Best Food Carts: Cartagena, Colombia
The coconut king: serving up fresh coconut milk and meat. Cracked to order.
After years of looking forward to visiting Colombia, I was finally boarding the JetBlue flight from JFK. I immediately started practicing my Spanish with the flight attendants to prep for what I knew was going to be an epic long-weekend in Cartagena with my friends. I had high expectations to say the least, but I had done my homework– I read dozens of websites, consulted all my friends who had been and even studied Google Maps. I knew where I was going, how to get there and had plenty of tips for everything in between. I was ready for what this ancient city in Colombia had in store.
As planned, we walked the old city, visited the beaches of Rosario Island, ate at fabulous restaurants and partied the night away on a chiva tour. What I hadn’t counted on was enjoying breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks from some of Cartagena’s abundant food carts– putting New York “street meat” to shame. It’s safe, it’s delicious and the service was top notch. Go figure?
I’ve included my favorite carts populating the street corners for your visit to Cartagena.
Tiny limes, big flavor.
It might look like a giant cube full of watered down lime juice, but I assure you, this guy is making magic. At least that’s what it tastes like– deliciousness in a cup. I have no idea how Matteo squeezes all those tiny limes without going mad, or how he keeps the ice from melting and watering down the juice, but it was the sweetest, most refreshing juice I’ve ever tasted. The limes may be small, but the cups aren’t big enough!
Don’t forget to get extra sauce before walking away from this stand.
If Michelin rated Colombian food carts, this guy would have five stars. Hector takes his craft of empanada-making very seriously. This isn’t some half @ssed operation. What’s your fancy: Beef? Chicken? Vegetable? A breakfast empanada with eggs? Hector has it all. See that blue container on top of his cart– that’s a special hot sauce you’re going to want to apply liberally to the empanada of your choice. Make sure to request any extra cupful to reapply as you devour your tasty snack.
This street vendor has every right to her air of confidence.
BANANAS AND AVOCADOS
What do you see when you look at this woman? I’ll tell you what I see. Confidence. Confidence that she’s selling the best darn bananas you’ve ever had. Is it mistletoe in her hair? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to kiss her after you peel back some yellow perfection. And the plump, green fruit to her left are the largest, most epic avocados you’ve ever seen. Need an impromptu bowling ball? Crack open that monster avocado and just hope the pit isn’t too large! You could probably use the empty space as a place to store your wallet and keys (just kidding, maybe).
Andres doesn’t just sell coconuts, he sells “Coco Frio” or chilled coconut milk. Served right in the coconut, you drink the milk with a straw. Unlike Tom Hanks in Castaway, Andres is a skilled coconut technician and will demonstrate how to open a coconut by hacking it with a giant machete. You may question the safety of the operation, but go with it, you are in Columbia and the milk is worth the adventure. Be sure to return to Andreas when you’re finished drinking so he can split the coconut in half and let you eat the succulent coconut meat with a spoon.
Personalized service makes this orange juice even sweeter!
Mariana doesn’t fool around. Anyone can make orange juice, but what separates Mariana from all the others is customer service. At her cart, you can get your juice made “your way”. Everything is fresh; no juice sits and waits to be ordered. It all starts with oranges which Mariana squeezes by hand into a tiny bucket. Don’t care for so much pulp? A tiny strainer takes care of that. Like your juice cold? She’ll shake it in pitcher full of ice afterwards to chill it without watering it down. Fresh squeezed juice a bit tart for you? She’s got some sugar to sweeten it right up. This cart is a non-stop juicing machine where hard work and good service make quality the name of the game.
MEAT ON A SKEWER
Day has turned into night. You’ve had a few drinks. You wander the streets of the old city– what’s missing? And then you find Diego… that’s it, you need a skewer of meat, and you need it right now. Chicken? Beef? Chorizo? Yes, por favor! But don’t stop at the protein on a skewer, there is even corn on the cob grilled right in front of you. To top it off, Diego offers a collection of sauces to appease every palette– Diego makes people happy. Just look at that guy in the background. He didn’t know how his night could ever get any better after experiencing the fun, lively bars around the city, but Diego knew. I quickly discovered standouts like Diego – and all the other professional street vendors we met – always know.
A late night snack on a stick. (Although, it looks more like a full meal, doesn’t it?)