Neptune Oyster’s Michael Serpa Shares His Colombia Food Diary
From whole-roasted pigs to quail egg-topped burgers, the local chef ate well on a recent trip.
If you follow Neptune Oyster chef Michael Serpa on Twitter, you may have noticed a plethora of interesting photos and anecdotes from his recent trip to Colombia. If you don’t (get on it!), no matter—Serpa was generous enough to give us a culinary play-by-play of his trip, the purpose of which was to visit his wife (and Neptune garde manger) Lina Velez’s family. “All in all, I would say that Colombians don’t have the same interest in food as we do here, but they have great products, and are particular about their typical foods,” Serpa told us via email. “There’s not a strong wine culture at all, but more and more tourist-friendly spots are opening and they are doing a lot of Americanized things as well. I definitely ate and drank too much, but it was well worth it.” From patacones to Pilsen beer, check out what he consumed in his adventure ahead (and scroll to the end for Serpa’s favorite Colombian eats in the Boston area).
MIA International Airport, at a Cuban spot call Ku-Va: I had Vaca Frita, which is a flank steak that is slow-cooked and then fried so the crust on the outside gets all crispy. I had that with onions, lime, black beans, white rice, maduros (sweet plantains), a Presidente beer, and Cuban coffee.
Upon arriving to Medellin we threw down some Aguardiente [a Colombian sugar cane-derived spirit] at the terminal, and on the ride to the city. Then we had more Aguardiente and saw a Mariachi band at a relative’s house, and then headed to the hotel.
At the Charlee Hotel in Medellin (El Poblado neighborhood): I had two amazing eggs (super orange and delicious), papaya, melon, yogurt, an arepa with butter and soft cheese, black coffee, and a little coconut bread thing.
Pollos Mario in Medellin: This is a chain in Medellin that does charcoal rotisserie chicken. My brother in-law and I split a whole chicken with arepas, cabbage salad, patacones (a.k.a. tostones or green plantains), rice, and Pilsen (Colombia’s most typical beer, super light and refreshing. Also cheap as shit.) My wife and mother in-law both had consomme with chicken hearts, livers, kidneys, lime, and cilantro. They also had smoothies. The bill was like $17 or $18.
Carmen in Medellin (El Poblado): This is a high end spot run by a couple, she is half Colombian but grew up in California and he is Colombian and they met at Culinary School in San Francisco ( I think Cordon Bleu). They opened up this spot down there and have a great following. Very nice space, food, service, etc. We had smoked salmon with beets, amberjack collar with Asian style accompaniments, Korean tacos, fish with coconut rice, steak stuffed with braised oxtail with pistachio, a ton of desserts, Cava, Chilean Pinot Noir, and some other stuff thrown in there. Very pricey for Medellin but good spot.
We hit up a bar near where we were staying in the area called Parque Lleras, which is the nightlife center of Medellin. There were 6 of us drinking beers, and the tab came out to be 48,000 pesos which is around $25. We had 21 beers total. Amazing. Had Pilsen, Pilsen Night (a little stronger beer), Club Colombia, and Costenita beers.
Same exact thing as Tuesday.
We then drove to Andes, Antioquia in Coffee Country, about 3 hours from Medellin. This is where my wife was born and lived before her family moved to Medellin. We drank Pilsen in the car the whole ride, which is legal as long as the driver isn’t drinking.
El Molino Rojo in Andes: This is my wife’s aunt’s place. The front is a cantina or bar area, and the back is a restaurant doing typical paisa food. I had a fried pork chop, cabbage salad, and patacones. My wife had braised veal tongue with rice and salad. The tongue was really good.
Mother in-law’s farm in Andes: She had some cooks hired to come over and make dinner for about 20 people. We had roasted pork loin with mango sauce, rice with pork scraps, cabbage salad, and peach tres leches for dessert. Again, more Pilsen.
Handmade arepas, made by the wife of the farm hand who lives on the farm in a little shack. They were really nicely made, crisp and thin. Also, fresh OJ I squeezed from some of the oranges from the farm. Black coffee.
This is the day we killed and roasted the pig. We dug out a pit to make a fire, and rigged up a rack to roast the pig on. We marinated it with Mojo (fresh lime, oranges, garlic, olive oil, green onion, red onion, salt). The pig took about 5 hours. We made pinto beans with chorizo, pig ears, sofritto, and cilantro. We also had white rice, and about 20 beers during the day as pig cooking fuel. Had a bottle of shitty rose wine with dinner.
At the Farm: Had Morcilla (blood sausage we made from the pig’s blood) and arepas for breakfast with black coffee.
Went to a little town called Jardin, and went to a trout farm. We fished our own trout and they fry them up with patacones and salad. More Pilsen, of course.
We then had some good coffee at the Co-Op in Andes and made mojitos with Havana Club rum at the house. Crashed out early.
Same as Friday.
A bowl of pasta at my wife’s aunt’s house. Not that good pasta, with a sweet sauce and cabbage salad.
Then we drove back to Medellin. The road was closed by a coffee farmers protest, so we had mango ice cream pops while we waited. We stopped in Bolombolo for a dried fish cake thing they make, and headed back to Medellin.
We skipped dinner, and went to a nightclub called Jesus Mio, which was very fun, very Colombian. The place was packed, so we had to throw down to get a nice table in the VIP section. I drank a bottle of Don Julio anejo with my wife, and the others drank Aguardiente. They give you popcorn, green mango with lime and salt, and picada (which is grilled pieces of steak, pork, chicken, and chorizo with lime wedges and potatoes). When we left at 4 a.m., they have a cup of hot chicken broth outside so you don’t leave totally wrecked.
Hotel Plaza Granada (El Poblado): Feeling like death after drinking a disgusting amount of tequila, I had 3 cups of black coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, an arepa with queso, and thankfully they had this chicken broth with eggs that was so salty, so that helped me out.
In El Poblado I was still hurting, so I had a flat patty-style burger that comes with coleslaw, crushed potato chips, tomato, quail eggs, cheese, and some other stuff on there. I washed it down with soda and three Advil. I had a double espresso after. Then about half an hour after the burger, we went to eat at Mondongo’s (a very popular place in Medellin and Miami). I had the half order of Mondongo (which is a tripe stew with potatoes, spices, pieces of pork, cilantro, avocado, etc.). Had two Pilsen and more coffee, and was magically healed and ready to roll.
Ate another burger at a roadside stall that is literally in the middle of a busy street on the median divider. I ate across the street on the sidewalk as the waiter ran food across the road through traffic. The burger was OK, but it was more fun to watch how the place works.
Wife’s aunt’s house in Medellin (Calazans): Had an arepa with scrambled eggs and black coffee.
Joe Mix in Medellin (Belen), a little spot in a strip mall. I had quesadillas and fajitas, and fresh made potato chips with Pilsen.
San Carbon in Medellin (El Poblado): This was the last meal I had there. It’s a high end spot in El Poblado that does meat on a Charcoal grill. A very cool space, all-palm roof, all open air. I had a couple of bottles of rioja, churrasco steak, sirloin steak, bbq ribs, veggies, baked potato, patacones, flan, chocolate cake, and brownies. The food was pretty good.
Want to try something similar around these parts? “The best Colombian restaurants are all in Eastie,” says Serpa, who lives in the area and favors Rincon Limeno (for roasted chicken with rice and beans; and the Plato Montanero, which is grilled steak with fried pork belly, plantains, rice, beans, salad and a fried egg), El Paisa in Orient Heights, El Penol (for braised tongue), and Punto Rojo (for empanadas).