Columbia has featured quite prominently in the news recently - well, certainly if you've paid any interest to the small soccerball tournament that's just finished in Brazil. Firstly there was the 20 year anniversary of the tragic killing of Andrés Escobar, followed by the far happier memories of James Roderigez netting the Golden Boot, with one spectacular effort being voted the goal of the tournament.
It also so happens that Elephant and Castle, my usual weekend stomping ground, has the highest Colombian population in London; which is still pretty much apropos of nothing if you happen to be Stealth. Not only does she have a less than cursory interest in football, recently announcing 'the Match of the Day theme tune makes me feel sick', but she's still barely even registered the Latin spirit of the area. Pretty hard to miss, especially on a Saturday when the thick cloud of smoke from the chorizo sausages being grilled on split oil drums, alongside a loud Latin soundtrack and huge swathes of bunting, bursts out from under the railway arches.
Despite her startling lack of observation skills she is nothing if not up for trying something new, which is how we found ourselves on a deserted Rockingham street, just off the main E&C roundabout, on a muggy Monday afternoon.
As well as a fridge crammed full of sugary soft drinks such as the lurid Inca Kola and icy lager, they have a range of homemade fruit smoothies. The South Americas are known for their huge range of native fruits that are seldom seen on this side of the Atlantic, and here you can chose from flavours including naranjillo and soursop, or the more familiar blackberry and mango.
I tried the passion fruit flavour, up there with the best beverages I have imbibed this year. Perhaps a bold claim for something containing not a drop of alcohol, although the #peckhampunch I had been knocking back at a party the previous Saturday ran it close (and contributed to the factor I still wasn't back drinking alcohol several days later...).
To eat I chose the Bandeja Paisa (literally translated as platter from the Paisa region, found in the northweat of the country and home to the Colombian Coffee-Growers Axis), the national dish of Columbia that's known for it's generous portion size and for the variety of different delights all found on one plate.
In fact, I found it rather like an English fry up for coffee growers (stay with me here) being as it contained beans, sausage, fried bread and eggs and a slice of pork belly that could be, if you really squinted, mistaken for a extra thick rasher of streaky. Granted, white rice, plantain, ground beef and avocado don't often feature at your usual greasy spoon, and an arepa is pretty far removed from a fried slice, but I found this pick'n'mix of meat and carbs equally effective at hangover busting.
The slow stewed beans, studded with salty porky bits, were a particular highlight, alongside the grilled meats that were rich with salt, garlic and smoke from the grill. And while I rued the fact the Ewing, a confirmed plantain aficionado, wasn't here to try some of this vast specimen, it did leave all the more for me. To mop it all up the arepa, a ground maize flat bread cooked on the griddle, was interesting, but possibly a taste I haven't yet fully acquired.
Another handy thing about eating with Stealth is the delegation of ordering, meaning I can essentially chose two dinners (although the flipside to this being half my food usually gets swiped from across the table).
The Patacon con Todo I chose for her was another mix'n' match affair, this time based around patacones, or deep fried green plantains, that are flattened to resemble a corn tortilla. The plantain base is then served 'con todo', or with everything. In this case heaped with a variety of meats - shredded beef and chicken and fried cubes of crispy pork belly - shredded cheese, pineapple sauce, garlic sauce and guacamole.
On its arrival, Stealth marvelled at the appearance of her dinner - announcing excitedly 'I've never seen anything like this before'. Thankfully, this turned out to be a good thing. And while it may not be much of a looker, each component managed to be distinctively delicious when eaten alone as well as in tandem with anything else on the plate (or mine, for that matter).
Brevas con Quso y Arequipe, figs cooked in syrup served with caramel and white cheese, were frustratingly beyond either of our appetites, not a real surprise considering the portion sizes. Hopefully I'll be back soon enough to sample this intriguing sounding, diabetic coma of a desert, but on this trip a pleasingly full stomach and a vanquished hangover would have to suffice.
(NB, in the absence of pictures of Stealth enjoying her aforementioned feast, here is one of her demonstrating her latest trick. That's magic.)