We’re coffee people. Maybe you’ve picked up on that. But don’t let our love of a good cup of Project Sunrise coffee distract you from the fact that we are foodies, through and through. If you’ve had a look at Chef Shane’s blog, you understand. So, when we traveled to Huila, Colombia, of course, we brought our appetites.
And the people of Huila must have been warned because they were ready for us, plates piled high with their local favorites. We’re sorry that we couldn’t bring back those flavors, but we are excited to serve the memories.
In Colombia, “local” is never loosely defined. That’s because the fertility of the land and the favorable climate allows for almost anything you can imagine to be grown right where you stand. The meat, fruits and vegetables our hosts prepared were always raised or picked fresh from their farms. And, as we toured their land, we were able to watch their farm-to-table process, first hand. At First Watch, using the freshest ingredients possible is kind of our thing, so we respect that.
We also respect hospitality, and the friends we made in Huila were beyond welcoming. Every meal we shared with our hosts was a feast, a special event that truly made us feel special. Whether it be a speech or a song and dance, entertainment was always served with as much care as the dishes. As we dined with our new friends, we learned that, although they might not eat so lavishly every night, they pull out all the stops for their guests. We sure felt lucky. And full.
Sancocho de Gallina, a hearty stew, was frequently on the table and varied with each presentation. The stew can be made with chicken, fish, beef or pork, depending on the availability. It was a welcomed treat after a long day on the coffee farms. And while many of the dishes center around meat, there was more than enough to satisfy our resident First Watch vegetarian because our hosts made absolutely sure of it. Upon hearing that a member of our team was unable to eat the main course, they would happily prepare a veggie delight from scratch. And we think omnivores alike can agree, a meal served of fresh ingredients and made with immense generosity will make anyone happy.
Another favorite amongst most of our team was a dish called Asado Huilense, which is a pork entrée that is traditionally marinated in beer, sour orange juice and vegetables, then covered with banana leaves and baked in a clay oven. None of the herbs, spices and accompaniments seem to be set in stone in Huila because so much of the process is based on what’s fresh and available. So, the vegetables may change with every serving and the seasoning is often done by eye and hand, using a mortar to mix, but the flavor is always big and balanced. Their imagination in the kitchen is probably the most important part of the recipe.
While some of the ingredients varied, other aspects of the table seemed to be more reoccurring and traditional than others. Fried plantains, called tostones, and maize patties formed by hand, called arepas, were staples on the table. And almost every meal was served with rice, cheese, crackers, fresh-squeezed juice and, of course, coffee. The crackers, called Achira Biscuits, are a cheesy, buttery, staple in Huila. Simple and delicious. Their handmade cheese, Quesillo Yaguareño, was more significant to the courses than we had expected, but what a pleasant surprise it was. It’s soft, delicate and salty, which makes it pretty addicting. In fact, the demand for Quesillo Yaguareño is so high in Huila that its production is a popular industry right alongside coffee farming.
We certainly did not go hungry in Huila, Colombia, thanks to our generous hosts. And while we can’t completely satisfy our cravings for those local dishes now that we are back in the states, we remain full of inspiration. That is just as gratifying, if not more, and it goes great with a cup of Project Sunrise coffee.