I moved from Colombia to New York three years ago. Whenever I come back after a visit, I often get asked what I missed the most from back home. Is it the food? The weather? The accent? I always say that—besides my family and friends—the only thing I miss is the fruit. Most Colombian dishes and their ingredients can be found easily in New York, but the fruit there can’t compare to the colorful, tasty array of flavors found in fruit in Colombia.
You might think you know Colombian fruits—if you eat a banana in Europe or the United States, chances are pretty high that it came from Colombia. The probability is also pretty high for other common fruits such as oranges, pineapples and strawberries, or even Haas avocados. Perhaps this is surprising to you, and you don’t know that you have eaten Colombian fruit. But trust me, you haven’t tasted anything yet.
Not only are mangos, oranges, and tangerines fresher, sweeter, and juicier when you buy them in Colombia versus buying them in the States (where they’ve been packed and transported for too long). In Colombia, you’ll also get consistency and great variety. Chalk that up to our environment. Colombians are taught in school to be proud of the fact that our country has “every climate.”
Due to our location, we don’t have seasons—at least not calendar seasons, which means that all fruits are pretty much available year-round—but we do have mountains of every size, and the temperature changes dramatically depending on the altitude. A mix of warm, temperate, cold, and moorland means that we grow fruit in a wide variety of climates. This gives us the luxury of enjoying a huge range of delicious, uncommon fruits. Fresh fruit is easy to get all the time and most Colombians accompany their meals with freshly-squeezed juice and reject artificially flavored bottled juice.
Colombia has only recently started to export those less common fruits, and the best way to try them is still to come to Colombia and hit up a fruit stand. Most neighborhoods have a fruit store, and also a day of the week when local vendors set up shop in a park to sell their produce. You can also head to the city’s main market, where a vast assortment of new colors, smells and flavors greet you. Here in Bogotá, the central market for fruit is called Paloquemao. There you can taste all of the fruits you might consider exotic, though here, they are common.
A favorite among visitors is maracuyá, or passion fruit out of which a delicious acidic but sweet juice can be made. Another highlight is lulo, a less acidic, citrus-like fruit very popular for juice. Or try a granadilla, a round, orange fruit that you rip in half to eat the gelatinous pulp surrounding the seeds. There is also tomate de árbol (literally “tree tomato,” but known in English as tamarillo), a sweeter relative of tomato that’s used in juices and desserts. This little fruit divides the country in two: there are those who love it with a passion and those, like me, who can’t stand the sight of it. My favorite, however, is pitahaya, a small fruit with yellow spikes very similar to the pink dragon fruit of eastern Asia. Cut it in two and scoop out the sweet, kiwi-like fruit inside.
Despite their deliciousness, you have to know your fruits in order to avoid being caught off guard. Legend has it that indigenous groups in what is now Baja, Mexico, gifted pitahayas (probably the pink version that is more common there) to the arriving Spaniards as a way of mocking them. They knew the Spaniards would love them—and they also knew pitahayas are highly effective laxatives. Meanwhile, in Bogotá and around Colombia, many fruit sellers will try to push you some produce to “rock your boat,” or your bedroom. Borojó, a very sweet fruit from the Colombian Pacific, is the main candidate to revitalize your sex life. You might also be offered carambolo, a star-shaped acid fruit, or arazá, a yellowish acidic delicacy, for these purposes.
But if this is not your intention when trying a new fruit, don’t worry. In the rainbow of colors and flavors that make up Colombian fruit, there’s certain to be something to your taste.