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Monday, April 08, 2013

Colombia Organik Cafe, Haymarket, Sydney

tamales in banana leaf from Colombia Organik Sydney

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.

Colombian lunch menu at Colombia Organik Sydney
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.

Colombian snack menu at Colombia Organik Sydney
Colombia Organik snack menu

Ajiaco soup at Colombia Organik Sydney
Ajiaco $14
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 sides to ajiaco soup at Colombia Organik 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 at Colombia Organik Sydney
Corn cob from the ajiaco soup

They even thoughtfully provide you with a special corn cob fork for easier eating!

Tamales at Colombia Organik Sydney
Tamales $13
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 inside the tamale at Colombia Organik Sydney
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.

Colombian coffee bean coffee at Colombia Organik Sydney
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.

Bunuelos and pan de queso cheese breads at Colombia Organik Sydney
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 bunuelos deep fried cheese bread at Colombia Organik Sydney
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 at Colombia Organik Sydney
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.

arepa with shredded beef, avocado and cheese at Colombia Organik Sydney
Arepa $10
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 corn cake with beef egg omelette and papa rellena beef-filled potato at Colombia Organik Sydney
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 corn cake filled with beef omelette at Colombia Organik Sydney
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 beef-filled potato at Colombia Organik Sydney
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!

Colombia Organik on George Street Sydney

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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Colombia Organik Cafe Espresso on Urbanspoon

Colombia Organik
810 George Street, Haymarket, Sydney
Tel: +61 433 500 502

Opening hours
Monday to Friday 7am-6.30pm
Saturday 8am-5.30pm

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16 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 4/08/2013 01:19:00 am


  • At 4/08/2013 7:43 am, Blogger Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    my jaw literally dropped seeing the buñuelo and then again with the corn cake filled with beef. holy smokes. I've actually not come across this place before but I'll now be on the hunt for it.

  • At 4/08/2013 8:12 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    So that's what goes on in that cafe! And wow, what a big mumma tamale! Pity this place isn't closer to my work.

  • At 4/08/2013 9:52 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    The Ajiaco truly appeals to me, though perhaps just because of the enormous corn cob? Also, I'd like something so cheesy it almost "huts". Does it have a thatched roof? ;) xoxo

  • At 4/08/2013 10:48 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    My sister just came back from Colombia and I've been hearing about all the amazing food she ate. So glad that there is somewhere in Sydney where I can try it all!

  • At 4/08/2013 10:58 am, Blogger Sherrie @ Crystal Noir said…

    So that's the kind of food this cafe sells! I've walked past it plenty of times on the way to work - looks like I'll have to visit to try that South American food :D

  • At 4/08/2013 5:54 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Having been in Colombia I can say food looks very authentic.

  • At 4/09/2013 9:15 am, Anonymous Orpheus said…

    Awesome. Will have to swing by when I'm in town next month.

  • At 4/09/2013 11:00 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    so cheesy it hurts? AWESOME BRING ON THE PAIN

  • At 4/10/2013 9:06 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    That's something different...never realise this in Haymarket...

  • At 4/13/2013 9:27 pm, Anonymous lau said…

    I was wondering about this place! Looks like the quality is pretty variable, but I'll have to give a few of those Colombian snacks a go...

  • At 4/14/2013 1:53 pm, Blogger Iron Chef Shellie said…

    I want it ALLLL!! I can't get the soup out of my mind, sounds and looks amazeballs!

  • At 4/17/2013 10:27 am, Anonymous The Food Sage said…

    What a top spot. The ajiaco looks just about perfect as we edge into our Sydney autumn. May i ask how many was in your eating army? So many dishes ... so much food! Well done and thanks for sharing.

  • At 4/17/2013 10:27 am, Anonymous The Food Sage said…

    What a top spot. The ajiaco looks just about perfect as we edge into our Sydney autumn. May i ask how many was in your eating army? So many dishes ... so much food! Well done and thanks for sharing.

  • At 5/27/2013 10:58 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    it is right... the only bad thing about the cafe is the location... too busy... anything else is fantastic... let's hope they grow without moving out the zone...

  • At 8/01/2013 10:08 pm, Blogger Annie said…

    omg i love tamales and have only read about this now. can't believe after all the Mexican and South American restaurant popping up around city, it's still hard to find tamales! thanks for posting this up :D

  • At 12/30/2013 2:00 am, Anonymous bob @ jugernauts said…

    this looks cool. I think I might have seen it from the street except it looked ghetto. will check out


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