Y nos vamos a Colombia

July 20th is Colombian Independence day. In 1810, Colombia declared themselves independent from the Spanish Monarchy. From a quick wikipedia search, the story goes that Colombians used the excuse of wanting to borrow a vase from the Spanish Viceroy to first anger, then instigate a confrontation which led to the separation of the Colombian colonies with the Spanish Regency.

More importantly to me, the Colombia has a bright culture with good food and good dancing. There is a rather sizable group of Colombians in New Zealand and this past weekend they held a party to celebrate their Independence Day. An opportunity to try new foods or enjoy goods ones is an opportunity I am absolutely ready!

You see, once a week, I meet up with a friend from Colombia. We spend some time speaking in English, and some time speaking in Spanish. I have been trying, not very hard, but for a long time, to improve my Spanish speaking skills. I think knowing a second language is a great way to exercise my brain, and nearly all of the Americas speak Spanish or English! A useful skill I think. I’ve learned a lot about the Colombian culture learning about where my friend is from and the stories she tells me of growing up there.

Yummy PigA couple of weeks ago, I learned how to make arepas, a traditional ground corn flatbread. There is a large latin culture in the US, but while I’ve tried Puerto Rican, El Salvadorean, Mexican and Peruvian food many times, I was not as familiar with Colombian food. Like most cultures derived from a strong Spanish influence, beans and rice are a main staple in their diet. I had a plate with an arepa with cheese, beans and rice with beef and avacado, a sausage and a chicharron or crispy pork belly. Empanadas were for sale, savory filled pastries. Delicious!They also had tamales, which I was too full to try. In the US, particularly Chicago with it’s large Mexican influences, they sell tamales from carts. The tamales themselves take a long time to make but you can get a tamale for around one or two dollars (well, you could last I was in Chicago several years ago).  A ground corn dough filled with chicken, pork or something sweet, like dried fruit is the traditional Mexican tamale. They are made inside a corn or plantain husk, which is discarded when you eat them. The Colombian tamales looked a bit different. More fillings, like eggs, veggies and meats. And the tamale is cooked in a banana leaf, and is therefore quite a bit larger than the Mexican variety. One table even had a whole stuffed pig! Colombia is known for their coffee, and my friends made a coffee mouse to sell, and there was even a Tres Leches cake! One of my favorite desserts (probably my favorite non-chocolate dessert even).

Lovely dressesOf course, with good food, you need good drinks. After a couple of beers, I was introduced to aguardiente, guaro, or firewater. It’s a sugarcane liquor flavored with aniseed. It was pretty yum! While it didn’t help with my Spanish speaking skills too much, it did help with my dancing skills.

DancingAt the beginning of the evening, there were several performances of more traditional Colombian dances, with traditional Colombian dress. It was very fun to watch and the dancers were very good. I loved to watch the flowy skirts from the dresses and everyone looked like they were having a good time.

Of course, I wasn’t there to dance in the old tradition. I enjoy salsa dancing, and I was told Colombian dancing was similar. In fact, the modern Colombian dance is called salsa calena. It was very similar to the cuban style that I had learned. Granted, it’s been years since I’ve danced, since New Zealand isn’t really known for it’s latin dance clubs. Besides, I had to work off the calories from the food I had eaten!

Of course, the next morning, I still had some yummy cookies leftover from the party, so I headed over to my favorite new haunt and reminisced on the good times.

Cookies and coffee