I spent a good amount of time in Cartagena, Colombia when I was little. My dad was in the military police and he was stationed in Santa Marta (4 hours away) when I was little. My mom tells me we used to go to Cartagena once a week. Unfortunately, I was about 4 years old at the time, so my memories were fuzzy. I did remember certain food items that I yearned to try again. I am thrilled to report that the food in Cartagena is still amazing. It’s a blend of native Colombian, African, Spanish and even Arabic cuisines. Go to Cartagena, and when you’re there (make sure to check out Cartagena’s door knockers), make don’t miss these ten things to eat in Cartagana.
Things to Eat in Cartagena
Arepa con Huevo: This was my #1 thing to try again. Colombia is known for arepas. There are many different kinds. I may say this is the most decadent (and better than arepa de queso). These cornmeal cakes are given special treatment in Cartagena. They are sold in restaurants for about $3USD, but if you find a street vendor (usually women – and a mom/grandma is most likely involved) you can get one for $1.50 USD – trust me, this is a total deal. They take the arepa, open it in the middle and fill it with ground spiced beef and crack an egg in it. It is then deep fried. Once this step is ready, another egg is cracked inside and the arepa is once again added to the fryer. The whole process takes about 15 minutes and it is totally worth the calories and the money. We love the street-vendor-sold arepas con queso, grilled and oozing with cheese, but the real treats are arepas con huevo, deep-fried (deep-fried!). The best ones you can find are at Plaza San Diego. Look for the grandma, mom, and granddaughter that are frying them on site.
Fruit: Colombia, not just Cartagena, is a haven for fruit lovers. You can buy them at supermarkets, but for the whole Cartagena experience, find a Palenquera (brightly dressed women of African descent) and ask her to buy some. This is your opportunity for an awesome Instagram post (the ladies are happy to pose for you for a purchase). You can usually find them in Plaza de la Inquisicion…but they make their rounds throughout the walled city. Try granadillas (my favorites), uchuvas, maracuya…heck – try one of each. You will thank me.
Limonada de Coco: Cartagena is hot. There are few things more refreshing than Limonada de Coco (Coconut Limenade). It’s a mix of coconut water, lime juice (it’s a special lime from the region – awesome flavor), and sugar. It comes to you in a tall glass and it’s frothy. A lot of restaurants will offer an “executive lunch” which includes this delicious beverage. I particularly liked them at Cafe de La Iglesia.
Arroz Con Coco: If you haven’t noticed yet, coconut is a popular ingredient in the cuisine of Cartagena. One of the things you have to try when you are in Cartagena is arroz con coco. There are two types, arroz blanco de coco & arroz de coco negrito. While they are both tasty, you want the dark coconut rice. It’s sweet (not cloying) and is usually served with fried fish and patacones.
Fried Fish: The ocean is a protagonist in Cartagena, this means seafood is as well. Fried fish is one of the tastiest things to eat in this city. The fish is usually super fresh, super juicy and the outside, perfectly fried. Grab a fin and enjoy – they taste like potato chips. I’m a big fan of this with arroz con coco.
Arabic Food: Yeah, you read right. Cartagena has a nice Arabic community, that means delicious Arabic food. When the Spaniards first arrived in Cartagena, there were among them Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity. With them came the culinary traditions of their land. Then in a later migration, people from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Palestine came and found that they surprisingly had much in common with some of Cartagena’s residents. This means you should not be surprised at the incredible quality of Arabic food found in Cartagena. One of my favorite places to eat Arabic food is M Cocina Arabe in Bocagrande. The service is spotty, but the food is on point.
Ceviche: Since Cartagena is on the ocean, it has plenty to offer when it comes to seafood. Ceviche is one of these treats and can be ridiculously cheap. Look for the street with the cockteleras. These are little stands that sell cockteles – think Shrimp Cocktail. You buy your ceviche and choose the size of the cup. Colombians like their Ceviche with ketchup. I think this is an atrocity, so just tell the person making it “sin salsa de tomate, por favor”. This will get you ridiculously fresh fish. And yes, you can get fancy ceviche at many of the restaurants, but the cockteleras are just as good and ridiculously cheap. Go to Avenida Venezuela and you will find plenty of these cocktelerias.