Food carts are a way of life in Cartagena. You can get almost anything from a cart for lunch or anytime during the night. I don’t remember the names of everything we ate, partly because I wasn’t diligent about writing things down and partly because we spent the majority of our time in Cartagena stuffing our faces with some unnamed deliciousness. This post, then, will be picture-heavy.
Things You Should Try
Fresh Fruit: Get it from a cart in the early morning when it is still fresh and untainted by the oppressive Cartagena heat.
Fried Plantains: Crispy, sweet and salty. These are the perfect side to ceviche or heavier meals in place of chips. They’re also sold as cheap appetizers in a lot of cafés, restaurants, and delis.
Colombian Beer: Because you should always try a local draft wherever you visit.
Coconut: Find one bigger than your palm at a seaside cart and stick a straw in it. It’ll cure your thirst and have you begging for more anyway just a few blocks later.
Popsicle: There are more than a few shops in old Cartagena selling ice cream, sorbets, yogurts, and popsicles. Popsicles are by far the most ubiquitous cold treat you’ll see in the hands of tourists and locals alike on every street. Pick the ones made of fresh locally-sourced fruit and yogurt or milk; try to avoid the ones made with water as local water is undrinkable and likely to cause upset stomach among travelers.
Fried cheeses and breads: You’ll see more than a dozen food carts hawking varieties of these two ingredients. Shaped like breadsticks, turnovers, half-pies, or balls, each one slightly different and equally delicious.
1. Order in Spanish if you speak it. You’ll get the best pieces of fruit and sometimes, if you’re friendly, a bargain price.
2. Pick your food cart based on how busy it is. The busier, the better. If the locals and other travelers line up for it, you know it is both tasty and generally safe to eat.
3. That said, do not order ceviche from a food cart. There’s one that is always busy and received rave reviews from all of the locals we asked. It was delicious. It was also the cause of our food poisoning.
4. Do not fear the food carts. Even after getting sick we happily lined up for fresh fruits, smoothies, fried cheeses, bread ropes, and more. Let your nose guide you; you can smell the best carts from a block away.
5. Don’t expect to eat a midday meal – most of the restaurants and carts are closed. Traditional lunch and a late dinner are the norm.
-M. Ray Hall