Travel Dispatch: Shakira, Gabriel Garcia, and Great Food in Barranquilla, Colombia

I’d like to think Shakira was well fed growing up. She was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, which hails as the culinary capital of the country thanks to its prime location near the Atlantic, offering super-fresh seafood and a touch of Caribbean influences. If there’s anything a traveler can identify Barranquilla with, it’s traditional dishes like plantains and coconut rice and empanadas. And did I mention super-fresh, caught-in-the-morning seafood?

As soon as I arrived, I headed straight to Sabor, a three-day culinary event that highlights some of the best chefs in Barranquilla, offering cooking demonstrations, presentations, cocktail hours for networking, and sample dishes for guests to savor from various restaurants. While a diverse range of restaurants are present, from traditional foods to Spanish flavors to even new Chinese restaurants, what really hooked the attendees—and me—was La Cueva. Barranquilla’s tourism infrastructure isn’t completely map-friendly yet, and top restaurants and shops simply dot residential areas, mostly in the northern part of the city. La Cueva (the Cave) takes an unsuspecting street corner, providing some of the city’s best traditional dishes, like chicharrones del carajo (fried crackling flour with ground beef) and signature posta negra, typical beef dish with roasted plantains and rice.

But what truly makes La Cueva special is that it serves as a cultural institution: its the former watering hole for Nobel Prize author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Here, the celebrated writer spent plenty of intoxicated hours back in his mid-twenties with other artists and intellectuals, like painter Alejandro Obregon, whose original work adorns the walls. Many of Marquez’s friends made cameos in his most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The bar—opened in 1954—closed for a number of years, only to reopen as a restaurant in 2004. A small cinema in the back room presents films of the establishment’s history, as well as plenty of memorabilia throughout the space, some real, like the two bullet holes on the wall triggered from drunken bantering, and some simply a tribute to his great work, such as the large block of ice in the corner of the restaurant (read One Hundred Years of Solitude to understand).