Organ Grind: A South American Food Journal, Part 1
Cartagena’s Plaza de Trinidad
For the last three years I´ve been scraping tips into a pile large enough to finance a relatively thorough exploration of the lower half of The Americas. For the purpose of this article, I’m primarily intersted in its widely varying cuisine, both on the street and indoors away from the mosquitos. And so here I am, ordering Salchipapa from a cart on a corner of Plaza de Trinidad in Cartagena, Colombia.
Cartagena de las Indias is a steambath dream, an absurdly romantic Spanish Colonial reverie made flesh. The French Quarter in New Orleans shares said architectural style with Cartagena, but the latter far outpaces the former in beauty, style and proportion.
The Centro Historico is undeniably jaw-dropping, but the Getsemani district is where the thrill is. At risk of belaboring the comparison with New Orleans, Getsemani is to the Centro Historico what Frenchman Street is to The French Quarter: a real neighborhood full of people carrying on with their lives alongside the travelers who’ve come to drink up some of its charm and indefatigable energy.
The center of all things social in Getsemani as far as I could discern, is Plaza de Trinidad. Every night locals and tourists congeal in a lascivious mass consuming alcohol, food and music, available al fresco right there, with a dark, silent church looming overhead to further encourage the atmosphere of sweaty, pleasurable transgression.
Street food in Colombia tends towards the haphazard and seemingly stoner-inspired; Salchipapa is no exception, nay, it might be the acme of feverishly thrown-together repasts. There are many variations depending on country, region, municipality, city, neighborhood, corner, and individual vendor. Mine started with a bun and whole chorizo sausage; add french fries, cole slaw, tomatoes, onions, sliced hotdog, mayo, spicy sauce, crispy fried bits, and…the glasses of my memory become obscured by steam and flying flecks of grease. The first half was highly satisfying, the second tested my endurance and attention span. I struggled through the last bites like a runner hitting the wall wobbly-legged a quarter mile from the finish line. There was cold lager to help, and the encouraging imprecations of a trio of Argentinian medical students passing around a flask of aguardiente. This dish demands a stronger buzz and an appetite in such a state of famished frenzy as to erase all powers of discernment and reserve…
Thus concludes my first travel post. Keep an eye out for further stories of over-indulgance.
Plaza de Trinidad