As an expat, I am always fascinated on the differences in culture and the surprising similarities. I’ve observed this in Latin American cultures. I suspect it must be the Spanish connection; as with the Philippines, a lot of these Latin American countries were under Spanish rule in the past. (Anything that could possibly be a common ground?) Thus, a lot of the same Roman Catholic practices and a lot of the same flavors in the food.
Thanks to The Husband’s boss, we were introduced to Colombian cuisine in El Portal Bakery in Carrolton TX, which proved my hypothesis true.
Well, for one, the Colombia’s got empanada. Remember those savory and sweet (from raisins – Can anyone explain the Filipino raisin trail?) meat, potato, peas, carrots and raisin pie-lets?
Colombia’s empanadas are different. They’re pork pies with a more savory, less sweet flavor encased in a crunchy cornmeal pocket, instead of the bready ones we are used to. In El Portal, they are served right out of the fryer (A word of caution not to bite into it as soon as it hits the table…unless you want to burn your mouth) with an herby vinegary dipping sauce.
It sure wasn’t as sour as the cane vinegar that we’re used to. So I asked what was it made of. The waitress said it was a mixture of vinegar, lime juice, a little water, chilis and cilantro.
Next is that they serve chicharon, which is the brother from another mother of the lechon kawali (crispy pork belly).
The chicharon comes with a combo meal to end other combo meals: the bandeja paisa. This meal is actually good for 2-3 people. The plate comes with a bowl of beans, a cup of white rice topped with a fried egg, an arepa (a puffed corn cake), a slice of avocado, a chorizo, chicharron, a slice of steak and fried sweet bananas. To my Filipino readers, doesn’t the combination sound oh so familiar?
The chicharon reminded me more of the Ilocano bagnet (double friend pork belly) than your usual lechon kawali. Its best paired with the beans to soften the incredibly crunchy, toothsome pork.
The chorizo is amazing! It took me back home with a taste so close to that of the Vigan longganiza – garlicky, fatty and salty. I’ve never had a sausage that could come so close to that distinct taste. The ones I’ve bought in the Asian supermarket are more on the sweet side of things, which I personally don’t like.
You actually have the option of having a morcilla (i.e. blood sausage) in place of the regular Colombian chorizo. I also love the taste of the morcilla, which is basically dinuguan (Filipino pork blood stew) in tube form, except that it has a stronger garlic taste (which I do not mind at all!).
El Portal is a bakery, so do order their Columbian breads. Though their breads are nothing like Filipino breads. I still enjoyed their breads a lot. I crave them often that I created the “almojabana dance”, which I so lovingly perform for The Husband whenever I get the craving. It annoys the hell out of him. And I love it.
What is an “almojabana“?
Well, it is a Colombian cheese bread unlike any other I’ve had. It has a hard, thick crust that is almost hollow inside. What’s left is a chewy crumb with mildly sweet and cheesy flavor. I know its strange. But the taste reminds me of a childhood snack: those 1-peso Cheesedogs you can buy at the sari-sari store.
My other favorite El Portal bread is the bunuelo. Its another Colombian cheese bread, which is still not like the Filipino cheese bread I grew up eating. Imagine the cheese ball snack, that neon orange junk, increase the size by 100x and breadify it…now that is the taste of the bunuelo. If it tastes like junk food (except that its not at all junk!), then it is equally addicting.
If those two weren’t pieces of bread that expanded in the stomach, I could seriously eat a dozen of those El Portal almojabanas and bunuelos.
So my friends, don’t be afraid to check out El Portal and be pleasantly surprised how other cuisines are actually very close to home.
El Portal Colombian Bakery
2810 East Trinity Mills Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
Open Tuesday to Thursday 11AM – 830PM,
Friday to Saturday 11AM – 9PM and Sunday 11AM – 6PM