Al-Madina de Barranquilla

By Rob Packer

I always thought the word sirio from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was one of those words that I probably didn’t understand. Surely there weren’t Syrians on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and this was some kind of metaphor? When I found out I was coming to Barranquilla and started doing some research, I realized that García Márquez was being serious: there is a large community of Colombians with Syrian and Lebanese origins on the Caribbean coast, and Shakira, a Barranquilla native is easily the community’s most famous member.

As the post-film conversation at last week´s Cine Club turned to food, someone mentioned the word quibbe. Were they talking about kibbeh, a favourite Lebanese snack made of ground meat and spices? They were and told me that Barranquilla is full of Middle Eastern restaurants serving quibbe, tahine and tabule, and that it were delicious. Years of average Middle Eastern food in Hong Kong and the thought of kibbeh must’ve made my face light up because a trip to a Lebanese restaurant was planned for the next night.

Outside Los Trigales, an Arabic restaurant in the north of Barranquilla.

The next night’s dinner at Los Trigales was as delicious as I’d be promised it would be. We had a tahine to share for a starter, which looked and tasted like chickpea and tahini-based hummus, rather than the sesame paste that makes up tahini. I’m not sure where the difference in name comes from, but good food trumps all. The mixed plate of Arab food fulfilled my cravings for kibbeh and stuffed vegetables, but the real hit of the evening was a complete surprise: a garlic paste mixed with mayonnaise that spread its garlicky goodness on anything it touched it. By the end, Mar and I were almost eating it with a spoon.

Tahine (hummus) with meat, Barranquilla-style.

The plato árabe mini-mixto. A selection of kibbeh, tahine (again) and stuffed aubergines, cabbage and vine leaf.

Garlic paste. Delicious with pretty much anything.

Intrepid eaters from Couchsurfing Barranquilla.

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