Earth food and meat on platter

New Delhi: There`s more to Colombia than the Amazon forest, the infamous drug cartels, the diverse eco-system bordered by two oceans and three mountain ranges. There is the cuisine, a blend of European and African food, that is just as exciting.

The cuisine draws its core from potato, cassava, yam, onions, pepper, maize, garlic and local herbs to add spice to its eclectic platter of meat that includes pork rind, cow intestines, varieties of sea fish, lobsters, birds, small dairy animals and the humble egg.

And Indian food lovers can sample much of this at the first-ever "Colombian Festival of Gastronomy in India", being held for three days from Thursday at Eggspectation in Hotel Jaypee Vasant Continental in the capital.

Colombia, true to its fiesty Spanish way of life, savours its meals - three on an average every day beginning with a light breakfast, a hearty lunch and a light dinner.

The country may not boast of a signature national dish, but "arepa" - a variety of corn bread - and "tamal" - starchy dough knead stuffed and steamed in plantain leaf - are the staple of a Colombian kitchen.

For most Indians, Colombia is still a culinary conundrum that needs promotion.

The festival is being hosted jointly by the Embassy of Colombia and the hotel to commemorate 200 years of Colombian Independence and will walk the foodies of the capital through the country`s centuries-old culinary heritage.

"Our country has an amazing array of gastronomic surprises," Colombian Ambassador to India Juan Alfredo Pinto Saavedra said.

"Is it possible to spread together on a cloth a precious emerald, a passion fruit aperitif, an aromatic coffee candy, a full flavoured small round chilly drowning in a tomato gravy with garlic, peppers and onions, a puree with five kinds of potatoes, a cucumber stuffed with bits of egg and raisins and a maize bread topped with wild fruit?" he asked.

Of course it is! "Besides you can have around this array, tropical dry fruit, a bouquet of the most famous flowers that are exported around the world and cheese curdled in layers followed by an anise liquer that makes one reach for the stars," Saavedra said.

Colombia shares a gastronomic link with India, says the ambassador quoting culinary writer Pushpesh Pant.

"The Latin American nation brought potato to the Indian diet. It began at the time when Vasco da Gama and his crew brought the delicious tuber from the Iberian peninsula where it had arrived from America together with maize, two of the gifts that the Andes mountains have given the world," Saavedra says.

The ajíaco, a traditional Andean dish from Santa Fe of Bogotá with its four varieties of potato, herbs, corn and slivers of chicken with a hint of guasca (gallant soldiers), a local herb, is considered one of the most exquisite soups, he said.

"And if we were to speak of sea food, Colombia offers lobsters tails in coconut milk, shrimps and prawns and fish cooked in sauces full of colour and life, accompanied with vegetable rice, fritters of bananas and plantains all abundantly available in markets around the world. The fish of the river valleys are complemented by tapioca and fruit juices," the envoy explained.

Maize is the base for the preparation of tortillas and arepas.

"These are very similar to Indian breads. The arepas come in all sizes of textures and fillings. For non-vegetarians, the variety of arepa combinations with meats and cheeses is awesome. Even those who are loyal to the precept of ahimsa, Colombian cuisine provides delicious `arepa` dishes with red kidney beans, chick peas and lentils. Fresh salads with tomatoes, avocados, lettuce and rich dressings are galore with Colombian main courses," he said.

The gastronomic experience is usually capped by a round of rich aromatic coffee and traditional Colombian music.



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