I made it a mission to check out the famed Portal de los Dulces in Cartagena (the town’s portal of sweets). On our way out to explore Getsemani (the emerging, but once seedy neighborhood of Cartagena outside the Walled City), we found it: a slew of two dozen tiny vendor stands along an entire block of colorful Spanish colonial-style arches, each one operated by a little old wrinkled Colombian woman. I had to see this place for myself, after learning that it was the setting for many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works of magical realism, including Love in the Time of Cholera. (OK, I was also pretty durned excited about the 50-cent “munecas” made of dulce de leche that I’d read about over the Internets.)
So before we procured any goods for the fam back home, we wanted to taste test the goodies. Here’s what we picked up, for a measly $3,000 Colombian pesos (~$1.75US). The coffee came separately from the original Colombian Juan Valdez Cafe (the one with a location in Washington, DC).
- Let’s start with the most eye-catching of the bunch: “La Muneca de Dulce de Leche,” or Cream-Caramel Doll. These were a bit of a creepy sight, especially when packaged in saran wrap in bulk or peering out of large glass jar. This one was actually a “Bebe de Leche,” which were even creepier since they have these big skeleton eyes. Of our purchases, these were by far the best tasting.
- Near the bottom were the “Cocadas,” or coconut balls of multiple flavors, including guava and pineapple — we chose the Leche and Arequipe flavors. They were aight but a bit too sugary.
- But the kings of sugar were the “bolas” — the little balls that closely resembled an American donut hole. They were heavy. The dark one was tamarind flavored and was basically a large fried ball of sugar (Dr. Robert Lustig would balk at this). The ball even had tamarind seeds inside that you had to spit out. The lighter-colored bola was chocolate flavored but the consistency was literally like eating a ball of cinnamon-flavored sand.
Each stand had variations of the same things — large glass jars and plastic packages of color — more amenable to the sight than their actual taste, as we would learn. Boy, do the Colombians like their sugar and cream.