One of the things I love most about traveling is the food. Hot and tasty street food, exotic fruits and veggies, delicious local specialties, thirst quenching drinks, hole-in-the-wall joints. Everywhere I go, there is something new and exciting to introduce my tastebuds to. More often than not, in fact, I plan my day (and even trips!) around where and what I want to eat.
Since I love food so much, I try to delve deep in the local food scene at least once during trip, usually many times more. In the past this has included a cooking class in Laos, pinxto tasting in Spain, street food sampling in Oaxaca, a farm-to-table dinner in England, buying fresh cheese from a remote dairy in France, etc… you get the point. I like local foods and local food culture.
Colombia has been no different – I've sampled the traditional Colombian stew – ajiaco – piled high with toppings, I’ve eaten buttery and cheesy arepas from street vendors, I’ve gulped down freshly made guarapo (juice of sugarcane and lime), and I’ve eaten the best churro I’ve ever had in my life – it was perfectly deep fried, lightly coated with sugar, and filled with a delicious sweet custardy caramel.
But in addition to sampling local foods, I wanted to do something a bit more educational so I signed up for an Exotic Fruit tour at the Minorista Market, a huge food market in downtown Medelln that sells everything from bananas to corn off the cob to fresh queso.
Now I’m not one to usually do tours, my style of travel is typically to do some research on the places I’m interested in visiting then strike out on my own to explore and hopefully not get lost. But the more I travel, the more I’ve come to enjoy small, well-crafted, off-the-beaten-path tours. I’ve learned that I actually miss quite a bit when I don’t have a local to show me around.
Before the tour started, though, I had one obstacle to overcome – figuring out how to ride the metro system. Public transportation is always a bit intimidating for me (and I’m sure many other people) when I’m in a new country because there are so many different ways things could go wrong: get on the wrong bus, head in the opposite direction, miss a stop, get pickpocketed, etc… but I’ve found that once you jump in and start working out the system, it’s really not that hard at all. The Metro in Medellín is actually one of the easiest, cleanest, and safest transit systems I’ve ever taken, including the US.
So once I found my way to the entrance of the Minorista Market (45 minutes early because I wasn’t sure how the metro would go), I met three other gringos who were on the tour and Diana, our Colombian tour guide who would take us through the market.
We entered through a side entrance and were immediately met with a slew of different smells, colors, textures, and sounds. There were stalls displaying just fruits, stalls piled high with eggs, stalls with men slicing corn kernels off the cob, stalls with women cooking arepas over hot coals, and stalls jam-packed with traditional medicines and potions. Colombians are superstitious and have remedies for everything from love elixirs to garnering luck for gambling. Later, we came across the stalls selling blocks of fresh cheese, stalls displaying fresh and dried meats, and stalls showcasing all sorts of different seafood
Our focus for the day, though, were the fresh fruits. In all, we tasted about 15 different Colombian-grown fruits. Some of them I’ve had before, like guava and passion fruit, and others I had never even set eyes on before, like the west Indian locust and Spanish limes. All were tasty, but admittedly some better than others. I wasn’t a fan of the peach palm until we lathered it in salt and honey and I could take or leave the tomato de arbol. The west Indian locust was a trip too. The outer pod is incredibly hard and typically cracked open by a special too – a hammer. Inside, the fruit is light brown color and resembles freeze dried ice cream. Seriously. It’s chalky and powdery, but the taste is actually quite good – nothing like anything I’ve every tasted before. After ruminating on it a bit, I gave it the thumbs up!
My favorites out of all the fruits, though, were the Spanish limes, known as mamonchillos, and dragon fruit, which I think are a lot of people’s favorites. Mamonchillos reminded me of lychees – they’re small and round and have a huge pit in the middle surrounded by a fleshy sweet/sour fruit. You suck on them and slowly peel the fruit off with your teeth. Diana told us that parents give their kids mamonchillos when they want them to be quiet.
After about 2 1/2 hours in the market we had made our way through 15 different fruits, 1 arepa, and 1 glass of freshly made juice. I was more than full and slightly queasy from all the different things churning around in my stomach, but I was definitely glad I had signed up for the tour. It had answered my questions about what many of the fruits were that I had been eyeing throughout this trip and throughout many of my previous trips to other tropical places around the world. Now I won’t be relying solely on mangos and bananas when I visit the local markets.
La Minorista Market is an experience not to be missed while in Medellín. Go check it out! And I do recommend the Real City Tour if you’re interested in learning a more about tropical fruits in and outside of Colombia.
How to get there: Take a cab or the metro. If you take the metro, ask for a ticket to the Hospital Station plus a Metroplus bus ticket to Minorista. At the Hospital station transfer to Linea 1 (L1) bus, which will deposit you right outside of the market. You don’t need to exit the metro station to catch the bus (which is more like a tram).
Cost: The market is free to enter on your own. The Exotic Fruit Tour cost 50,000 COP or about $17 USD
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
Traveling is all about making your own experiences! My adventure was awesome, but here's some ideas on how to make your adventure your own
✦ Go with a recipe in hand and shop for the fresh ingredients
✦ Skip the tour and have your own exotic fruit tasting with friends back at your hostel
✦ Buy exotic fruit to make fresh juices and concoct some tasty cocktails