Am I the only person who feels this way?...but I have gotten away from the subject. Food. A tasting of two appetizers magically appeared: beets with frissee and goat cheese, perfectly cooked shrimp in lemongrass with marinated hearts of palm (just enough acidity) and a lovely basil tomato soup. Bread was offered, but I skipped it to save room for the main course.
As if one salad was not enough, out came a pretty serious salad: mesclun greens, tomatoes, pears, jicama, nuts and a little oil and vinegar. Delicious, to be frank, I was already reaching fullness....But as a food blogger, sometimes one has to sacrifice the waistline.
My dinner was a filet of beef in mustard sauce with sweet potato wedges and vegetables. The flavors were lovely. The profile of the meat was great but, sadly, cooked well. I like my steak mooing. I can see that this would have been a lovely piece of meat had it not been completely sucked dry of blood, but I also understand the predicament of airline meals...for them it is better safe than sorry. Overall, the flavors made up for the temperature (not heat, but the doneness) and I can recognize that it was quite a nicely done dish.
I had a bite of Antonio's dish, he chose the roasted chicken a l'orange with celery puree and stir fried green beans. It was peppery and nice. The texture of the puree was not to my liking, the beans were fine but overall, this was an excellent airplane meal. Think this was it? Wrong...all of the sudden I was offered a snack. I chose the cold soba noodles. My apologies for no picture, but I was 4 glasses of bubbly in, the lights were off, people were sleeping so I was forced to take the pic with my iphone hidden under my blanket. needless to say it came out crummy...so no image. How was it? Yummy. On a regular flight I would have taken this as my dinner.
Time for dessert. I felt like I was at an upscale steakhouse in NYC. Fresh fruits, great cheese choices, cakes (chocolate, cheesecake). I decided to have ice cream...it was more of a vanilla ice; light and fluffy and flavorful. I could have opted for toppings, but since I had pigged out already, I just went for a side cookie. Tasty, almost uncomfortably full...but must document each dish on this trip.
Am I done? Nope...I did mention this was a 12 hour flight, right? Before the plane arrived in Manila, we made a stop at Narita in Tokyo. But before reaching Narita, there was breakfast. I chose the mushroom and swiss cheese omelette. It came with two links of chicken apple sausage, a potato pancake and a grilled tomato. This was a slammin' breakfast. There are few things I like more than a stewed tomato or a well made omelette. The star...the potato pancakes. Fluffy, not greasy in any manner and flavorful. The sausage, simply yum.
We landed in Narita, a beautifully clean airport. One thing I immediately noticed was that many Japanese people were wearing masks. Americans tend to look down on this as weird, but I love it as an idea. People wearing masks are not germaphobes. In Japan it is considered polite to wear a surgical mask when you are sick as to not spread germs. The custom has spread as far as Colombia in South America where restaurant workers are required to wear masks. I gave myself homework..as soon as I land I will research the effect of mask wearing in Japan and Colombia to see if it has had an effect on public health. Another thing I automatically loved about Japan...free (and fast) wireless. I went on twitter, facebook, checked website traffic and called my mom via Skype. Not bad for a 30 minute layover. I also stopped by the Ferragamo and Bulgari stores (no purchases though). It was fun checking out the food products like green tea Kit Kat. Will have to bring some of those home.
When we boarded, it was the same plane. And of course, more bubbly and more food. First thing we got was a bag of nori snacks...I was tempted to open them, but after the last delicious nori snacks I tried, I figured I could save these for later. This was a good idea. I opened them a few days later at the hotel and they were delicious.
My second dinner (or is it brunch/breakfast/lunch? by now I am confused) consisted of a gorgeous salad (greens, heirloom tomatoes, onions, baby corn and Asian dressing), smoked scallops in citrus sauce with peppers, the main dish was shrimp and tofu in brown sauce with baby bok choy and rice with red hot peppers. Dessert was cheesecake with strawberries. The dressing on the salad was ridiculously tasty. The veggies were fresh. The scallops were tasty, not chewy and perfectly dressed. The shrimp in the main dish had an ideal texture, the tofu was crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside (somehow the 9chewiness worked), the rice was perfect by itself, but even better when mixed in with the brown sauce. The strawberry cheesecake was bliss. I took two bites. As you can imagine, there was not much room left in my stomach. I only wish I could have eaten the whole cheesecake the berries and the light creamy cake were idyllic.
Delta has refueled my faith in airplane food. After the horrible experience on Continental first class to Colombia, this flight more than made up for it. Delta, Cathay Pacific and Air France are my favorite airlines to fly when it comes to food. Keep up the good work.
As a person who has done business travel a lot over the past six years, I usually dread staying at airport hotels. They are usually slightly away from the hotel, super noisy and have crummy dining options. I am currently at the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport Hotel, this place is the complete opposite of everything stated above. As soon as you walk in you can tell that the hotel will be a different experience. A forest of tall bamboo separates the escalators that lead you to the hotel from the lobby. In the lobby there is a lovely reflecting pool with a raised platform fountain. From the reception desk one can see the open kitchen and the bar. Within seconds I forgot I was at the airport. The staff is friendly, gym equipment brand new and the pool heated. Best part, I got a rate of $125 on priceline and paid $50 for a late checkout, not bad...Almost forgot; there is an entrance to the airport from the lobby and two stands for you to check into your stand.
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Enough about the hotel, I'm here to talk about the food. We went to the restaurant (Named Dema) and the first thing we noticed was a great wine list. The wines are divided not by region or varietal, but by taste profile. I think this is incredibly smart as it allows someone who is not so wine savvy to feel more comfortable with making a choice. On a high note, they had some more obscure varietals (which are quickly gaining ground) like Albarino. On a down note, for their full bodied white selection...only Chardonnay; and no dry sparkling roses 🙁 . I ordered the Albarino ($40) and was very pleased with the wine. We actually took a bottle back to the room for later.
I ordered mushroom ravioli in a cream sauce and opted for additional shrimp ($28 - and no extra charge for the shrimp). Antonio opted for the Cajun chicken in sherry cream ($25). Both dishes were delicious. My ravioli was filled with portabella, porcini and shiitake mushrooms. The sauce was heavy, but not overbearing...nicely balanced actually. The shrimp blew me away. It was perfectly cooked. The majority of places overcook shrimp so it is dry and chewy. Here, the shrimp was nice on the teeth, juicy and quite lovely.
The chicken dish was white meat (breast). I am a dark meat person. Somehow, they made this chicken flavorful and juicy (probably something to do with the searing. The sauce on this dish was also a cream sauce, but much lighter than the ravioli. The vegetables were al dente and quite tasty.
We returned for breakfast. This time I opted for eggs benedict, a dish I rarely order because of its high caloric content (about 600 calories, the equivalent of running at a high speed for over an hour...I did an hour on the elliptical this am, so I figured it would be ok). What I got was two toasted English muffins with poached salmon, poached eggs (hollandaise on the side) and salad greens ($17). The hollandaise was worth the calories, it was an olive oil and lemon hollandaise that tempted me to pour the whole thing over the eggs. I restrained myself and dabbed just a little on the dish. My one complaint was that my "poached" eggs were fully cooked. I like a runny egg when I'm taking mine poached. Regardless the combination of flavors was just perfect.
Antonio opted for the egg and turkey wrap ($14). That was delicious as well. The wrap was lightly grilled, giving it a nice crunch. The turkey added some nice flavors. The avocado added just enough moisture. The portion was huge (I am not one for big portions, but it was nice to have leftovers to take back to the room.
I will definitely stay at this hotel next time I drop by Detroit. Good Stuff
Dema is located at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport at 2501 Worldgateway Place, Detroit, Michigan 48242 (734) 942-6500
By Blanca Valbuena / in Travel, South America, Colombia travel / September 13, 2009
Thirty years ago there were very few supermarkets in Cali, Colombia. My family would go to the Galeria on Sundays after church to do our shopping. The Galeria is a covered outdoor market where farmers (the people Colombians call Campesinos - rural people) come in to sell their goods. I went back to Cali in 2009 and was thrilled to see the Galeria was still thriving. It's located in the Alameda neighborhood in Cali and while it is easily accessible by bus, I would recommend you Uber it. Cali is still not as safe as it needs to be (unlike Medellin, Bogota, and Cartagena).
Pro Tip: Galeria Alameda is located between calles 8 & 9 and carrera 26). Don't get confused by the supermarket that has smartly named "Alameda". You want the dingy, somewhat sketchy looking building that spans an entire block.
Tips for Visiting the Galeria Alameda in Cali
- When you go you need to bring cash in small denominations. There are no credit card machines here.
- Bring a recyclable shopping bag.
- Come hungry, there are great restaurants at the market
- Skip this if you are squeamish. Meats aren't nicely wrapped in plastic here. You will see things you're probably not used to seeing
- Wear comfortable, non-slip shoes.
- Watch your wallet (you can get pick pocketed in the area). I am not telling you it happens all the time, but it can happen, so use common sense.
- No des papaya - this is the Colombian saying for don't be a sucker and wear your Apple watch in a poor area. Same goes for jewelry. Keep your valuables at home.
- Bring someone who speaks Spanish. There is little to zero English spoken here.
- Ask for samples, the sellers will gladly let you taste before you buy.
- Buy from the same vendor, this way you can ask for a discount since you're buying everything from them.
The Galeria Alameda is a big market. You're not going to see tourists there, this is a place where locals shop. As mentioned above, you can do all of your food shopping here. It's not just a market for fruit and veggies, you can get beef, chicken, fish, flowers, and tons more stuff.
During our visit, we arrived at 6am and were impressed at it's size, it's as big as the Chelsea Market in NYC and divided in sections: Fruits, Vegetables, Meats, Crafts and makeshift food stands with incredible goodies. The best part is that you can haggle. You can ask how much a bag of oranges is and usually talk the merchants down a significant amount. Respectful haggling is expected. I'm not a haggler, so I let my family take care of that. For about $20 USD (or $40,000 Colombian Pesos) you will go home with plenty of food for the week.
Things You can Buy at the Galeria Alameda in Cali
I'll start with the items you can't find so easily in the States and the stuff some will find a bit...well...you will see.
MEATS, CHICKEN, FISH & UNUSUAL PARTS
If you are a fan of Andrew Zimmern, you will be all over this place. There are tons of butcher stands at the galeria. No animal parts are wasted in Colombia. You will find just about everything you never thought about eating. On this trip I found some more standard cuts like liver, but also cow eyeballs (used for soup), veal brains (to be baked into a quiche like pie - delicious may I add), pigs feet (for sopa de frijoles) and cow hearts. Surely nothing goes to waste.
Pig's Feet: Pigs feet are great for adding flavors to dishes. If you eat frijoles in Cali, chances are there was a pig's foot in there.
Fish: Although Cali is land locked, it's not so far from the coast. This means you can still get great fish including red snapper.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
Colombia is a wonderland of fruits. You can get something as simple as an apple to something as complicated as a curuba. Think of it this way; Colombia has a large chunk of the Amazon, is surrounded by two oceans, is transversed by the Cordillera de Los Andes (Andes mountain range) and has almost every type of weather. This means that almost any type of fruit and vegetable can grow there. In the fruit section of the Mercado Alameda in Cali, you will find everything you would find in the states like strawberries, blackberries, oranges, mandarins, papayas, bananas, grapes, persimmons,lemons, pineapples, watermelons; as well as fruits that are native to Latin America and much harder to find up north such as:
Curubas: It's a long fruit with green velvety skin. To eat it you stick your fingernail in it and break it in half. Inside it has small black seeds covered with a pink pulp. Great when put in a blender with milk and sugar.
Mamoncillos: These grow on a tree and are sold in bunches. Little and round like a grape with a thin green skin. You bite the skin, peel it off and suck on it's large pit which is covered by a pink, sweet and sour pulp. These are often sold a snack by street vendors.
Tomate de arbol: It's a type of sweet tomato for making juices and desserts.
Zapotes: Round and large with a tan hard thick skin; you tear off the top and it opens (this takes practice and it took us a while to master). Super sweet and delicious, like eating a mousse.
Chirimoyas: (custard apple) Large, green and spiky on the outside with soft skin filled with a white sour pulp with small seeds. Also often used for making juices or souffles. If you leave them out on a counter, they will ripen, so pop them in the fridge if you're not going to eat it right away.
Granadillas: One of our favorites. Similar to pomegranates they have a thin hard skin. You crack the top and hold them from their stem as if they were red wine glasses. With a spoon you eat the pulpy sweet seeds inside. When you bring them home, just keep them in a basket on your counter.
Papayas: Papayas are awesome. They kinda feel like butter in your mouth but are sweet and delicious. While you can get Papayas in the US, they taste really good in Colombia.
Carambolas: Eating these feels like you're eating a grape. Yes, you can eat the skin, and these make an awesome visual addition to cocktails.
Achiote: This is mostly used to add flavor and color to dishes. As such, be careful when handling it.
Chontaduros: These are said to be good for the libido. I wouldn't know about that, but they are super popular in Cali. You can find them throughout the city, but it is said the ones at the Galeria Alameda are the best.
Aloe: We ran into some bunches of aloe vera plants. We were told that they are considered good luck. You are supposed to hang them upside down on your front door to stay lucky.
Places to Eat in the Galeria Alameda in Cali
The food served at the Galeria Alameda may not be the healthiest food around, but it sure is delicious. There are various stands with all types of food, and everyone has their favorite. We went to the Rellenas Carolina food stand. That's my uncle's favorite. On the menu were morcillas (blood saussage), asadura (hearts, livers, kidneys, cow testicles all stewed in a huge pot), insulsos (sweet corn dough with creme fraiche cooked and wrapped in a corn husk). They charge $6 per pound for your choice of goodies.
There are a few things I recommend you absolutely get:
Juices: There are a few juice stands. This is the freshest most delicious juices you will ever get - anywhere. The person at the stand will usually ask you if you want it water or milk based. I hate milk, so you know my choice.
Lechona: Lechona is a suckling pig that has been roasted and stuffed with rice and veggies. Make sure you pick out a piece with crunchy skin. This alone is worth a trip to the Galeria Alameda.
Tamales: Here you will find tamales Calenos (Cali style tamales). I'm more a tamal tolimense kinda gal, but try these out anyway. It will be a good introduction to Colombian tamales. These are made with chicken, pork ribs, pork rind, potatoes, carrots, and a corn dough.
Ceviche: Raw fish cooked in citric acid (usually lime juice). A word of warning, Colombians love to add ketchup, so just tell them ahead of time sin salsa de tomate.
Sausages and Pig Parts: Did I mention that no part of an animal is wasted in Colombia? This is a good thing in so many ways. At the Galeria Alameda, you will be able to find morcilla (blood sausage). This stuff is heavenly, chorizo, and even pig ears. Try them, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Flowers: One of Colombia's chief exports is flowers. If you have been to a florist in the past 6 months, most likely you have purchased Colombian flowers. Nice thing about the Galeria Alameda is that you are getting your flowers straight from the source. You can get orchids of all different types, Heliconia rostratas (more commonly known as lobster claw), lilies...the possibilities are endless and cheap.
If you head to Cali, this is a definite stop. We're still remembering the aromas of the galeria. They were intoxicating.
It is located at Calle 8 with Carrera 26 in Cali, Colombia