If you missed it, I am on a mission to eat authentic food from every country in the world, right here in Toronto! You can find all past recaps here.
We have a few traditional Colombian restaurants in Toronto, but a few weeks ago I happened to be at the Downsview Market with my friend Hannah and we stumbled across the Colombian food stall Las Calenas. I think the food stalls at the market are more authentic than a restaurant, as it seems to be families from those countries who are making the dishes. For example, at the Jamaican food stall there is literally just a mother and daughter and a single stove, cooking up salt fish and festivals. It feels legit, like you are actually in the country. It is an experience.
There are Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Afghan, Caribbean, Jamaican, and Dominican Republic food stalls (I will probably be going back), but it was Las Calenas, the Colombian one, that caught our eye. Specifically the Lechona, that stuffed pig on the right in the below photo.
Lechona consists of a whole roast pig, stuffed with rice, pork, peas, onions and a combination of spices and then cooked in a brick or clay oven for up to 10 hours. What you see in the photo is the skin sewn together to keep the rice and pork filling inside. As the pig cooks, the skin becomes crispy.
Colombian dishes, like many other countries, vary widely by region, and Lechona is typical of the Tolima area of Colombia (to the west of Bogota, the capital). It is apparently served in specialty restaurants throughout Colombia though, and the Colombian lady working in the stall told us you would find Lechona at any family Christmas dinner in Colombia. It was really, really good. I’d totally be okay with having it for Christmas dinner.
We also got a couple of empanadas and a Buñuelos Colombianos, a type of Colombian cheese ball.
Buñuelos Colombianos are a traditional Colombian Christmas treat, but they are also popular year round for breakfast with hot chocolate or coffee. I have to be honest and say that the cheese ball wasn’t quite as cheesy or as flavourful as I hoped it would be. Here’s a picture of what the inside looks like, and it was not quite what we were expecting (I think we were hoping it was going to be more like a melty cheesestick).
I’m sure we are all well aware of empanadas. At least I hope you are or you are not doing life right. Empanadas originate from Spain and Portugal, and they are a small pastry that is baked or fried. In Colombia they are usually fried and contain different fillings that vary from region to region. Apparently the fillings are endless and they are sold on any street corner. I loved my empanada, but then, I have never met an empanada I didn’t like. I don’t see how anything could be wrong with carbs filled with various treats. Dumplings and pierogies and empanadas and other carbs or pastries filled with things (coxinha!) are so far my favourite dishes from every country that has them.
I was going to save Colombia until I was able to hit up a Colombian restaurant as well, and then include the dishes we got from Las Calenas and do them both together… But at the rate I’m going this project is going to take me four years to complete and I don’t have the time or the room in my pants to be eating countries twice. But in my experience, Colombian food is delicious and I definitely will be eating it again someday!