Is there some kind of conspiracy to keep South American food menus secret from the public? It's a thought that crosses my mind when we venture into Colombia Organik, a sandwich shop and cafe that offers more than just the juices and frappes advertised loudly out front.
This narrow little cafe has been open for a couple of years now, but the predominantly black frontage makes it easy to miss, particularly as it sits on the under-patronaged George Street block between Railway Square and Sydney Central YHA.
The signboard menu lists BLTs and chicken schnitzel sandwiches and gluten-free muffins sit in the window display but it's not until you approach that you notice a few South American snacks hidden on the third shelf. On the walls of the cafe are a couple of Colombian food menus, but with their pretty photos and lack of prices, they could easily be mistaken for information posters instead.
Colombia Organik lunch menu
Asking about prices can be a little daunting and it can also yield different answers. When I first asked about the tamales and ajiaco I was told they were $15 each, but when we went to order and pay we were charged $13 and $14 respectively.
Colombia Organik snack menu
Traditional Colombian soup of chicken, potatoes, corn and herbs serve with avocado, rice and thickened milk cream
They only have three items available on the lunch menu and Mr Manchego is happy to tuck into the ajiaco soup. It's a traditional Colombian potato soup and provides a weclome antidote for a miserable rainy day in Sydney.
Avocado, rice and thickened milk cream
The broth - noticeably hearty with chicken flavour - is thickened with potato and filled with rustic chunks of chicken, potato and corn. On the side is a bowl of rice, a quarter of avocado and a container of thickened milk which can all be added to the soup at personal discretion.
The rice makes this a substantial meal, and although the idea of warm avocado sounds odd, it adds a buttery and sweet element to the dish.
Corn cob from the ajiaco soup
They even thoughtfully provide you with a special corn cob fork for easier eating!
Seasoned chicken and pork with vegetables wrapped in cornmeal and cooked in banana leaf
I'd gone for the tamales and boy, is it a whopper! Unlike the more familiar Mexican tamales - wrapped in corn husks and the size of a Christmas cracker - Colombian tamales are cooked in a banana leaf and giant-sized!
Chicken and vegetable filling inside the tamale
Unwrapping presents is always fun, and there's an enticing release of steam and aromas as the banana leaf is gently prised open. Inside is a pillow of masa harina, a cornmeal dough, filled with chicken, carrots, peas and potatoes.
Digging into the masa and meat is like eating a South American version of a Chinese sticky rice parcel. It's equally comforting too, with the soft and fluffy cornmeal taking on the subtle flavour of the banana leaf. The filling of chicken and vegetables is simple and tasty, uncomplicated but satisfying, and feels like a home-made meal cooked by Grandma.
Long black and flat white $3
The coffee is impressive too. They use Calima coffee beans, made from hand-picked Colombian-grown beans which are sun-dried, imported into Australia, and then roasted. The intensity of flavour takes me by surprise at first, with a nutty full-bodied richness not often found in Sydney single shot coffees.
Buñuelos deep fried cheese bread and Pan de queso baked cheese bread ring $3 each
There's room for a few snacks as well. A huge tub of pastries on the counter-top is unmarked and unlabelled but we make enquiries and find out they're cheese breads. The round ball is a buñuelo or deep-fried cheese bread (I make an immediate beeline for this) and the ring is a pan de queso or baked cheese bread.
Inside the buñuelo
The deep-fried buñuelo isn't as fatty as you'd expect. There's no excessive oil or grease, and the thin shell on the outside is the only telltale sign it's met the deep-fryer. Inside is a core of yeasted dough that's reasonably dense but not heavy, although it's quite a substantial snack for its size. There's not an overwhelming flavour of cheese either.
The pan de queso, on the other hand, is so cheesy it almost huts. It tastes remarkably similar to a Brazilian-style pan de queso, with that same starchy chewiness that I find irresistibly delicious.
Chilli chicken sandwich $7
We're so intrigued by the menu that we make a second visit. We'd been hoping to try the caldo de costilla beef rib soup but there are no soups available today, we're told. Instead Mr Manchego settles for a chilli chicken sandwich that is average at best, and further proof that the true highlights here are the Colombian dishes.
Corn cake with shredded beef, avocado and cheese
I order the arepa, a corn cake that arrives a little more dry and toasted that I probably would have liked. Cutting through the bottom is like carving through cardboard with a straw, and the slices of wilted cheese on top doesn't look very appealing. However the shredded beef is tender and plentiful, with a generous amount of mashed avocado slathered on top.
Arepa de Huevo [left] $6.50
and Papa Rellena beef-filled potato [right] $3.50
We tuck into a few more Colombian snacks from the counter display, which are heated on a grill before serving.
Arepa de Huevo $6.50
Corn cake filled with beef omelette
The arepa de huevo is a like a meal compacted into cornmeal pocket. The casing of masa cornmeal is a little drier and chewier than the tamale with an omelette core that is chock-full of beef mince, onion and tomatoes. I could easily imagine myself happily nibbling on this as a hand-held snack on the streets of Colombia.
Papa Rellena $6.50
Fried potato with shredded beef, chopped onions and tomato
We also try the papa rellena, a fried potato snack that cleverly uses the potato skin as part of the mixture. The filling yield a mix of shredded beef, onions, tomatoes scented with aromatic cumin, but it's the outside that's the most intriguing. Chunks of cooked potato are mashed with egg and potato skins, creating an intense potato favour. Using the potato skins seems ingenious, particularly when it's almost always thrown away when peeled. My mother always said that all the flavour is in the skin!
There are only four tables for two on the footpath so you will have to arrive early if you want a guaranteed lunch table. We didn't have room for dessert but next time I'm definitely ordering a pastel pastry, filled with caramel fudge (pastel de arequipe) or guava paste (pastel de guayaba).
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810 George Street, Haymarket, Sydney
Tel: +61 433 500 502
Monday to Friday 7am-6.30pm
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4/08/2013 01:19:00 a.m.