The Colombian Pacific Coast, a culture narrated in its cuisine

👤 Juan David Gonzalez
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📅 February 9, 2023
Colombian Pacific Coast

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The cuisine of the Pacific coast is a Creole cuisine of resistance, where the relationship with the natural environment is important and knowledge of the agroecological calendars of plants and animals is fundamental.

Flavors and ancestral knowledge.

The Colombian Pacific Coast, as part of the so-called biogeographic Chocó, is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and is home to a large Afro-descendant population, where the use of natural resources is fundamental for the survival and social and cultural reproduction of the communities, most of which live in collective territories with large areas of natural forests and wetlands.

The flavors and knowledge related to food and traditional cuisines of the Colombian Pacific coast are proof of the adaptation of communities, especially Afro-descendants, to a territory with a very wide biological diversity; These cuisines of the Colombian Pacific, born of the encounter between cuisines of Amerindian, European and African origin, express both the fortune of this dialogue of knowledge that gave way to regional cuisines with a strong identity, as well as the difficulties of the African diaspora and the rootedness in a new territory, different from that of many peoples on the other side of the Atlantic. 

In this region there are two important spaces where cuisines have been recreated and reinvented, and have become more dynamic: the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco. The cuisine of these ports shows the deep relationship with the sea, estuaries, mangroves and rivers, jungles, forests and cultivation areas, but also expresses the exchange with other communities.

Cooking brings together in a particular way in these communities, because it is around the stove that music, stories, songs, dances and jokes appear spontaneously. The seasoning of the food is complemented by the flavor of the cooks who with their hands day by day recall techniques that have been incorporated in the memory since childhood, and at the same time reinvent new possibilities with the diversity of products provided by the region, combining flavors with joy and seasoning each dish with their songs.

A tradition that encompasses all family and community life

Traditional cuisine represents a central point of the relationships that keep the social fabric of the communities alive. In the Pacific, food preparation is closely linked to festivals and celebrations, the rhythms of the day, music and other cultural manifestations. Drum music and singing played a fundamental role in gatherings and cooking events. "When you cook and sing things taste better." 

"The traditional cuisine of the Pacific is an inheritance from our ancestors, passing from age to age, from family to family, from tradition to tradition, and we are going to preserve it."

- Mother Julia. Traditional wisdom 

The southern region of Colombia's Pacific coast is part of the tropical rainforest corridor that borders the Pacific Ocean, to the west of the Andes. It is a humid and jungle-like territory, bathed by two large rivers: to the north, the San Juan, which serves as a boundary for the region and the departments of Chocó and Valle del Cauca, and to the south, the Patía. Numerous rivers descend from the Andes, including the Mira and Mataje rivers, which serve as the southern border of the region and the political boundary between Colombia and Ecuador.

The San Juan River marks a culinary border between the south and north of the Pacific region. To the north, in Chocó, river fishing, bush meat, pork consumption, and an ingredient that is not produced in the region (it is brought from the Caribbean), but which has left a mark on the cuisine, coastal cheese, are of special importance. In the south, they depend largely on sea fishing and the collection of shells and crabs, and almost everything is seasoned with coconut milk. 

Throughout the Pacific region, the common elements in the cuisine are: the use of refrito with rooftop herbs; the consumption of fish; the important role of plantain and corn, indispensable in countless versions of sudaos and amasijos; and the "tapao", a dish easily prepared with green banana or plantain and, generally, fish.

The cuisine of the Colombian Pacific Coast has a clear derivation of the cultural encounters of peoples of African origin, indigenous peoples and the Hispanic colonizers. The influence of these cultural matrices of the past can be seen in Tumaco's current cuisines, with the presence, in addition, of culinary elements from the highlands of Nariño, as well as some influence from Ecuadorian, Peruvian and European cuisine. In the cuisines of Buenaventura there are influences from the cuisine of Valle del Cauca, the interior of Chocó and the southern Pacific, among others.

Some typical dishes of the Colombian Pacific Coast

1- Crab soup

The crab is one of the species most present in the coasts and on the tables of the Colombian Pacific Coast. Its availability makes it a propitious element to be part of a wide variety of dishes: from soups to seafood grills or salads. In this case, crab soup is one of the most common appetizers or starters in the region's cuisine.

Colombian Pacific Coast

2- Dry-smoothed fish cod

This is one of the most characteristic dishes of the region's cuisine. The dry-smooth cod is famous throughout the country and immediately evokes the Pacific. It is a dish in which the cod is shredded once cooked, skin and bones removed. Previously, a sauce of onion, tomato, basil, lemon, vinegar, oil and achiote is prepared.

Colombian Pacific Coast

3- Fish cakes

They are a Colombian version of battered fish. In this case, the particularity is given by the type of fish used: mojarra. This fish is typical of the Caribbean and South America, and is fished in Colombian Pacific waters. The fillets are coated in wheat flour and beaten egg, salted to taste and fried in oil until the desired frying point is reached.

Colombian Pacific Coast

4- Crab Empanadas

Crab empanadas are a typical dish from the department of Chocó. They are sour corn dough empanadas, made on greased banana leaves and filled with shredded crab meat. The crab or blue crab is a species of crustacean found at the mouth of rivers. It is characterized by a flattened shell and blue legs and pincers. The filling of crab empanadas is usually accompanied by seasoning, refried fish and potatoes.

Colombian Pacific Coast

5- Tapao de pescado

This is the signature dish of the Colombian Pacific region and comes from Guapi, in the department of Cauca. It is a fish broth containing potato, green plantain, yucca, tomato, onion, paprika, cumin, achiote and garlic. The fish must be in wheels and of white meat. It is cooked in a casserole covered with banana leaves and served with coconut rice.

Colombian Pacific Coast

6- Sancocho de carne serrana

Also known as "quebrao", it is a soup composed of serrano beef. The broth contains green plantains, yuccas, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and pennyroyal mint. It is originally from Tumaco, in the department of Nariño, and also from the department of Cauca. The meat is shelled by boiling it together with the plantain peels. Then it is boiled together with the other ingredients and accompanied with avocado slices.

Colombian Pacific Coast

Here you can find information about wonderful places of the Colombian Pacific Coast such as Nuquí y Solano Bay where you can taste and learn much more about this beautiful culture and its cuisine.

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