Another Continent Down: Visiting Bogotá, Colombia

With my Europe days behind me, I seldom entertain the notion of blogging about my mundane life so managed to go two months without writing. What does that mean? I must continue traveling so that I have stories to share. Since writing last, I stopped in Colorado for enough time to get my life together and then turned right back around to make the move to Miami. I found a new apartment with an old roommate, and dived back into the the media world where I am still trying to find my place. While I slowly settled into things, my boyfriend Gabe did the same. Unfortunately, he has set up shop in his home country, Colombia, in the capital of Bogotá. On the plus side, it is not too far from Miami and rather cheap to fly there (thanks Spirit!). So when I got a couple days off this past week for the Jewish holiday, I decided to visit him and cross South America off my continent checklist!

I arrived on Saturday afternoon and we walked around an old shopping plaza. I got lucky because I unknowingly came on El Día de Amor y Amistad, a Valentine-esque holiday that they take very seriously. This means rose petals and heart-shaped balloons scattered all around, live music serenading and people simply love-stricken strolling about. We had dinner at Andrés Carne de Res, a magnificent four-story restaurant that comes alive as a club at night. It has the largest menu I think I have ever seen (no exaggeration) and was a great way to jumpstart the evening that later involved lots of salsa dancing fueled by aguardiente, their notorious anise-flavored liqueur.

The next morning we woke up and headed to El Museo del Oro, or Gold Museum. This showcased Colombia’s rich gold history with plenty of glass cases full of the stuff. After that, we headed up into the valley to a lush area known as La Calera to have lunch at El Tambor

You wait in line and write down your order on a paper, within minutes your meat is chopped and plate put together. We had beef, blood sausage, chorizo, potatoes, yucca, a corn arepa and chicharones alongside their sauces. We sipped on refajo– a mixture of Aguila, Colombian beer, and Colombiana, a popular fruity cream soda drink out of a bucket!

We ate this…

and this…

washed down with this!

Afterwards, we grabbed desserts (that were consumed post food coma) from La Cabaña Alpina. After trying a few different things, I found I really enjoyed arequipe on practically anything, it is very similar to dulce de leche but “better” according to Gabe, but he might be a little biased. Later on, we caught the majority of the Steelers game and prayed we would get somewhat hungry before having dinner at Colombia’s popular chain Crepes and Waffles, with one of Gabe’s old friends.

Monday he had to work so I relied on Mike from Bogotá Bike Tours to show me around. It is ranked as the number one tour in Bogotá on Tripadvisor, and for good reason! I was joined by four other visitors- a man from Atlanta, two British girls and a Slovakian- making for one eclectic group. We rode around for five hours, following Mike’s lead that took us from the old city center of La Candelaria to the city’s second largest fruit market Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, and even through the Red Light District or as they call it, “tolerance zone of high impact activity.” We also went to a coffee factory where I learned that the majority of the notorious Colombian coffee is exported, while the coffee I drank in the sidewalk cafes are imported cheap kinds. Moral of that story is do not go to Colombia expecting to drink the good stuff. Instead, head to your local American coffee shop that carries the Colombian variety.

Another interesting spot was the central cemetery. There was a good amount of people strolling through on a Monday afternoon with flowers in hand to scatter around various grave sites,  not just those of their loved ones. Some residents believe some statues hold certain powers so ask them for favors and leave gifts and flowers.

One grave site of a former astrologer is thought to bring people money if you rub a bill against it. Supposedly, its powers are enhanced if you smoke pot there too, so you can imagine there were some young kids doing that, as well.

I left the following afternoon on an easy three and a half hour flight to Fort Lauderdale. It is crazy how in only a few hours you can be transported to some place so different from where you were before. I have a feeling this short trip was not my last to South America. I strongly desire to visit Taylor in Buenos Aires, and am already being convinced to go to Barranquilla, Colombia for their infamous Carnaval celebration in February. If all my dreams play out, this will not be my last entry.

Hong Kong: The Food

So I’ve recently developed this new and exciting love for food. Just kidding. Well, not about the love for food but anyone who knows me knows that I am ceaselessly infatuated with trying new foods, reading about chefs, restaurants, traditions and pretty much anything having to do with gastronomy. In fact, you may not even have to know me for very long to realize this, as I learned last week when the DirecTV man decided to demonstrate how to use our new cable box solely in the “food” section of the guide featuring Food Network, Cooking Channel, Bravo, etc. Seems as in the few hours he spent at our apartment he caught onto what I was listening to, working o, and talking about enough to the point where he assumed those were my favorite channels. He hit the nail on the head but I admittedly was a tad embarrassed. But what can ya do?

Anyways, my trip to Hong Kong certainly did not disappoint in the food department. I was able to try some unique and authentic foods from all around. From my very first meal consisting of noodles and duck:

To bento boxes consisting of some of the freshest fish:

To a new twist on my favorite breakfast dish, Eggs Benedict:

I was in heaven.

I certainly can say that I have had enough rice (sorry Alex) and noodles to tide me over for a good month or so. You can probably add BBQ pork to that list too.

Just like any big city, Hong Kong has great restaurants featuring all types of different foods. In fact, I had some of the best Greek food I have had at Ricks. A juicy burger at Gourmet Burger Union. A Vietnamese sandwich, bahn-mi, at La’Taste. And my first meal completely of Dim Sum in Wan Chai (my favorite dish being the sweet steamed buns with pork inside)

I tried one of their most popular pastries, an egg tart, while shopping one day. Grabbed passionfruit bubble tea (to rival Lollicup Tea Zone) in Mong Kok and ate some new things too like water lily stuffed with rice, sweet bean curd and fried taro all at the monastery.

There’s one meal that stands out amongst all the others that took place Saturday night at a restaurant called Kaiko that is Teppanyaki, or hibachi. We went for a set meal that consisted of more food than I could’ve imagined prepared in brand new ways. We started with fresh sashimi of salmon, prawn and tuna. Followed by first taste of foie gras ever. I’ve always wondered what it would taste like and while it was good, something about the texture threw me off. Even so, we continued on with a delicious scallop, lobster and crab claws, tender steak, beef wraps with vegetables, other sautéed vegetables, a salad, miso soup and finished off with a lemon sorbet (our waiter knew that we couldn’t handle cake at that point).

One thing that stood out, besides the foie gras, was something that came on the garden salad. It’s what’s called the “ice plant,” It’s more or less a thick leaf that has little dew spots on it and really does taste cold.

I also fell in love with drinking tea at every meal and was impressed by the friendliness of the majority of waitstaff at every restaurant we went to. One unique part of going to a restaurant was the fact they gave each table (even if there were 7 of us) usually only two menus. This meant we either left it to a couple people to order for everyone or spent a long time passing the menus around until everyone had decided what they wanted. Usually, dishes were served family style on a lazy susan (my new favorite dining accessory) so there were usually plenty of dishes to share so everyone could find something they liked. Thankfully, my friends are also not too picky (but don’t bring dim sum up to Sophia) so we were all willing to try just about anything.

As of now, I say that I am going to start eating meals at home with chopsticks but we will see how long that lasts.

So no, I didn’t eat dog (sorry dad), try pigeon (sorry Kelly) or eat off a street cart (pretty mad at myself for that one), but I got to experience some new cuisine that I’ll carry with me forever. But I can’t lie, I’m excited for getting some Mexican food right when I get home.

Liquid Letdown

While I have kind of strayed away from product reviewing and cooking experimentations since summer began, I cannot help but relay my experience with a new product: Zico Pomberry. It’s a coconut water with flavoring, and while I enjoyed One Water’s Mango flavored coconut water, this just did not do it for me.

Unfortunately it was in the trash faster than I could take a picture of it myself

I was given this by a coworker a few weeks back. It has been sitting in my refrigerator for over a week because I wanted to wait for the perfect time to try it. This morning I opened it on the way to work and after taking one sip I was immediately letdown. It did not taste good at all, I don’t know how to describe it but maybe you could say it was salty?

Either way, I tried to keep sipping it, seeing if maybe it would grow on me but eventually I just had to reluctantly throw it in the trash and face the fast it just is not very good.

Has anyone else had this experience? Do you enjoy coconut water?

Take me to the islands

So I’ve been pretty uninspired lately as far as blogging goes and a little confused about the direction I want to take this in. Needless to say, a recent trip by Mama G to Miami meant an epic trip to the grocery store that gave me some insight to share with everyone. Usually, I find it hard to splurge on expensive food and opt for the generic brand, but when mom’s paying, all those rules go out the window! Enter? Coconut Water.

I didn’t really know what to expect or what brand to get so kind of just took a shot in the dark at what sounded good! I’ve been reading lots lately on how coconut water is packed with electrolytes and I’ve even noticed people toting little boxes of coconut water through the gym! A friend told me to try it with a splash of flavor so I went with one of my favorite fruits, mango!

Move over Juicy Juice there is a new juicebox in town! I slurpped every last drop of this and absolutely loved it. I’m really not a coconut fan so was surprised by how nicely the mango and coconut went together to make such a delectable treat!

Like I said before, unfortunately each individual drink is a little on the pricey side. This is a drink that I could seriously develop an addiction to but we’ll save that for when I return home when mom’s back to paying.

Simply Smoothies

So who doesn’t like a good smoothie every now and then? Before this summer, I always shied away from concocting my own blend because I just could never seem to master good ratios of fruit to milk to ice to yogurt to whatever else would be thrown in there! So then, I would resort to Jamba Juice or Juice Stop (my favorite) whenever I needed a smoothie fix. 

But then my mom brought home this from Costco… 

yoplaitsmoothiemixand it all seemed so simple! The pack comes with mini bags that have frozen raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and yogurt chunks. The basic recipe is just to add milk and blend but they also have other variations on the back to cater it to different tastes!

My absolute favorite is adding one half of a banana and 3/4 cup of juice (right now I’m diggin’ V8 Tropical Splash) to the mixture and blending that right up! One bag makes two servings but if I am using it as a meal substitute then I usually drink the whole thing. If I just want a small glass, I save the other half for my brother and pair the smoothie with another breakfast favorite. 

It is SO easy and tastes just as good as anything else I have ever gotten from a smoothie joint! 

DRINK UP!

Coffee Conundrum

 

To drink or not to drink?

To drink or not to drink?

 

Growing up, I abhorred coffee. Literally, I would not allowed in my vicinity. My grandpa always smelt like coffee and after a few minutes of sitting on his lap, I was done. I would wait outside of Starbucks while my mom ordered her latte to go. And every time I attempted to drink any sort of coffee or espresso concoction, I would gag from the taste. 

Looking back, that all seems silly. Unfortunately, it also seems lucky. If I still lived like that now, I would be saving lots of money. 

It all started with a Java Chip Frappacino given to me by a friend. Forget the benefits of the caffeine, that drink tasted good! From there, it just got worst with White Chocolate Mochas and Skinny Vanilla Lattes becoming more tasty and accessible by the day. 

Then enter college where there is a Starbucks on campus tempting me in between every class. Yes it is energizing, delicious, and quick, but all those drinks can add up quick. So, I started making it a point to make my trip to Starbucks a treat, something special to reward me for a complete paper, long day at work, or job well done. 

Even that did not go as planned, and I realized drastic measures needed to be taken. At work, there is readily accessible coffee, but could I really just drink black coffee without all the extra sweeteners, milk, and chocolate-y goodness to dull down the rich coffee flavor? I resolved that if I wanted to save money and still be energized, this is what had to be done. And I can successfully say I just finished my first cup of plain coffee (with a tad bit of Splenda to sweeten it up!) 

It really was not that bad. I drank it all, I feel the effects of the caffeine working today, and best of all? It was free! 

I still plan on treating myself to a Vanilla Latte from a coffee shop every now and then, but for now, I will continue to practice drinking my plain coffee and liking it. I even read this article in SELF magazine that exposes all the hidden benefits of the drink that you may not know of. Any other coffee haters out there might start doing what I am, and forcing a cup of java down just to reap the benefits!