Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Drug cartels, cocaine, and Pablo Escobar... but not really.
What can I say about Colombia? We all know her history, tragic as it is - Pablo Escobar, the FARC, cocaine trafficking. You know it well. And for those unfortunate enough to have lived through those years, a very recent scar on an otherwise beautiful country. But what about the younger generations? Those millennials now living in an age of FARC peace agreements and steadily-declining murder rates. For many, Colombia's troubled past is not more than a blip on a page in the history books. They told me Colombia is not safe, that I should be weary and constantly looking over my shoulder while there. There is truth to that sentiment, believe me. But what about everything else? What about the people, the food, the culture? This is what I wanted to explore.
So, the food. As a traveler and eater, it comes as no surprise to me anymore that when I am in a different country searching for food, I must stray far from the tourist path. Food stalls and cafeterias that may appear - how do I say "less hygienic" than one is accustomed - are overwhelmingly where I have found the best meals of my life. In Colombia, however, one need not stray too far for these experiences. Although tourism has increased in recent years, I would hesitate to refer to Colombia as touristy. And as a result, local eateries and markets are still overwhelmingly prevalent. Plaza Minorista is terrific example of this. Located in Medellin's historically rough El Centro neighborhood, you are unlikely to see many tourists at this bustling produce market, but you are likely to find some seriously good food. Aside from the dizzying array of fruit available, much of which I had never seen before, deep in the bowels of the market, you can find stalls cooking Colombian classics like sancocho or menu del dia for market workers. English? No, point to a pot that looks good and eat it. You will not be disappointed.
Cocaine, narco-tourism... these things still exist in Colombia. But my trip was about seeing a country in transition, a healing phase, if you will. Meeting local people, trying their food, and seeing how they live in a post-drug cartel world. Colombia still has a long way to go, no different than any other country with a similar story. But it is improving year after year, and this can be seen easily enough given the large influx of tourists over the last decade. Colombia is beautiful, from the lush mountainous countryside to its people and food, and I truly cannot wait to return.