Truth is, I have NFI what to call La Fonda Colombiana. I first heard about this place a couple of years ago from a Colombian who was painting my living room. He was interrogated as per my usual nosy parker questioning of anyone not born in Australia, thus;
1. So what’s typical Armenian/Mauritanian/Zambian food like then? (=Educate me, I have no idea)
2. Can you buy all the ingredients you need here. (=Is there an Armenian?Mauritanian/Zambian deli /providore I need to know about?)
3. Where do you eat out when you’re homesick? (=Are there any really authentic Armenian/Mauritanian?Zambian eateries around here?)
My painter (who from memory was called ‘Joe’) told me about this place that Colombians would go to when they longed for food from home. Pressed further he admitted it wasn’t actually a restaurant, more like someone’s home. Hmm.
I wondered about it, but not with any great interest until recently, when it was mentioned again, on twitter (hello @simonegiellis). Now ‘La Fonda’ as it’s known is in the very outskirts of the furthest suburbs a place -I’d never even heard of called `Sheldon’. Even the name sounds like it’s far away. On a whim I looked it up and turns out it wasn’t far off the backroads from Cleveland where the Straddie barge pulls up on the bay. Last week, on the way back from a couple of days at Straddie on a whim, I ignored the freeway and looked as instructed for the Colombian flag flying at the end of a driveway.
It’s only open on a Sunday, and is literally in the backyard of the brick bungalow home o f Teresa and Augusto Perez. We arrived at 12.30, pulled our car up to the lawn and hopped out. At a big opensided shed out the back, Teresa and Augusto were cooking up that days lunch. ”How many people do you get?” I asked Teresa.
”Oh I don’t know. Sometimes 10, sometimes 40, sometimes 100. Colombians don’t like to book.”
From the amount of food that was being cooked up by the pair plus another couple of helpers, they were expecting the Colombian army on this particular Sunday.
Seating at La Fonda is all outside on the lawn under shadecloths. There’s a pool. (”Sometimes people bring their togs when is hot,” Teresa says.) Chairs are sturdy plastic, crockery unmatched, salt and pepper in the containers they were bought in. Prices match the decor. A laminated menu is bought and with Teresa’s recommendation, we kick off with Epanadas ($2.50 each). These are unlike the ones I’ve had in Mexico, being made from polenta and filled with ground beef, potatoes , onions and tomatoes and served with aji, a sauce of coriander, shallots, chill, vinegar and unnamed ‘spices’.
’Arepa de Choclo’ which were what Teresa and Augusto were cooking up when we arrived are similar but made with fresh ground corn and stuffed with mozzarella and a cheese that Teresa make herself.
The smell of frying chorizo reached where we sat, as the tables gradually filled with couples and (presumably Colombian) families, the chatter rising over a Latin American soundtrack.
It came with our Bandeja Paisa, basically a plate of red beans, rice, minced ground meat, deep fried pork belly, an egg, avocado and patacon (deep fried plantain). Perfect with a Colombian beer, a ‘Pony Malta’ or as we had, an amazing fresh soursop milkshake.
Teresa showed me Papa Criolla- an indigenous potato (that was being shipped frozen from Colombia) that are small with a bright yellow, creamy flesh. They are eaten a bit like chips, dipped into a sauce or guacamale. Delicious.
Plantains, a kind of bigger banana, eaten fried when green were once impossible to get here, Teresa says. “We used instead green lady finger bananas, but somebody has started to import plantains and we can sometimes get them now. ” Teresa tells me a story of how in the early days of her arrival in Australia she saw green lady fingers growing in someone’s back yard and asked if they would sell them to her.“They tell me.”No.You will get sick if you eat these.” I tell them we eat them like this in Colombia all the time and we dont’ get sick but they wouldn’t believe me.” The plantains are deep fried and served with Ogao, a sauce made with tomatoes, onion and a blend of spices.
By now, the place was filling. Everyone seemed to know each other- everyone chatting in Spanish, apart from one or two partners/husbands/boyfriends who obviously weren’t Colombian.
The most expensive thing on the La Fonda menu is Sobrebarriga en salsa o asada- a cut of brisket cooked in Ogao with potatoes and cassava served with rice and avocado. Mostly everything is sized to share and a decent meal, of say Morcilla with arepa or patacon is just $10. Tamales, with potatoes, peas and rice filled with pork, chicken, and vegetables topped with ogao and wrapped in banana leaves and steamed is $12.
Pastry triangles with dulce de leche and guava are delicous. Such an unusual combination of sweet and tart.
Yes, there’s a lot of deep fried stuff, but it isn’t heavy and it’s wonderful getting an insight into another culture like this, especially one many of us so rarely come into contact with.
La Fonda Colombiana welcomes everyone, not just Colombians and is a unique experience well worth the drive to the boondocks. (525 Mt Cotton Rd, Sheldon. Open most Sundays. BOOK! 32060376/0466157502. Look for the Colombian flag.