Colombian Street Food in Singapore
By Catherine Ling - Monday, Dec 24, 2012
Ah Colombia, what exotic images it conjures in our minds – Latin American spirit, tropical beaches, mountainous jungle, and that tiny dash of danger (mostly from the movies). We don’t really get to consume much of its culture here, and there aren’t that many Colombians in Singapore. They’re a long way off from home for sure. But one of them misses her country’s food so much, she’s started her own modern interpretation of roadside stands featuring staple street fare that is most often eaten back home.
At La Barra, Patricia Klammers showcases authentic snacks like corn-based arepas and empanadas, as well as drinks made from fruit pulp brought in from Colombia itself.
The arepas are maize bread (S$4) made from ground pre-cooked cornmeal with a choice of toppings like Ropa Vieja (shredded beef, S$12, photo above), Reina (chicken and avocado, S$11), and Domino (black beans and feta cheese, S$9) which is vegetarian. You can eat these gluten-free goodies either pocket bread style, or fold them in two.
“We had to import cornmeal from Colombia because that gives us the most authentic final product. We’ve experimented with various corn flours here but nothing comes close,” says Patricia.
Arepas are also eaten for breakfast, so Patricia has them on the menu with eggs, black beans, sausage and bacon. There’s also a Venezolana – grilled pocket arepa filled with beef, beans, sweet fried plantains and fresh cheese.
Empanadas (S$10 for three) will look somewhat familiar to us. These fritters resemble curry puffs but are milder in terms of spices. Besides potatoes, the fillings also include beef, chicken or cheese. The ones shown here are cocktail sizes; actual servings are bigger.
There’s a special way of eating them – take a bite of the empanada on its own first, and then spoon some sauce into the pocket for your next bite to jazz up the taste. The homemade sauces provided are Aji (a spicy salsa with cilantro and peppers) and a green (avocado-based) sauce.
According to Patricia, empanadas from Colombia are corn-based, rather than wheat-based in other South American countries.
Apart from these, you can also try Papas Criollas (mini yellow potatoes with three sauces), Patacones (green fried plantains with hogao sauce), and Carne Asada (grilled beef Colombian style, served with papas criollas, arepa and chimichurri sauce).
In terms of drinks, there are “pura” (meaning pure) shakes made from fruit pulp – Guanabana (soursop), Maracuya (passionfruit), Mora (blackberry) and so forth, but the unique one is Lulo, which is native to Colombia. The fruit looks like a greenish orange-tomato hybrid, but tastes like a mix of starfruit and pear.
If you prefer something alcoholic, there are Colombian beers, and Aguardiente or “Fire Water”, Colombia’s national drink, an anise-flavoured liqueur made from sugar cane. And as Colombian coffee is world famous, they’ve brought in Juan Valdez as their signature coffee.
For the kitchen, Patricia (centre) and her husband Remy Klammers (left) roped in chef Michael Fraser (right) – he’s Australian but his partner is Colombian, so he’s very familiar with their food.
La Barra officially opened on 7 December, on Día de lasVelitas (Colombia’s Day of the Little Candles). This day is the unofficial start of the Christmas season in Colombia. Families and friends come together on this day to celebrate with food and drinks and line the streets with candles, in honour of the Virgin Mary and her immaculate conception.
Remy and Patricia have decided to make Singapore their permanent home (they have four children). There isn’t an embassy or consulate as there are only about a hundred or so Colombians here. But La Barra could become a meeting ground for them, especially those homesick and missing their own food.
La Barra is located at The Star Vista #02-21, 1 Vista Exchange Green (next to Buona Vista MRT). It is open Tuesdays to Fridays (4pm to 11pm) and weekends (12 noon to 11pm). Closed Mondays.