Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frutas Colombianas

I am convinced that the fruit in Colombia is some of the most exciting in the world. Exciting for its taste and flavor, as well as for the vast variety available. On any given day, street vendors selling smoothies and fruit salads will have 10 to 12 options available. Think guava, pineapple, star fruit, orange, banana, papaya, strawberry, watermelon, cantaloupe and mango. Beyond that there’s zapote, which has the consistency and flavor of a sweet potato, guanabana, which is a sweet/sour fruit with edible seeds, maracuya with its complex flavors, which tastes to me like a spicy fruit tart, and several others. When selecting the fruits for a smoothie, there are literally a bajillion options to choose from. Beyond your fruit choice (it is perfectly acceptable and encouraged to choose several fruits to make your own glorious combination), you also must choose milk or water base, sugar or no sugar added. It’s wonderful! And the whole affair costs about $1.

Beyond the variety available, what boggles my mind is the freshness of the fruits. Each morning (or at least most mornings), through a very basic and rudimentary supply chain, fresh fruits are delivered to each vendor. Now, here’s my question: In a country of rural hard-to-get-to areas without much of a highway system, where refrigeration is expensive and uncommon, and where most things happen slowly without a schedule, how does fresh fruit make its way to rustic roadside vendors the country over? Part of the answer is that most all of the fruit is very fresh, and raised locally. What a region grows, it sells. But this isn’t always true. Some fruits, I learned, grow better in cooler, drier climates away from the coast, and some are best in hot, wet jungles, right on the water. And somehow the vendors I visited always had a little of each. The other part of the answer is creative modes of transportation. I witnessed this firsthand on a regional bus between towns in Northern Colombia. There (and many places), instead of designated stops, buses pick up passengers wherever they are flagged down. In this case, a man with two enormous mesh bags of bananas still clustered together on the stalk flagged the bus down and got on (I had the privilege to sit on one of the bags, which were left in the aisles since all seats were taken, as I gave up my seat to an elderly passenger and the trip was long). At the banana man’s stop, he hoisted his bags down and loaded them onto the roof of a waiting cab, who promptly took off toward town, presumably to make a delivery. Interesting stuff, I thought, and, for better or worse, SO DIFFERENT than what we’d see in the U.S.

One could say the fruits of Colombia are as colorful as its people. Everywhere we went, people were glad to see us and welcomed a couple of goofy American backpackers (I was traveling with my boyfriend) to their country. While I’m sure they were most happy because we were there to spend our dollars, I believe they were also genuinely amicable people happy to strike up a conversation. Case in point: One morning we spent some time with one of the lady fruit vendors and talked about our familiarity with some of her fruits. She told us the names of all the fruits in Spanish, and let us sample whatever we’d like. We named off some of the fruits that we knew grew in the states (oranges, pineapples, bananas, watermelon), then we got into a discussion about some of the more exotic fruits (maracuya, guanabana, zapote) that we knew were probably available in the U.S. though not necessarily grown there. My mind immediately wandered to Whole Foods and other fancy grocery stores, thinking I could find most anything I wanted among the heaps of gleaming fresh produce at the ready most any time of year. And that thought hit me like a giant mesh bag of bananas: What a difference! Could this kind, smiling Colombian woman even for one second imagine what I was imagining? It made me acutely aware of the economic and developmental differences between our two countries, and I was glad for it. While we may be able to get most anything in the major cities of our vast country, at that moment, all I needed and wanted was to enjoy a smoothie of super fresh fruits on the side of the road in Colombia.

 

2 Responses to “Frutas Colombianas”

  1. 1

    DJ B — November 18, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    If you haven't experienced the glory of Las Paletas yet, make that a priority for when the weather warms up again.

    Next best thing to fresh? Frozen on a stick!

  2. 2

    Annakate — November 18, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

    Heck yes I have! Las Paletas is wonderful. Learn more here: http://www.nashvillefoodiesblog.com/2007/07/las-paletas.html

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