Pasto is noted as a cold town and one thing I had read about was a local ice cream called helado de paíla. This was evidently prepared in a copper tub with ice beneath it, all by hand. Many years earlier we had another such frozen treat called queso helado in Arequipa in Peru. That was one of our all time favorite deserts and was a bit like a frozen eggnog with a yellow yolk appearance and cinnamon-tinged flavor. That we saw being prepared in the same way so we quite naturally hoped that the one in Pasto would follow suit. After all, they had treats only found in Ecuador so why not have some connection with another southern neighbor?
The only problem was, it was nowhere to be found. At one point, I spotted a copper kettle on the street close to our hostel and gleefully went over to get one. It didn't look anything like our beloved queso helado but with time in town running short, I got one just the same. It was sickeningly sweet and not cold at all. It was in fact not an ice cream of any sort but just a sweet sticky “treat” only a small child infatuated with sugar could enjoy. I chucked it once out of sight of the vendor and went into the hostel and was glad to see Luis behind the desk. I had asked him about the helado de paíla earlier and he said he'd look into it. He smiled when I asked again as he had done his homework and found a place that he felt sure would have it. It was a bit of a walk but off we trod to Helados de la 22 in hopes of finding the crowning achievement of an already illustrious Colombian snacking career.
Favorite Dish: The place looked promising from the outside and we ventured in to find more or less a regular ice cream parlor. We asked for the helado de paíla and they did in fact have it but were a bit disappointed to then be shown some frozen cups in an ice box to choose from. It was obviously not what we were looking for but we ordered a few anyway since we'd made the effort to get here. We got one with berries and another one of mixed fruit. They were nice enough but more like an Italian ice or sorbet than what we had hoped to find. I noticed another one on their small menu and it was more in the creamy family so got that too. This was a little like queso helado though certainly lacked the consistency in this “deep freeze” condition! They were cheap enough at only 600 COP (30 cents) each so no complaints. They were homemade and of good quality. They just weren't what we were looking for.
We walked back to the center a bit dejected though we had certainly seen a part of town we'd never have seen otherwise and had given our quest as good a go as anyone could. I still wonder if there was such a desert treat and I didn't find it but believe that more than likely there was something similar to queso helado at one point but it had fallen by the wayside with globalization. Cheaper and better advertised snacks pop up and locals start eating them, forgetting about those from the past. Of course, that made me think that Arequipa might not have the queso helado anymore. It had after all been seven years since I had been there. I can only hope not.
It was time for our last meal in Pasto and one of the last in Colombia. Though we had a couple of nights in Bogota on our way home, we had spent the first days of our Colombian adventure there and figured to be retreading familiar culinary ground when there. We were thinking Sanchacho or Ajiaco, some type of typical traditional Colombian soup or stew. Since the manager of our hostel had done an admirable job of leading in the right direction on a few occasions, we asked him once again. He suggested Chipicchape Centro. We scoped it out during the day and it looked nice for a last meal, a bit upscale perhaps but in a rustic Colombian way. It was quite crowded and certainly not with tourists. They also had a few of the dishes we were looking for so we decided to go back that night. We returned to find it not so crowded but it was likely an off time. Unfortunately, some of the daily specials that we had been eying up were not on the menu and the waiter explained they were lunch specials.
Favorite Dish: With our original choices not available, we both opted for cerdo de lomo con queso (12,000 COP or $6). This is a pork cutlet covered in cheese. We had found pork hard to come by in Colombia, at least in this form. Many restaurants touted it but when we ordered it we found they were out of it. They came out promptly on searing metal trays. The meat was perfectly done and well-seasoned and juicy. The sides were potatoes also covered in cheese, plantains, and the ubiquitous arepa. It was a huge portion and one would have likely been enough for both of us since we had spent the better part of the day snacking around town. With our time in Colombia dwindling, we both got fruit juices rather than beer. Our choice was the tasty tomate de arbol or tree tomato. This is a very tasty drink that tastes nothing like what tomato juice tastes like “back home,” it being tart and refreshing. They were 2500 COP ($1.25) each. Our bill came to 29,000 COP but we rounded up to 30,000 COP ($15) as the service was very good and friendly and though the place looked like a typical one that might charge a service/tax fee there was none on the bill.
Though it hadn't been much more than 40 minutes since we had enjoyed an espresso at Cafe Veracruz we were hankering for something sweet and walked by an unpretentious local bakery on Calle 20. We walked in to see a wide selection of Colombian baked treats and one sweet we noticed was a quimbilito. This steamed pastry made of cornmeal and raisins is a staple in Ecuador but we had only just seen one for the first time in Ecuador days earlier at Salón Guadalquivir. There were only a few patrons so we decided to take one of the many seats rather than eat it walking around town. It was not overly modern or fancy but a pleasant enough place to grab a snack.
Favorite Dish: We got two guimbolitos and they came out in the banana leaf we had grown accustomed to in Quito, rather than “bare” as they had at the Salón. Rather than have what would be a disappointing coffee compared to the espresso we had just had, we both chose to wash down our sweet with a hot chocolate. It was a good size snack that should have tided us over nicely until dinner but with only a few days left in Colombia, we knew it was likely only until our next snack. It was a bit cheaper than at the Salón too as our bill came to 5800 COP ($2.90).
Though the coffee scene in Colombia had started slowly for us, we soon discovered that if you were willing to pay a bit more and frequent more upscale places, good coffee did exist in the land of Juan Valdez. Forget the tinto, you have to look for espresso. Of course, most locals drink the former and the latter can be more than breakfast in a local hole-in-the-wall. That said, the espresso in Colombian is still a fraction of the cost in North America and with our trip coming to a close, we looked to have as much of the java as possible. Our guidebook suggested Caffeto but we were unimpressed with the single shot espresso (1500 COP or 75 cents) or perhaps it was the size of the portion, more like what you would get in Europe than what we had grown accustomed to in Colombia. I guess we should have ordered doubles! It was also a bit over the top fancy so we looked elsewhere for our next caffeine fix.
Favorite Dish: To the rescue came Cafe Verecruz. Now, don't get me wrong. This was no less fancy or any cheaper. It was an outdoor cafe in a very expensive shopping center so w did not go looking for a bargain. It was just that time of day and it was busy so we figured we would give it a try. We got two espressos at 2600 COP ($1.30) each so it was even more expensive than Caffeto but the portion was easily twice the size so no complains on our end. It was a deep roast flavorful espresso so if you are looking for a pick-me-up in Pasto, this is it.
We had been traveling around Colombia for nearly two months without seeing lechona or roast pig. This was a staple for us in Ecuador and even Peru years earlier. It seemed odd that it would not be popular here too. Now that we were no so far from Ecuador once again, we started to see some of the staples from there popping up like quimbolitos and in Pasto's market, it was reported that lechon was indeed available. So, we headed right over as much for the meal as to check out the market which was really a local's place to buy clothes as much as anything else.
Favorite Dish: We found a lechoneria immediately and as is befitting there was no sign, just the head of a pig sitting in the window. What other advertisement do you need if you are selling roast pork? We had already eaten lunch so we split an order. Actually, D claimed to only want a taste as she was full, otherwise I would have ordered two. As it turned out, she ate more than expected and it was not as big a portion as I had hoped for. There was no menu, you just ordered more or less by the price. We got the lowest one for 5000 COP ($2.50) which was really just enough for one person, not a bite more, especially if you were getting it as a meal and not a snack. It came with rice and on a bed of steamed large corn kernels just as it had in Ecuador. The dipping sauce was very tasty too. The pork was excellent with a nice piece of crispy skin on top. It's well worth going to the market just for this meal and my suggestion is to go before lunch and order one portion per person!
While Pasto was not the street vendor paradise of say Cali or Bogotá, it did have some scattered ones selling some tasty cheap treats.
Favorite Dish: One thing not to be missed for those who like potato chips are the people making homemade ones. We are not huge potato chip fans but when they are made like this, they are hard to resist. You see them in big fishbowl type tanks on the street but don't think these are just ordinary chip stored in a visible way. They vendors actually peel the potatoes and deep fry them on the spot. Their business is generally so brisk you have a very good chance of getting them not too long after they have been cooked. Best yet, a nice size portion, really big enough for two is only 1000 COP (50 cents). It sure beats mass-produced ones though oddly enough we saw plenty of locals eating just that even though they are not nearly as good and are more expensive.
We happened upon Cream Mr. Pollo after taking some night photos of the Cathedral. It was getting late, we didn't want to be out long and it was very busy with Colombians who seemed to be enjoying their meals. This was another more upscale place, catering to a wide variety of locals and Colombian tourists. Its décor was a bit like an American restaurant, with memorabilia of things like Coca Cola on the walls but somehow it didn't seem out-of-place. It's not generally the kind of place I'm attracted to but for some reason it felt like a good choice on a cold night. Service was efficient and friendly, especially considering Doreen ordered an item normally on the breakfast menu. Admittedly, it was a steak with a fried egg on top so not a small meal but it was cheaper than most things on the dinner menu. They complied none-the-less without complain aside from mentioning that it was not breakfast time.
Favorite Dish: I had the Bandeja Carne (13,000 COP or $6.50) which was a very nice and big steak served with cole slaw and fries. It came with a very tasty sauce for dipping too. Doreen's El Duro (8,500 COP or $4.25) was smaller but certainly big enough for her, with a decent little steak topped with one fried egg. It was served with rice and plantains. I had a Club Colombian (2600 COP or $1.30) and D opted for a Coke (1900 COP or 95 cents). I guess those Coca Cola posters worked!
It was a very nice meal and though not cheap (26000 COP or $13) total, it was excellent quality and a nice way to finish off our first day in town.
Not all authentic local restaurants are dives and in Colombia, there are many places that cater to a more well-heeled clientele. One such institution is Salón Guadalquivir. Don't get the impression this is a snooty upscale place that will charge you tax and service, that it is not. It is nicely but simply appointed and servers are appropriately attired. They are friendly and efficient, as need be in a busy place like this. It is fairly large but every time we were there, it was packed with nicely dressed locals, largely business people on lunch break or just after work, grabbing a snack. It is bustling rather than romantic, a place for an animated chat rather than deep conversation. It's like of like going to a deli in New York City. It's not cheap but the food is excellent and certainly not expensive by North American or European standards.
Favorite Dish: On our first visit, I was looking to try tamale de añejo, Pasto's version of a tamale and I was not disappointed. It was not cheap at 6,800 COP ($3.40) but it was packed with meat and very tasty. The cornmeal was nicely steamed and the meat of very nice quality and ample. D got a big steaming bowl of Caldo Castillo (a beef broth with meat & potatoes) for 5,800 COP ($2.60) and was very happy with its size and quality too. We were somewhat surprised and but completely thrilled to see luladas on the menu. This delectable drink is made with lulos, a tart yellow fruit grown in the nearby Cauca Valley, along with dulce de leche. We had it in Cali but found it harder to find in Popayán. We though Pasto was too far south to get it but were not complaining on their availability! This is a big and filling drink and so not cheap at 4000 COP ($2) each. We stopped by one afternoon strictly to have one only to find them out of lulos! Luckily, they did have them on our final visit. On this visit, we shared eight empanadas de añejo and a quimbilito. We had seen the former on our first visit when many locals were downing them like there was no tomorrow. They were crispy and served with a gorgeous peanut-based dipping sauce reminiscent of but somehow different from the one we had in Popayán a few days earlier. I wouldn't say they were better or even as good but certainly a rival for best empanada in Colombia. We had quimbilitos a few years earlier in Ecuador and now that we were quite close to the neighboring country, some of their dishes were popping up. This is a corn-based pastry with raisins, generally wrapped in a banana leaf. It is not overpoweringly sweet but more of a light breakfast food with a sweet tinge. The empanadas were 500 COP each so an order of 8 was 4000 COP ($2) and the dipping sauce provided was ample. The guimbolito was 2300 COP ($1.15). With two luladas (4000 COP each) our bill came to 14,300 COP ($7.15).