I imagine that wherever someone like Gabriel Garcia Marquez lives, the neighborhood gets better. Sitting down at a table at La Cevicheria in Cartagena’s old walled center, just beside the famed Santa Clara monastery (now a Sofitel), a clown comes by making squeaking noises. He squeaks when a van drives by as he acts like he is keying the side of it. He squeaks wedding music to a couple dining at the table next to mine, then sprays a string of fake ketchup from a red bottle on the girlfriend as she screams…then laughs. Soon three kids, no more than ten years old, rap for two minutes about Colombia. Then a neatly dressed maid walks by with a Dalmatian. She smiles. So does the dog it seems.
La Cevicheria isn’t the fanciest place in Cartagena. A scattering of tables sits in the street with parked cars on both ends. A wine bottle of homemade chile sauce, full of herbs and spices, sits on every table. The owner Jorge Escandón has become one of Cartagena’s and Colombia’s most iconic culinary ambassadors. Anthony Bourdain famously dined here in No Reservations. Charlie Sheen even showed up one day in December. The attitude that pervades here, as well as his grittier social club in Getsemani, Bazurto, is rather relaxed, though there’s a strong lean towards authenticity, an idea that is becoming more rare in Cartagena as cruise ship and package tour crowds grow.
The freshness and quality of the ingredients, primarily seafood as one would expect, are emphasized. The dishes are not overly complex, but are pieced together with sage like wisdom. Ceviche de coco y limon is like limonada de coco with a fork. Ceviche Douglas uses a mango, a pleasant change from the typical lime. Pulpo en Salsa de Mani (octopus in peanut sauce) is about as wonderful as a dish as you will find on Colombia’s Caribbean coast – it’s meaty and flavorful – yet you’ll only find it here. Even the mojitos can lay claim to the best in Cartagena. Come for lunch, don’t plan on being anywhere after, and soak in the atmosphere.
Calle Stuart No. 7-14
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.