Fermented Sunday: Chicha and Masato

Home brewing in Colombia is not part of some increasingly popular hipster trend, it’s really more common and related to indigenous culture. There are three fermented drinks which I’m familiar with: chicha, champús, and masato. Chicha has different varieties depending on the fruit, and it’s also found in other countries around the Andes. It’s corn-based and has a lot of panela. The champús, or more específically champús valluno, is a variation of the champús, made with panela, lulo, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and served cold. Masato can be corn or rice-based (I prefer rice), and also has cinnamon and cloves.

Making chicha is really an art. It comes from the indigenous people who use to drink it during ceremonies. Apparently they loved this drink and so did the working-class mestizos, however, the Spanish, mostly the church, did not like it because it got people drunk and unruly. They disapproved and tried to prohibit the drink, but that didn’t stop it’s public consumption at the public chicherías near the markets. Prohibition was also related to trying to get people to drink beer, which due its more expensive production costs, was also more expensive (and also took more to get you drunk). They tried to market chicha as dirty due to its process (originally the fermentation process of chicha was facilitated by chewing the corn to grind it and it was served in big vats) and lack of hygiene in general, while they marketed beer as clean. Finally, in 1948 they officially prohibited* making and selling it, but that had no immediate effect as chicha was consumed in vast amounts at parties hosted in the now clandestine chicherías. Here is some anti-chicha propaganda:


The generations that followed obviously became beer-drinking and those chicherías eventually closed. Nowadays, the only people who seriously drink chicha are the mamertos and the people from the barrio La Perseverancia, oh and let’s not forget the foreigners. Where do they drink chicha? There’s a place in La Candelaria called el Chorro de Quevedo, that’s where I tried it, and it’s where all the foreigners go**, but I don’t recommend it there. The best chicha can be found at the barrio La Perseverancia (around calle 33-26a between carrera5 and circumvalar, look for the market or central plaza). I guess what you’re wondering now is,”what does chicha taste like?” and I think that my answer really can’t be understood unless you’ve tasted something similarly-fermented. It’s strong and smells strong. In fact, if you have ever tasted Weiss-beer that’s somewhat close. (Syd says it is kind of like chunky kombucha.)


Squirreled away in the electronics district of the center is a place*** that has the most delicious masato I’ve ever had. It’s thick and served in glass cups. I think if you’re not too keen on trying chicha, you can head over to this place or any panadería and give masato a try.


*really good video (in Spanish)

**be warned, most foreigners get diarrhea when they try it, so maybe if you’re feeling intrepid share one cup between 4 or 5 people

***Pastel Gloria Doña Pachita
Cra 9 #21-18

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Romantics 102: Pablo Neruda

Incase you skipped last class, Romantics 101 is music-centric.

While I always hear people posit French or Spanish as the most romantic language, I don’t think I ever fully grasped what people saw in Spanish until I encountered Neruda’s poetry. Neruda is extremely well known in the Spanish-speaking world, but I had never heard of him before coming to Colombia. (I am no poetry buff though, so maybe you have…) In class one day we were discussing romantic poets from our assorted countries and all I could think of at the time was Shakespearian sonnets, which never really struck a chord and are also not from the U.S. (Then again I doubt any romantic poetry could have struck a chord with my high-school self.)

To this end, I figured you should be introduced to him as well. Pablo Neruda (a pen name) was born in Chile in 1904. He started writing as a teenager and had varied styles “including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically-charged love poems.” (Wikipedia) He also held several diplomatic positions around the world and later was a senator for the Chilean Communist Party, and because of this was temporarily exiled to Argentina when communism became illegal in Chile. But let’s focus on those poems.

Most of his poems are a bit long to post, so I will give you snippets and link to them (with both English and Spanish).

Si tu me olvidas/quiero que sepas/una cosa. –Si Tu Me Olvidas

Junto al mar en otoño,
tu risa debe alzar
su cascada de espuma,
y en primavera, amor,
quiero tu risa como
la flor que yo esperaba,
la flor azul, la rosa
de mi patria sonora.      –Tu Risa

Quiero hacer contigo/lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos. –Poema 14  (Who would not fall for that line?)

Oh pequeño
emperador sin orbe,
conquistador sin patria,
mínimo tigre de salón…  –Oda al Gato/Ode to the Cat (not a love poem, but one of my favorites)

So, that should certainly get you started. Writing this has forced me to some reflection, and I think part of why there is more emotion and romance in these poems, for me as a foreigner anyway (and likely others), is because “Since all language is coded with forms of modesty and social conditioning that basically all native speakers are brought up to accept, there is a certain freedom that comes with speaking [a foreign language].”* In essence, I would never say this stuff in English. Of course I think there is more to it than that and I could probably write pages on it, but right now that would only detract from his legacy, as Gabriel García Márquez once described him, as “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”**

*from Lea Jacobson’s Bar Flower, worth checking out.

**emphasis mine.

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Music Monday: Bedtime!

So everyday in the evening, I want to say at 9*, TV stations play a song to remind children to go to bed, desenchufate! It tells of all the unenjoyable consequences of not getting enough sleep. (*We have no TV so I only encountered it elsewhere.)

Kind of a cute idea, although probably only effective when paired with adult ushering, but hey. There is also an earlier song for the younger ones, although I don’t like it as much. Along with this, most radio stations also play a chunk of the national anthem at 6 am and 6 pm. (Apparently this kid has been in a lot of commercials, I found this Chevy one particularly creepy.)

This would be an ideal segue into lullabies, or canciónes de cuna, but I don’t happen to be familiar with any. I did find this one though, which makes me want to give playing classical guitar another chance. It also reminds me of José Gonzales, the Swedish-Argentinian guitarist, who cited Silvio Rodriguez (Cuban, previously mentioned here) as inspiration. If you have not heard of him you owe yourself a listen. (same for Rodriguez)

Well, thanks for joining me on this somewhat scatterbrained post. I am moving into my apartment today so that is all kinds of exciting!

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Friday Special: Cartagena, Obama, and a donkey

The Summit of the the Americas (Cumbre de las Américas) is upon us (April 14-15). For those of you not too familiar with this event it’s when all the presidents of the Americas meet up to “solve” the problems that plague the continent. It runs every three years and this year it’s being held at Cartagena. Cuba hasn’t participated though, obviously, and this means that Chavez is all “why even have this meeting if Cuba isn’t here?”.

Presiden Obama arrived today and what looks like the whole Colombian military, along with helicopters and submarines, is there to keep him safe. Pretty much all of Cartagena has been evacuated and closed-off so the presidents can have their own private vacation, complete with a soccer game for Evo Morales and everything.  The mamertos have been all over this throwing bombs at la nacho and so today the university was closed. The best part, however, was this news. That’s right, a village near Cartagena wants to give Obama a donkey, a present like no other, to represent their love for him and the democratic party. Or does it? It seems more like sarcasm, and they’re really insulting him in Spanish, calling him “burro” (stupid, dumb). Or maybe they’re just really costeño chafa. What do you think?

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Moving to a Parallel Universe

My new 'hood.

Sorry I missed music Monday, I’ve been apartment hunting and living on my friend’s couch so a little distracted and reverse culture shocked. Today I did find a place though (!) and in some ways it doesn’t feel like I really moved so far. I am near some panaderias—although Mexican so tortas are sandwiches not cakes, and envueltos are tamales—and some kind of ‘sketchy’ little tiendas and a liiitle Mexican place that is probably delicious. (Sketchy for the states, normal for Bogotá, you know how it is.) Of course there is also a close café and a beer brewing company, and the rest of downtown L.A., so I’m getting the best of both worlds I guess.


I liked this plaintive telephone note, the question is, did it work? The first time I saw this church I though one could loosely translate the sign as, “Jesus is the Man!” Which is not quite true, but sounds cool. Oh L.A., I guess I’m glad to be back. Who can really dislike a place when you can have an horchata latte in the morning and taro boba in the afternoon? (true story, I need to slow my roll.)

So, that’s that, more regular programming in the future. Will I be able to find work where I can practice/not loose my Spanish? Will I find Colombiana so I can make refajo? All this and more in future updates.

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Fruit Friday: Borojó

I’ve been meaning to write this Fruit Friday for a week now, but as you read I had midterms and such. Borojó is a fruit from the tropical rain forest of western Colombia, i.e., el Chocó. Here is a map so you can locate the Department of Chocó.


Notice it has both a coast on the Pacific and the Atlantic. It probably merits its own post due to recent armed conflict, but I’m not too familiar with it. I do know that it hosts the wettest place in the world and it’s inhabited mostly by descendants of African slaves, brought by the Spanish, and the Emberá, the only natives left. The borojó only grows in this region because of the humidity (85%) and it gets its name from the Emberá word “borojoa” meaning round or globulous. Here’s what it looks like when you buy it from the supermarket.


Notice it looks squishy and brown, kind of like tamarind. Although the actual fruit looks different the pulp tastes much like tamarind, I would say a bit more bitter. You can make all kinds of things with it such as compotes, marmalades, candies, wine and the so-called “juice of love”. Due to its aphrodisiac properties it’s used to treat sexual impotence in traditional medicine. It also has a variety of other uses including embalming cadavers, facial masks, and treating kidney problems.


Here is one recipe for the juice of love:


Pulp of Borojó (about a cup)
1 chontaduro (another fruit from Chocó, optional)
1/2 banana
2 liters of milk
1 cup of powdered milk
1 ounce of rum
1 ounce of brandy (yeah, I’m guessing the alcohol the reason why it’s the juice of love)
1 cup of condensed milk
1/4 cup of honey
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 teaspoons of cinnamon

First, blend the rum and brandy with the egg. Then, blend in the cinnamon and nutmeg, followed by the chontaduro, banana and Borojó. You then add the milk, powdered and liquid, along with the honey and condensed milk. You can also watch it being made here by a sassy woman from Chocó.

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Mochilas: What They Are In Colombia, Where I Will Not Be Tomorrow

Yep, this is my final day in Bogotá. What a long strange trip it’s been; deeper reflection later perhaps. I was pondering the past few months this morning as I wandered Septima, drinking mandarin juice and eating some fresh coconut cooked in some delicious sweet something-or-other, but I did have a goal in mind other than the usual ingesting of street food—buy a mochila. (Because it is Semana Santa a.k.a Holy Week, Septima was out in full Sunday splendor. Hence all the food.) In Colombia, these are mochilas:

To the rest of the Spanish-speaking world a mochila is a backpack, but in Colombia if you say that people will think of these. (If you do want to talk about a backpack, the word would be morral.) They are traditionally made of wool by the Arhuaco or Wayuu people, the latter typically being more colorful compared to the former, and are very time consuming to make. The really nice ones are all sort of one piece, the strap is part of the bag and therefor they are suuuper sturdy. They are also pretty pricy—I of course was instantly drawn to one for 200 mil ($112) that I quickly moved on from. Some hunting later lead to more affordable and still nice ones. You can also find very cheap ones that look cranked out by machine and say things like “Te Quiero Colombia,” and with this full range of price points covered it is easy to see why everyone has one. Eeeeveryone, they are ridiculously popular. Mainly with the student-age set I guess, but you also have adults and anyone not currently dressed in business attire with them.

Arhuaco people

They are also the latests and greatest fashion item in the U.S. it appears, which is unsurprising given people’s obsession with “traditional” and “ethnic” whatnot. I hadn’t realized it until looking for pictures online and finding out that J. Crew sold some and they were even featured in Vouge, which noted the, “Added bonus: Proceeds help to support and sustain the community of origin.” Wow, I can look good and feel altruistic? I bet it will even match my Toms! (don’t get me started) Ok so I am kind of being snarky, they are very nice bags and I would rather the people get credit than some factory somewhere start cranking them out—hippies and bohemians just rub me the wrong way sometimes. I also have more white guilt than I know what to do with.

Wayuu style bags

So with that successfully accomplished I returned home to continue the packing fun. This is probably a good point to mention that despite my departure this blog will be continuing, just in a slightly different manner. Manu will keep up Fruit Friday and other Colombia posts and I will keep doing Music Monday from afar, as well as whatever Spanish/Colombia related adventures I have in L.A. (I also have some past adventures to write up.) Either way, there is so much information already here it seemed a shame to let it disappear into the black hole of the internet. Thanks for sticking with us!

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