Fire and Beef
A cook stands watch as a veal leg makes its slow journey towards tenderness. The cook's jobs here involve a lot of turning and rotating large hunks of meat, and a bit of harmless macho posturing.
The pretty-eyed, floppy-eared cebú cattle of the plains have lean meat that's not ideal for steak, but perfect for a long, slow smoldering.
Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes
Legs are the king of the pit, but shoulder, flanks, and even ribs get their time in the smoke.
These giant rodents (they can grow to up to 140 pounds) live wild in marshy riverbanks, lakes, savannahs and forests throughout South America. Also known as capybara, they're not threatened as a species, but hunting has reduced their numbers enough locally that there has been a ban on eating them for the past year.
Hopefully they'll bounce back soon, because their meat is amongst the most delicious things I've ever tasted.
Chiguiro, Fully Cooked
Pork-like in texture with a deeper, more robust, slightly gamey flavor, chiguiro makes some of the best barbecue in the word. The white meat picks up a nice smoke ring, while a salty-spicy aji adds freshness and kick—the Colombian equivalent of a pickle.
There are worse ways to cook a prime rib. The loin itself suffers a bit from overcooking, but the smoky, succulent, fatty meat surrounding the ribs is just about as good as it gets.
Arepas, the ubiquitous and varied corn cakes that are one of the staple foods in Colombia are stuffed with cheese and heated here on a cast iron griddle. Other versions around the country include the sweet yellow-corn based arepa de chocolo, and a deep fried, poofy, egg-filled version from the coast called arepa de huevo.
These cheese-stuffed arepas come grilled with a side of salty, tangy, longaniza, a semi-fresh, fermented pork sausage stuffed in a lamb casing. Colombian cheese has the distinctive aroma of sour milk that takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it's a uniquely pleasurable experience.
Steamed, roasted, or griddled potatoes and a healthy portion of yucca round out this well-balanced meal. Fresh fruit abound in Colombia, but green vegetables are most often an afterthought—if they make an appearance at all.
Small dishes of fresh, hot, cilantro-based aji go on everything.
Costillas de Buey
The best part of the cow: The crisp, fatty bits between the ribs are my favorite. Unfortunately, they come with a bit of the drier loin attached. If possible, ask for just the scrappiest parts of the rib bones, get in, get messy, and chew the fat.
Blood and Rice
The Colombian version of morcilla—the pork blood sausage that's found in various forms through South America (and Europe)—is one of the easier versions for beginners. Mostly rice and peas, bound with just a bit of blood, the sausages are moist, salty, and delicious, with a crisply charred casing.
Made with a cheesy, tangy, rice-based dough that bakes into crisp poofy rounds, Rosquitas fresh out of the oven are like Cheetos on crack. Or is it Cheetos with crack? Either way, they're f-ing delicious.
Deep Fried Cachama
The wild river fish of the llanos are caught and cooked up coastal-style: dusted in seasoned corn meal, deep fried, and served with the crisp, smashed, double-fried plantains known as patacones. The local form of limón—lime green with a bright orange flesh serves as the perfect sour counterpart to the well-seasoned fish, which sports the crisp, highly-seasoned crust of Colonel-style fried chicken.