Valencia Eats: a taste of Colombia in Spain
After visiting Bogotá last year for all of 24 hours, stuffing in as much food as possible, my eyes were really opened to new facets of Latin American cuisine. I know that sounds like someone visiting Seoul on a stopover remarking that their eyes were opened to Asian food beyond sushi. But perhaps my perspective on Latin American had really been quite limited, outside of (American-)Mexican food, a bit of Peruvian, arepas, Argentinian steaks, and Brazilian feijoada. Colombian food was truly new to me.
And living in Valencia, it turned out there are quite a few Colombian restaurants scattered around town. They were just under my nose - I just didn't know to look for them!
Patacao Tostao (Calle Albacete 21, 46007)
At the first Colombian restaurant in Valencia I tried, my eyes were opened even more, because while there were dishes similar to the ones we tried in our short time in Bogotá, this menu included so many more things. For example, the "patacao" in the restaurant's name refers to the patacón, or a smooshed plantain that's fried twice. It seems that this is a preparation of plantains common not only in parts of Colombia, but also Venezuela, Panama, and other countries in and around the Caribbean.
I got mine loaded with all sorts of meats to try them all: shredded chicken, sausage, chicharrones, shredded pork. I liked the sausage the most - it had a light skin, and was loosely packed. The rest of the meats needed the supplied sauces because they were a bit dry.
But the patacón! What a discovery! A minimally processed grain-free alternative to bread! Why isn't this eaten more around the world? All of the gluten-free and Paleo people would go crazy over this. Firm, crisp, and not sweet at all, I can imagine this base as being used for all sorts of dishes and sandwiches.
A nice, thick mango juice complemented it all nicely.
On another day, when I was feeling under the weather, I sought out the sancocho chicken soup at Patacao Tostao. I feel like I can really count on the Latin Americans for a big hearty bowl of chicken soup. I just can't find the same in any Spanish restaurant.
This hit the spot for my head cold, and the cold weather, with a thick broth, chicken, and corn on the cob. It was served with rice, but the waitress offered arepas as a side as well.
Tropicalissima (Avenida Antiguo Reino De Valencia 73, 46005)
After my first encounter with patacones above, I decided to check out another place. Now, Tropicalissima seems to specialize in fruit drinks and fruit-based desserts, with huge fruit salads topped with ice cream on their menu. But they also have regular savory stuff too, and I tried the "Patacón Trifásico" - tri-phase patacón - an awesome name if you ask me. Basically, there were three types of pork on their, and it was topped with some soft cheese.
So next time, I think I'll definitely order a simpler order, because that was just a ton of meat, and my patacón was getting lost down there. I wonder if there's actually a way to order just patacones, to bring home? I would make them myself, but all that oil for frying... Hmmm...
Here, I actually attempted to recreate my amazing first experience with lulo juice in Bogotá. Lulo was this amazingly refreshing and tart fruit that looks kind of like a yellow and green tomato. It was what the waiter at El Mejor Ajiaco del Mundo recommended, and I wish I could have gotten more of that in Colombia. I was a bit apprehensive about ordering it in Spain, knowing that the fruit wasn't something that you could find here. It turns out that they have these frozen packets of pulp or concentrate that they blend with water to make the drinks. So it wasn't bad, but you could taste the difference of using the frozen, processed fruit vs. fresh whole fruit. Plus I found a bit of plastic floating in the drink!
Restaurante Colombiano La Fonda (Calle Fonteta de Sant Lluís 22, 46004)
Another day, another cold.
But once again, the Latin Americans really know their chicken soup. I visited Restaurante Colombiano La Fonda, just south of the Ruzafa neighborhood, on a weekday and had a hunch that they would have chicken soup.
Sure enough, not only did they have chicken soup, it was one of the options for a starter for their weekday set menu. This one was interesting, because it was filled with potato chunks and what seemed like a kilo of chicken livers, in addition to some chicken meat. It was so hearty and filling that I couldn't finish it all and still almost didn't have room for more.
But that was just the first course. For my main course, I had their hamburguesa, which was a flattened patty, griddled. I loved how it was pressed flat so that there were lots of crispy edges, and it got that crust which I just gobble up. It was also seasoned amazingly well, with what seemed like bites of pepper. Accompanying the hamburguesa was a plantain slice, rice, and simple salad.
I also tried their avena, or oat drink. Now, I was expecting something watery, as I had ordered avena at an Ecuadorian restaurant which was liquidy and fruity. This was more like a breakfast oatmeal, blended up with perhaps a touch of cinnamon. It was creamy, oat-y, and delicious! I had to take it home with me, because it was really more of a meal all on its own.
Tropicalmente Herbasana (Mercado Central)
The final stop of my tour of Colombian eateries in Valencia isn't actually an eatery. It's the Latin American stand at the Mercado Central, where I get my poblano peppers, fresh jalapeño peppers, and salsa verde. They basically have products from all over Latin America, but on special "Night of the Market" evening where stalls open at night and offer tapas, they offered Colombian empanadas.
Unlike the heavy and sometimes greasy pastry crusts Spanish empanadillas, or the thinner, drier crusts of Argentinian empanadas, these were made of corn. Lacking the gluten of the wheat doughs, the corn empanadas were more delicate. Fried to a crispy exterior, they held savory meat fillings; I chose the shredded chicken.
All of these restaurants have been in Valencia for quite a while, but it wasn't until after my trip to Peru with the stopover in Colombia, that I opened my eyes to their existence. Now, I've got my source for chicken soup for when I'm feeling sick, and have discovered the wonderful grain-free, Paleo-friendly, Whole30-compliant patacón!