Cartagena de Indias… World records, seafood and a waiter’s mistake

An island with many bridges, fortresses, Spanish colonial balconies and walls. Colorful, musical… you have to listen some vallenato, or ask the taxi driver to put some on the radio.

And seafood! One of the most traditional dishes is cóctel de camarón, or shrimp cocktail. Made is small stalls around the old city, always by hand. The cocktail sauce made with fresh ingredients, chopped red onion, freshly squeezed lime juice, tomato sauce, garlic and some other ingredients that change from recipe to recipe.

El Sombrerón

The most renowned place to have it is El Sombrerón. Still served by the owner, “el viejo Loco” Lacides (crazy old man Lacides), Guinness World Record holder for the biggest shrimp cocktail (3 tons, and served in a 6+ feet cup in 2015).

The little stall is in the corner of Venezuela st. and Panamá st. in the heart of the old city. The name is honoring the traditional Cartagenian Sombrero, which Don Lacides wears with pride.

All his shrimp cocktails are made á la minute, all the ingredients mixed one by one in the same cup that they will be served. No pre-mixes, no shortcuts. Fresh. Simple. Traditional. Tasty. As he has been doing it for the last 50 years.

La Casa de Socorro

Well known as one of the most popular restaurants for fresh seafood in the coastal city of Cartagena, I had my first approach to this restaurant while researching about Colombia’s Caribbean food. Their signature dish is the seafood stew, but having only one meal to have and trying to taste as much as I could, I went for two appetizers and and a tabla tsunami tasting plate.

The appetizers we ordered were grilled octopus with patacones. The patacones are a Caribbean side order made of smashed plantain, fried until golden and crispy. For the second appetizer we ordered vinagreite marinated shrimp. Evidently the waiter made a mistake, and he brought a fish and shrimp ceviche. We could have send it back, maybe complain, but by the time we realized about the mistake, we already had about half of it, and it was delicious! White fish and shrimps marinated in lime juice, with corn and red onion. The fish was firm, in its right point of marination. The shrimps were pinky, with a tender flesh.

Is not the first time in my life that I get something that I did not order. And in all my years waiting tables, oh yes! I served many wrong dishes! I take these mistakes as opportunities. Opportunity to taste something unexpected. Opportunity to let the moment flow in an unexpected way. And in this case, to enjoy a great ceviche! Sometimes, a waiter’s mistake can be a real blessing, excepting when they pour Bloody Mary over a white shirt… and I’ve done that myself…

Anyway, going back to La Casa de Socorro, the main course was a real tsunami for the tastebuds (it’s called tabla tsunami). It came with shrimp cocktail, the quintessential Cartagenian dish, muelas de cangrejo which are the fingers on the crab claw, tollo which is a spread made out of shark meat that is delicious over the patacones. The board also came with baby lobster and fried calamari.

On the way back we made a few stops in The Umbrella’s Street, well, another umbrella street, as you can find in Istanbul or Naples, but always fun to see…

Cartagena, Spanish colonial architecture, stories of galleons, buccaneers, Latin music, seafood and Caribbean fruits…

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