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
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