What to Eat

What to eat in Cauca Valley

When most people think of Colombia, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t unique and delicious cuisine…but that is slowly and steadily changing. In the Cauca Valley in particular, the flavors of the Pacific, sweetened by sugar cane fields, and the myriad of exotic tropical fruits make this area a foodies paradise. Santiago de Cali is one of Colombia’s less explored cities, but it is here that you will find amazing mercados and fusión cuisine that will surely leave you wanting more.

If you’ve traveled throughout Colombia, you’ve likely tried the popular soups, Ajiaco and Sancocho, made with chicken, potatoes, and corn, but flavored and presented differently. You’ve probably savored mouthwatering almojabanas and pan de bonos (light fluffy cheesy breads), but each city and pueblo makes their own version, and Cali has arguably the best in the country. There is no shortage of typical fried foods either, from marranitas, mashed green plantains stuffed with chicharrón (think thick cut giant slices of bacon, fried), to aborrajados, sweet plantains stuffed with cheese, breaded, and fried, Cali street food is a must.

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One of the most popular snacks, or mecato, is the cholado. There is a whole street dedicated to this souped-up version of shave ice, read: a refreshing tropical slushie loaded with exotic fruits, sweetened with condensed milk, and topped with a wafer and homemade jam. And speaking of sweets, Cali is famous for its Panela (unrefined whole cane sugar), its guarapo (juiced stalks of sugar cane), and it’s manjar or dulce de leche (a creamy treat similar to caramel).

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Ask any Colombian what food they think of when they hear Cali, and inevitably you will hear chontaduro, a species of palm fruit with a distinct flavor, that may take some getting used to. In the Cauca Valley you will find it used in recipes from creamy seafood dishes to decadent cheesecakes, but the best way to enjoy it is on the street with honey and salt. Cali is also famous for its fresh and delicious fruit juices. Lulada is made from lulo  and sweetened with panela or sugar, champú is made with corn, orange, and pineapple and sweetened with cinnamon, and cloves, and salpicon made with apples, papaya, grapes, strawberry, banana or any combo of fruits. Lastly, if you’re feeling feisty, you can even add a splash of Aguardiente del Valle, one of the countries typical liquors with a distinct licorice flavor. For another refreshing drink, try a Poker, the regions light lager that is easily enjoyed on a characteristically hot Cali day. Be sure to visit the Galeria de la Alameda, named a cultural patrimony site of the people of Cali, los caleños, where you can find almost all of the above. Or if you are looking for a restaurant that specializes in local dishes, La Comitiva, Platillos Voladores, and Picaro Cangrejo are some of our favorite options.

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