I don’t recall ever walking outside of Cartagena’s walls to reach its rough-around-the-edges neighborhood of Gestemaní; somehow, we just wound up there. There weren’t any signs warning us that we were exiting the walled city. Or maybe there were and we were just too distracted by sampling all of the local street food offerings to take notice.
After reading about Gestemaní in a travel magazine, I knew I wanted to see this example of local gentrification for myself. Except…I didn’t want to venture there on our own. In retrospect, chances are we would’ve been fine on our own, but you see, it wasn’t too long ago that Gestemaní was a dangerous scene of drugs and prostitution, and I didn’t want to take chances or for a second forget that we were still in Colombia.
So I was relieved when I found out that we could take a tour of the neighborhood with Cartagena Connections. And when I found out that the company offers a street food tour that includes a visit to Gestemaní, I was sold.
So on a humid Tuesday, with our stomachs rumbling, we headed to a Cartagena bar called KGB where we met up with our guide, Juan, and a small group of other tourists, eager to delve into the city’s street food scene and to explore a grittier side of Cartagena beyond its picture perfection, all while noshing on some fine Colombian street food…
Patacones (flattened, fried plantains) fried in a garlicky oil
Our patacones were served with a slice of soft, salty costeño cheese
Unripe green mangoes on a stick served with salt, pepper and lime juice…my least favorite foodcart stop on the tour because I don’t like sour mangoes
Griddled buttery arepas made with sweet corn and cheese. Colombians often eat these for breakfast. If I lived in Colombia, I swear I’d eat one (or two) everyday – they’re soooo good!
Next up…fried empanadas! Yes, God!
The empanadas are fried in these large outdoor fryers…
A variety of sauces to accompany our empanadas. Some were a bit spicy and savory, and there was one that’s reminiscent of guacamole.
Food in my hand, food in my teeth, and my exposed bra…but I was having a great time eating my way through the streets of Cartagena
Near the empanada cart, we stopped at a home based eatery. In Cartagena (and perhaps other parts of Colombia), if a home based eatery has more than five tables, it’s considered a restaurant which has to be taxed and regulated as such. Otherwise, home based eateries like this one can serve food to folks without any red tape.
Chicharones – delicious pieces of fried pork belly – served with boiled yuca. So good…especially when eaten with the hot salsa!
A window where warm balls of buttery, soft deliciousness called buñuelos are sold. I could literally snack on these things ALL day!
Local produce vendor
This is the strangest sweet snack ever…slices of guava paste served with sliced costeño cheese. It’s sweet and savory, but not exactly in a good way. It’s a bit too rich for my liking.
Crossing over into the heart of Gestemaní
This blue hostel opened not too long ago and is an example of how Gestemaní is being gentrified. Our guide told us that about five years ago, tourists wouldn’t have been able to wander into Gestemaní without getting robbed or killed. But now that Gestemaní is being gentrified, the dynamics of the neighborhood are changing. According to our guide, a major global hotel brand will also be opening in Gestemaní sometime soon.
One of the things I love most about this neighborhood is all of the street art.
Our final food stop was at the home of a local abuela who served us homemade fruity popsicles through her window.