While my mom wouldn’t approve of my eavesdropping, committing this socially dubious act did help me pick up an intriguing tidbit about Zudaka Healthy Latin Food, Boulder’s new vegetarian restaurant. Zudaka is a derogatory term for a South American person, our server explained to another table. The South American owners chose the name to diminish the word’s negative power; one suspects the term may have originated from the Dutch appellation for that part of the world: Zuid-Amerika.
Most dishes here are South American, with a particular focus on Venezuela and Colombia. Arepa, a cornmeal cake stuffed with a variety of fillings, is a signature offering here. There’s also bean and rice bowls served with salsa and smooth Venezuelan guacamole, as well as fried yucca root appetizers. Less geographically specific choices include meatless hot dogs, vegetarian spaghetti Bolognese and tofu wraps. However, not everything is vegan, although some items can be prepared without dairy on request. There are also several gluten-free selections, ranging from tamales to hefty salads.
Friend Cami and I decided to zero in on the South American offerings. We started with a $4.50 order of patcones, or plantain patties. More substantial than the usual fried plantain chips, these had the heft of falafel with a subtly crisp exterior. The slight tang of the plantain was pleasantly balanced by the three dips of sour cream, salsa, and delicate and smooth Venezuela guacamole. Inspired by the flavors and humble but colorful folk art setting, Cami declared, “This makes me want to travel.”
Next up was one of the arepas, in this case the $5.25 zudaka version. Resembling a petite take on a pita sandwich, there was nothing derogatory about this blend of meatless beef, salsa, guacamole and cheese. The cornmeal pocket was hefty without being leaden, and the fillings were distinct without blurring into each other as they might in a burrito. Spicing tended more towards mild than fiery, which was fine, as it helped emphasize the fresh taste of this starter.
The centerpiece of Cami’s meal was the $8.75 hallaquitas, a platter of Venezuelan tamales sided with black beans. One of the owners suggested that Cami drench her tamales with guacamole and salsa, which was sage advice, as the South American tamale is less saucy than the Mexican version. The tamales were satisfying, and their cornmeal texture was appealingly light.
My entree was the $8.75 pabellón, a mixed plate of black beans and rice, cheese, an arepita (a little arepa) and meatless ground beef. This was a tasty choice overall, although the “beef ” would have been more appealing with less salt, and if everything on the plate was at the same temperature. Nevertheless, I would order this again if these issues were addressed, particularly given the fine balance of clean flavors.
To end our meal, a $2 cup of South American coffee was the perfect foil to the dense and buttery $3.50 quesillo, or Venezuelan flan. The owner noted this sweet is from her husband’s family recipe, and that she is the only one allowed to make it. She explained the mix of potent coffee and flan is exactly what she would serve guests at home. This feeling of homespun hospitality and the unique, fresh flavors make Zudaka a welcome addition to both the ethnic and meatless dining scene.
Clay’s Obscurity Corner A tale of two nations
As Venezuela and Colombia are neighboring nations, it’s not surprising that their culinary traditions share common dishes and influences. Tamale variations show up in both countries, although they are more apt to be wrapped in the ubiquitous plantain leaf than the corn husk familiar to North Americans. Variations on rice, bean and beef platters (perhaps with a side of plantains) are considered national dishes in each country, and European, African and indigenous influences also abound. For example, Venezuela boasts of heavy Italian-influenced pasta consumption; in Colombia, dairy products popularized by Arab immigrants have become a part of local gastronomy.
Zudaka Healthy Latin Food 4457 N. Broadway, Boulder 303-442-2717