Cartagena Local Restaurants – Demente


Demente

One of the most exciting things that my wife and I do, anywhere, is to find the highlights of a location. We do that here in NYC to the extent that we are able. We have a list of the best places to go for a burger (it’s a short list, and Paleo friendly!), the best places to go for a drink (sorted by what kind of drink, what kind of environment, etc.). We keep tabs on where to go, when to go, and what to do. And we just do it for fun.
Similarly, we keep track of the little holes in the wall that we find in every city we travel to. We will never forget the tiny little place in San Juan, Puerto Rico that we stumbled across completely by accident which served some of the best restaurant food we have ever had! It was definitely a local place, with amazing food, great prices, amazing service, and a decent ambiance. Though, again, it was a local joint, so it didn’t have the kind of polishing a tourist might be looking for.

Well, today’s post is about another one of those places. The kind of place you would miss unless you were specifically looking for it. It’s called Demente.

Demente Restaurant

If you wander around Getsamani in Cartagena, you may wonder if you’re in the wrong place. And depending on the street you’re on, you may well be in the wrong place. It’s a dirty, unpolished, unkempt section of Cartagena. It’s been called an “up and coming neighborhood”. We all know what that means, right? It means that it’s not there yet. And that’s true – for the most part. But it’s areas like this where you’re most likely to find authentic local gems. Places where the food is still made to serve to locals. And this is just the kind of place that my wife and I love to find. We like to find the best of the local foods – and where better to look than in an “up and coming neighborhood”?

Demente is a tapas restaurant and bar. The daily tapas are written up on a large chalk board, hung above the bar area. There are quite a number of them, and they have a large variety of foods, flavors, and styles that they bring to the table.DementePork My wife and I stopped in at Demente twice. The first time we marveled at the setup, the ambiance, and the styling of the restaurant. We would have gone in to have a drink, but the tables were all full, and we had already eaten that night. The most notable feature of the restaurant was the retractable glass roof, leaving it completely open-air on good weather nights. We filed it away in our heads for the next time and returned 2 nights later, hungry and excited to eat some of the tapas they had available. The most exciting part of most Tapas restaurants, for me at least, is reviewing what is often an impressive list of options. I love options. And the options at Demente were excellent. Unlike most Tapas places however, the most exciting part of Demente was eating the Tapas! They were top-notch. They were cooked in an open kitchen, fully visible from the dining room and bar. The cooks were local experts, clearly at the top of their craft, and the food they produced was just amazing!

DementeCornEmpanadasWe went to Demente with a friend, so that we could order some Paleo Tapas, and the friend would have a chance to sample some of the non-Paleo Tapas and give us her thoughts on those. My wife and I ordered a few different Tapas dishes, and our friend ordered another non-Paleo Tapa of her own. Of our order, two were really exceptional. One was completely Paleo in the picture above: It was a baked pork loin, cooked to juicy perfection, and served with diced broccoli and pickled red peppers. The second was definitely not Paleo, but our friend said that it was so good that I couldn’t resist a bite (I did stop at one bite though)! It was a Colombia empanada made of corn (no wheat, we asked), with spiced sweet ground beef and mozzarella as a filler. The sauce was some sort of spicy mayonnaise, which I did not try, but was apparently almost as good as the empanada on it’s own.

I definitely recommend going to Demente if you ever find yourself in Cartagena. A short walk around Getsemani, in the early evening, would be well worth your time as well. There are some excellent places with dancing, music, and some other restaurants with what appeared to be great food. We didn’t discover Getsemani until near the end of our trip, so we didn’t have the time we needed to really get a good feel for the neighborhood. But what we saw, we were very impressed with!

Questions:

  • Which local restaurants do you think are “hidden gems” in your home town?
  • Would you tell people about them, or hide them and keep them for yourself?
  • Do you keep notes on those amazing places you discover on your trips?

The Fruits Of Colombia


ColombiaCoconut2

I promised to write a post on the fruits of Colombia, so here it is! The downside is, of course: No recipe today. But when you see what I’ve got to say about the fruits in Colombia, you’ll forget the missing recipe, and hop a flight down to Colombia to taste some new and exciting fruit!

ColombiaPapayaVariety of common fruit:

First off, there was such a variety of fruit available in Colombia, it was truly unbelievable! Walking down the isle of the grocery store was walking down the isle of my imagination – the colors, textures, sizes and shapes of the various fruit available was truly astonishing! Of course, there were the expected varieties: oranges, limes, mangoes. But there were even varieties of these that I didn’t know existed. And the ones in my pictures are just the ones available while I was taking note! I imagine that there were different mangoes in another grocer, and probably would be new varieties the next day too. There were even three different varieties of Lime on the shelves and two kinds of Papaya on the shelves.

ColombiaFruits5ColombiaFruits3Mango: Tommy Mango, Sugar Mango, Apple Mango, Kent Mango
Lime: Tahitian Lime, Key Lime, and “Common Lime”Papaya: Golden “Hawaiian” Papaya, Red Papaya
Pineapple: Red Spanish and Cayenne

ColombiaFruits1

You see the varieties of Pineapple? There’s a tall display in the center of the above photograph with Golden Pineapple. On the bottom right is a red Pineapple, and a purple Pineapple. And yes, they had different labels and different prices too!

New Fruit that I tried:

Guanabana: This is the green spiney fruit at the bottom of the picture above, with a cut open one next to it. It’s tall, and the flesh looks almost like little silk sacs with the seeds suspended inside them. It is very sweet, though the texture takes some getting used to. I am really looking forward to trying this again, and will be buying some if I see it around here!
Zapote: This looks almost like a brown coconut. It has a brown, flakey skin. But when you cut it open, you’re greeted with a smell almost like a fruity brown sugar, and the color of the fruit flesh is bright pink. I ate it right out of the shell of the fruit with a spoon, leaving the shell at the end. It was very sweet, not very juicy, and certainly a delight! I think I would like to try taking the fruit out, chilling it, and eating it like ice-cream. I think the flavor and texture are just right!Tomate De Arbol: Literally translated, this is a “Tree Tomato”, and looks like one. Just as surprising as it looks on the outside, when you cut it open, it still resembles a tomato! But the similarities stop with the appearance. You eat a Tomate De Arbol by cutting it open and removing the skin, then eating the entire inside of the fruit. It is sweet, with just a hint of sour tang giving it a very exotic and exciting flavor. I saw juices made from Tomate De Arbol all over the place in Colombia, though I was too busy eating it fresh to try a juice.
Guava: I am well familiar with Guava. I’ve had it here as the occasional grocery store treat, as well as in my travels to the Caribbean. But it was fantastic to become reacquainted with it! The flavor of Guava is completely unique, and simply cannot be described – if you haven’t had it, you must!

Fruits that I will try next time:

There were just so many fruits there, I couldn’t try them all! Believe me, I wanted to, but with activities, alcohol and restaurants, and beach time, my Fruit Tasting time was slightly limited. As you can see from the list above, I did make some time for Fruit Tasting, and will continue on my next trip. And I don’t mind saving a bit of anticipation for my future travels to Colombia, and to share with you!
These are fruits that I saw and didn’t have a chance to try. They looked delicious! And I am definitely looking forward to my next trip to give these the time that they deserve!

Granadilla: This is a gourd-looking fruit with a hard green exterior. As I understand it, the inside is quite liquid, and quite delicious! You cut it open and almost drink the flesh out of the gourd-like skin of the fruit.
Cherimoya: This is an amazing looking fruit, similar in size and shape to a Guava, but with a ridged exterior. I understand that the flesh is soft, also like a ripe guava, and quite sweet.
Lulo: This fruit was everywhere, and the only reason I didn’t get around to trying it was because the street vendors, for some reason, never seemed to have it. I guess they didn’t have it because other people got to it first! It is shaped, sized, and colored like an orange. And side by side, they would be difficult to tell apart at a glance. Lulo is smoother on the outside than an orange. As I understand it, this is rarely eaten directly, and is most often made in to a drink or smoothie.
Mamoncillo: This looks like a small lime with a slightly browner tint to the skin. Unlike a lime, however, the skin on this is cracked open, more like a Lychee. I did see this at a few street vendors in passing, but didn’t see it often enough to have a chance to try some. It is definitely on my list for next time!

I expect that there are others that I simply must try! The list above is just the list of fruits that I noticed myself, while I had the time and presence of mind to take notes on. The next time I go, I will take some serious Fruit Tasting time, set aside for the sole purpose of finding and trying new and exciting fruits!

Questions:

  • What are your favorite foreign fruits?
  • Have you fallen in love with a fruit that you cannot buy locally?
  • Have you ever tasted a foreign fruit that just knocked your socks off in every way possible?

ColombiaCoconut1

What’s For Breakfast? Celery Scrambled Eggs, Avocado, Papaya


CaribbeanBreakfast

Papaya, Eggs and Avocado. It’s the Urban Paleo Chef’s Paleo Digestion Meal!

Another of my Colombia meals, here is one of the breakfasts that I put together while I was there. I always try and get accommodations with a kitchen. That can turn a $1000 dollar food budget for vacation in to a $300 food budget for vacation, making big changes in the number of trips that I can afford to take each year. Then I can go out to some of the slightly more expensive restaurants and enjoy myself, the top quality foods they serve, and not be panicked that I will run out of budget for my other meals.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup sliced Celery
  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 cups sliced Papaya (fresh)
  • 1 large sliced Avocado

I love eggs. They’re a great source of quality cholesterol, valuable fats, and some great protein. Not to mention the vitamins and minerals that come with them. The eggs in Colombia were amazing! They had the most incredible orange coloring, like I wrote about in my “Are All Eggs Created Equal?” post a few months ago, indicating a very high quality egg. The extra orange coloring, as opposed to the dull-yellow that we see here in the US, indicates that the chickens were fed their natural diet of bugs, grubs, grass and seeds from foraging in a farm yard. A very nutritious diet for a chicken, and the diet necessary to produce the top quality eggs that have the bright orange colored yolk.

The fruits of Colombia are incredible! Walking down the fruit isles in Colombia is an eye-opening experience. Most of the street vendors have more varieties of fruits available than the best grocery stores here in the US. And the grocery stores in Colombia had several isles, filled with fruits which I had never seen before. I never even imagined the kinds of variety, and freshness, that the fruits could have! It was absolutely amazing!
I did a little of “try something new” and I worked a bit with the old stand by foods as well. I ate quite a bit of Avocado. And while that’s nothing new for me, it is most definitely a local food, and much more fresh and delicious there than I have had here. Similarly, papaya is a familiar food for me, but it was so fresh I thought it had been picked off a tree outside the store when I bought it. I brought it home and opened it up immediately.

I’ll do a post on the fruits of Colombia tomorrow. But for today, enjoy my breakfast!

Questions:

  • What are your favorite breakfast foods?
  • What are your most frequent breakfast foods?
  • What breakfast foods do you look for, make, or prefer when you’re traveling?

What’s For Lunch? Smokey Salad


SmokeySalad

Happy holiday weekend! I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday. My wife and I took a trip out to the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania to visit with some family and friends. We relaxed, kayaked, and ate some really amazing meals! One of which was a grilled slab-bacon. I’ve done fried bacon, I’ve done baked bacon. This was the first time I had tried grilled bacon. And it was amazing!! Of course, it helps that I used the Vermont Smoke And Cure Slab Bacon, which is by far the most delicious thing I have ever eaten! Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But not by much…

Today’s meal is the result of a serious craving. The grilling this weekend got the smoked meat flavor back in to my head. Do you ever have serious cravings that just need to be resolved before you can move on with your life? Well, I do. And right now it’s for that rich, lustrous flavor that can only come from smoked meat, smoked oil, and some smokey flavoring additives!

What you’ll need:

  • Mixed greens
  • Cilantro (1 bunch, just the leaves)
  • 3-4 Crimini Mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz. Smoked Turkey, chopped
  • 1 cup Green Onions, chopped (or chives)
  • 1 large Hass Avocado, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Flax Seeds, whole
  • 2 tablespoons Smoked Sesame Seed Oil

Serves: 2

Oh, the smokey flavor! I used the smoked sesame seed oil because making a “smoked olive oil” is challenging and time consuming. And it’s not readily commercially available. I have seen some variations on smoked additives to make the olive oil a smokey oil, and it can work quite well. I’ve personally been playing with the idea of using smoked garlic as an additive to olive oil, just to see how that would come out. But it’s not a normally available item, and if you’re going to make it yourself (I highly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for when I try the smoked garlic) it takes quite a bit of prep time for this salad. On the order of several weeks.

This combination of ingredients just screams “smokey” with every bite. In some bites, you’ll get some of the flax seed, maybe some avocado, and the green onion flavor. It will be heavy with the scents and flavors of the smoked sesame seed oil. In other bites you will have the cilantro and turkey with the smoked sesame seed oil and flax seed keeping that smoked flavor completely central to your meal. The smoked sesame seed oil is a strong flavor, but thankfully not overpowering, so each of the supporting flavors can contribute to your enjoyment of the overall theme of the meal. And it comes out great!

Questions:

  • Do you ever get really heavy food cravings? Are they for healthy foods, or for sweets?
  • What do you crave today? Maybe a small craving?
  • Do you ever get food cravings that you know are unhealthy, and that you’re going to avoid at all costs? How do you avoid it? What do you fill that void with?

Bandeja Paisa


BandejaPaisa

This is one of the dishes that Colombians call “Comida Tipica”. These dishes are called “Bandeja Paisa” and “Mini Paisa”. In this case, it was a “his” and “hers” meal, where the “Mini Paisa” in the back there was obviously the one for me. As with any dish, there are any number of different combinations of foods that may make up the meal in any given place.

In Colombia, “Bandeja” just means “Platter”. So there are a lot of different Bandeja meals on most menus, often one for each of the different kinds of foods that the restaurant specializes in. In Cartagena we often ate the Bandeja Pargo which was a Pargo Fish Platter, and quite delicious in a seaside city like Cartagena. Unlike the Badeja Pargo, the Bandeja Paisa doesn’t refer to the food it is serving in the name of the dish, but to the region from which that food comes. It’s the only one of the various Bandeja meals that names the region, rather than the food on the plate, and it’s an dish of pride for the people of Colombia, particularly those from the “Paisa” region of Antioquia.

The Basics of a typical Bandeja Paisa:

  • Ground Beef, spiced with garlic and regional herbs
  • Chicharron, which is a pork belly, cut like a thick-cut bacon, and then sliced in to chunks and fried
  • Chorizo, which is the local sausage; in the above picture, it’s also sliced in to chunks
  • Fried Egg
  • Arepa, which is a sweet-corn patty
  • White Rice
  • Patacon, which is the Colombian name for fried green plantains
  • Red Beans cooked with pork and regional herbs
  • Avocado
  • A Slice of Lime, or sometimes lemon

Additionally some Bandeja Paisa meals sometimes include:

  • Morcilla, also called black sausage
  • Salad, this is often just lettuce, sliced onions, and sliced tomato
  • Fried Ripe Plantain
  • Chicken, and/or other meat substitutions or additional meat varieties

If you’re thinking that this is a big meal, you’re right. Not only is this a big meal, but it is quite common for a restaurant there to serve this dish for any meal of the day. So if you were to walk in to a restaurant for breakfast and order a Bandeja Paisa, most restaurants (as long as they have it on the menu) wouldn’t even blink at the request. There are “breakfast” foods there in Colombia, like there are here. But the Bandeja Paisa transcends those labels, and is commonly eaten for any meal.

This is obviously not a Paleo meal. Arepa, white rice, and red beans make up a fairly large portion of the plate. And if you were to attempt to order the Bandeja Paisa without those being included, you might be in danger of having the cook spit in your food. Of course, I don’t know this first hand – I didn’t play Bandeja Paisa Roulette. But this dish contains such a high degree of pride, it might be similar to walking in to a Chicago Pizza Parlour and asking them not to deep-fry the pizza. They might accommodate your request. And they might spit in your pizza. Me? I just ate around the arepa, rice and beans. It’s better that way.

Questions:

  • What is your favorite regional food? Where did you have it? Is there a place that “does it best”?
  • When you travel, do you seek out the typical foods of the region like I do? Have you ever regretted it? If so, don’t skimp on the story!!

What’s For Lunch? – Double Coconut Salmon with Side Salad


CoconutSalmonHash

Continuing the Caribbean theme with the coconut and fish (salmon in this case), and of course using up the rest of my pineapple, this lunch is an excellent meal to bring to work and chow down to your heart’s content at lunch!

No Colombia story today… Instead, I’ll share a different story which is fresh in my mind, and will likely be forgotten if I don’t tell it now! I’ve been fearing for a few weeks now that the heat would likely soon get in the way of me running to work. I can take off my suit coat for a while, once it gets to that, but that will only be a temporary solution. The truth is that I do most of my training wearing very little clothing, and my morning runs to the ferry are done wearing quite a lot more. The difference, while it is likely good for me to change up my “training” a bit, also increases the probability of me sweating too much in my suit.

Anyway, as I was considering whether we had gotten there yet this morning, and dodging the generally ever-present goose droppings on the path, I noticed that the goose droppings were likely more than I am used to seeing. So I started to pay attention. I like that running gives me a chance to keep an eye on the changes that are happening to my neighborhoods, since I am actively engaged in that very neighborhood daily! Well, looking around at the larger than usual number of goose droppings, I immediately noticed that the geese were leading around their little herd of goslings! I just love goslings! They look like furballs, literally, and waddle around in a straight line behind the goose who is leading them (often the mother, but the mother and father work together actively so it’s usually difficult to tell which is at the head at any given time). They are SO CUTE!

And that, to me, is the surefire sign that Spring is over, and Summer is upon us. That and the fact that I’m wondering, every day now, whether it will be my last fully suited run to the ferry.

What you’ll need:

  • The Salmon:
  • 1 can Wild-Caught Salmon
  • 1/2 cup Celery, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Crimini Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Coconut Chips
  • 2 tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • The Salad:
  • Salad Greens (this was the “spring mix”)
  • 1 small Zucchini, sliced
  • 1 large Avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 Leek stalk, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Pineapple, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Serves: 2
Prep and Cook time: About 20 minutes (mostly prep)

In a pan, heat up the celery and mushrooms with the coconut oil on a medium heat. Stir these slowly but regularly for the first 1-2 minutes. After about 2-3 minutes these should start to sizzle. As soon as they’re sizzling, add the salmon and coconut chips and mix thoroughly. Keep this on the heat for about 1 more minute, stirring regularly, and then remove. The cooking is done. Leave these on the stove while they cool a bit, and tend to the salad.

The Salmon is pre-cooked as part of the canning process, so there’s no ingredient which actually needs to be cooked to eat like this. The most important part of the cooking process is imbuing the ingredients with the coconut flavors. This comes first from the coconut oil, where the flavor of coconut is very subtle, but will cook in to the food quickly. Then these come from the coconut chips which carry the coconut flavor strongly, and will pass that flavor on to anything it is cooked with. The result is quite delicious!

The salad on the side will compliment the salmon quite delightfully! Not only does it use up the leftover pineapple from my Pineapple Beef post, but pineapple is quite a delicious fruit, and can be eaten alone, along with many other meals! I am a big fan of pineapple in almost all of it’s forms, and love to eat it when it’s in season.

Questions:

  • Have you seen any of the spring/summer animals out to play and be social yet? Squirrels, birds, baby raccoons? Which ones do you look for each year?
  • Have you been startled by some of the early summer wildlife on your walks and runs in the woods or parks recently? Grouse, baby deer?
  • Have you enjoyed any of the wonderfully beautiful early summer flowers? Which ones? Which are your favorite?

What’s For Lunch? – Grass-Fed Burgers with Side Salad


Burgers

Finding a great burger can be a challenge. Many restaurants (surprise, surprise!) use a packaged product for their burgers, which means that they don’t know what’s in them. If you say: “I’m allergic to wheat” the chef likely won’t realize that there are bread crumbs in the burger. So when you find a great burger, it’s something to celebrate! Even more exciting is when you find a great packaged burger that you can keep in your fridge for those mornings when you really don’t have the time to make a more sophisticated meal. And today’s meal is a burger and side salad for lunch.
The burger is a grass-fed burger, available in a 4-patty box from Trader Joes. The burgers are quite excellent, the price is great, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with a stand-by meal like this one. Because as much as I would like to always have the time for a multi-stage meal with hand-made cilantro sauce, hand-ground burgers, and hand-picked salad greens, the reality of my life is that I almost never have time for any of those things. So, I do the best that I can. And I share that with you!

I am sure that most of you know how to cook a burger, and make a simple side salad. So, since that’s not what you all need me to talk about, instead I will talk about my recent trip to Cartagena! Today I will discuss our travel tactics. You should feel free to laugh, and cry, with me as I discuss the ins and outs of how we often end up traveling.

My wife and I, for whatever reason, love to pack at the very last minute. We live busy lives, and scheduling time for things like packing every night for a week is simply not something we’ve ever really managed to do. So we suffer through a very long night of packing. We stay up late to do our list-checks and make sure that we have everything. Then we still have to get up, usually far earlier than we would like, and hoof it to the airport for our flight. And this is true for a long-weekend in LA or San Juan, PR, or for a serious vacation like we just did in Cartagena Colombia.

On the plus side, we usually pass out on the plane and sleep through the entire flight. Often we don’t even notice any of the normal irritants on a plane, like noise, kicking, etc. because we arrived in such a state of exhaustion. Then, we’re usually somewhat refreshed when we arrive and are often in a position to really enjoy ourselves on the first day!

In retrospect, though, it’s not a fun way to travel, but it’s worked out well for us. Being refreshed and in a good mood when we are finally settled in is a great way to start a vacation! I know that there are plenty of people who simply can’t sleep on a plane. That, of course, is not me. And while I wouldn’t quite recommend this mode of travel, if this is your style, don’t fight it. The benefits can be worth the hassle.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 lb Grass-Fed Beef Burgers (I got these from Trader Joe’s)
  • Mixed Greens
  • 1 large can Green Olives
  • 2 tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Questions:

  • How do you plan and execute your packing? Are you a last-minute packer like me? Or are you carefully planned and executed over time like I think I want to be?
  • Do you sleep on the plane? Do you sleep in any transportation: bus, train, ferry?