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Valluno picnic in City Heights

A tour of Colombian food on a single platter

Clockwise from the top left corner: carne asada, fried chicken, crispy pork belly, fried plantain, sausage, and fried cassava. Fried egg, rice, arepa, potatoes, beans, and avocado in the center.
Clockwise from the top left corner: carne asada, fried chicken, crispy pork belly, fried plantain, sausage, and fried cassava. Fried egg, rice, arepa, potatoes, beans, and avocado in the center.

It’s a large plate, draped with a plantain leaf, atop which sits a stunning variety of foods. There are rice and stewed pinto beans, and potatoes. The rice is topped with a fried egg, encircled on one side by fried plantain, on the other by pork belly, a half-ring of fat with crispy red morsels of meat protruding like gear spokes. Beside the pork there’s fried chicken, beyond that carne asada. There’s a charred sausage link, a couple pieces of fried cassava (a.k.a. yucca), a wedge of avocado, and, because this is a Colombian meal, a grilled piece of arepa, the nation’s traditional corn flour bread (not to be confused with corn bread), here about the size and consistency of a dense biscuit.

Place

Sabores Colombianos

3695 University Avenue, San Diego

I’m sitting in the welcoming City Heights restaurant Sabores Colombianos, a small, well-lit space, sparsely decorated with Colombian cultural artifacts and photos of plates featuring traditionally prepared meat, fish, and fowl.

Consulting my Colombian waiter, and those photos, I’ve gone ahead and ordered the restaurant’s priciest plate: the 20-dollar Fiambre Valluno (most entrees top out at $15). I take it this translates to “Valluno picnic,” the word Valluno referring to something or someone from the Valle de Cauca, which sits between the Andes and the Pacific on Colombia’s southwest coast.

This would make quite a picnic, and makes me wonder if maybe we’re not doing it right on this side of the Panama Canal?

A pair of Colombian gentlemen at the next table nod their approval, as they continue their own leisurely meal, comprising seemingly endless small plates, featuring all manner of corn-flour based Colombian antojitos and meat items, including that arc of pork, which they eat one spoke at a time, tearing it off by hand.

It’s tasty, of course. Aside from the rice and cassava, every component on my plate is rich with flavor. There’s savory saltiness of the beef, pork, and chicken, which doesn’t resemble the Southern, battered and fried chicken I’m accustomed too — this small breast is so thoroughly fried its skin has become crackling, the flesh within pulling apart into dry yet delicate strands.

That sausage, an earthier Colombian descendent of Spain’s chorizo, offers a darker and smokier paprika. The carne asada — a lean, seasoned cut of flank steak — had enough salt to make me truly appreciate the sweet presence of the fried plantain. Making this one of those rare occasions I’ve truly enjoyed the banana relative. Both it and the cassava have an almost pasty dryness, more so than potatoes, but the contrast worked given the amount of meat I’m consuming.

The beef’s a tad over salted today, and the egg over fried (a runnier yolk would have added something to my gluttony), but I’m otherwise pretty satisfied with my choice of lunch, and the inevitable leftovers. Despite the vast assortment on this platter, I’ve only scratched the surface of this place, and Colombian cuisine in general. I’ll have to return to try the sobrebarriga (steamed flank steak), and bistec a la criolla, which features South America’s answer to pico de gallo.

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Clockwise from the top left corner: carne asada, fried chicken, crispy pork belly, fried plantain, sausage, and fried cassava. Fried egg, rice, arepa, potatoes, beans, and avocado in the center.
Clockwise from the top left corner: carne asada, fried chicken, crispy pork belly, fried plantain, sausage, and fried cassava. Fried egg, rice, arepa, potatoes, beans, and avocado in the center.

It’s a large plate, draped with a plantain leaf, atop which sits a stunning variety of foods. There are rice and stewed pinto beans, and potatoes. The rice is topped with a fried egg, encircled on one side by fried plantain, on the other by pork belly, a half-ring of fat with crispy red morsels of meat protruding like gear spokes. Beside the pork there’s fried chicken, beyond that carne asada. There’s a charred sausage link, a couple pieces of fried cassava (a.k.a. yucca), a wedge of avocado, and, because this is a Colombian meal, a grilled piece of arepa, the nation’s traditional corn flour bread (not to be confused with corn bread), here about the size and consistency of a dense biscuit.

Place

Sabores Colombianos

3695 University Avenue, San Diego

I’m sitting in the welcoming City Heights restaurant Sabores Colombianos, a small, well-lit space, sparsely decorated with Colombian cultural artifacts and photos of plates featuring traditionally prepared meat, fish, and fowl.

Consulting my Colombian waiter, and those photos, I’ve gone ahead and ordered the restaurant’s priciest plate: the 20-dollar Fiambre Valluno (most entrees top out at $15). I take it this translates to “Valluno picnic,” the word Valluno referring to something or someone from the Valle de Cauca, which sits between the Andes and the Pacific on Colombia’s southwest coast.

This would make quite a picnic, and makes me wonder if maybe we’re not doing it right on this side of the Panama Canal?

A pair of Colombian gentlemen at the next table nod their approval, as they continue their own leisurely meal, comprising seemingly endless small plates, featuring all manner of corn-flour based Colombian antojitos and meat items, including that arc of pork, which they eat one spoke at a time, tearing it off by hand.

It’s tasty, of course. Aside from the rice and cassava, every component on my plate is rich with flavor. There’s savory saltiness of the beef, pork, and chicken, which doesn’t resemble the Southern, battered and fried chicken I’m accustomed too — this small breast is so thoroughly fried its skin has become crackling, the flesh within pulling apart into dry yet delicate strands.

That sausage, an earthier Colombian descendent of Spain’s chorizo, offers a darker and smokier paprika. The carne asada — a lean, seasoned cut of flank steak — had enough salt to make me truly appreciate the sweet presence of the fried plantain. Making this one of those rare occasions I’ve truly enjoyed the banana relative. Both it and the cassava have an almost pasty dryness, more so than potatoes, but the contrast worked given the amount of meat I’m consuming.

The beef’s a tad over salted today, and the egg over fried (a runnier yolk would have added something to my gluttony), but I’m otherwise pretty satisfied with my choice of lunch, and the inevitable leftovers. Despite the vast assortment on this platter, I’ve only scratched the surface of this place, and Colombian cuisine in general. I’ll have to return to try the sobrebarriga (steamed flank steak), and bistec a la criolla, which features South America’s answer to pico de gallo.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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