Named for the charismatic Colombian musical style, Cumbia is the Adelaide Central Market’s newest restaurant, dedicated to sharing the cuisines of Colombia and South/Central America at large with Adelaide’s diners.
As Adelaide’s Latino communities grow, so too does the city’s Latin American gastronomic offering. Following from the likes of the Peruvian Mestizo in Brighton, swelling ranks of Mexican restaurants, Argentinian and Brazilian steakhouses, Cumbia will showcase another corner of South American cuisine.
“It’s a point of reference for Latinos here in South Australia,” says Salvatore Pittelli, co-owner of Cumbia along with his life partner Julietha Burgos Canon. “We’re focussing on street food, tapas and some traditional meals as well.”
“Sobrebarriga is one of my favourites – it’s real tender beef served on arepa [a Colombian/Venezuelan corn flour pancake]. Ajiaco soup is amazing – it’s a chicken broth with corn, chicken and potatoes, a big dish in Latin America. Another is pescado encocado, an Ecuadorian dish, with coconut and ling fish.”
While Cumbia aims to embrace dishes from all over South and Central America, the present menu formulated by chef Luis Carlos Gomez is mostly Colombian. The aforementioned dishes come plated inside the restaurant, while an adjoining stall in the Market slings empanadas, churros, arepas and lechona (roast pork, stuffed with rice, beans, herbs and spices, served complete with crackling) to passers-by.
Lechona, Pittelli says, was a key part of the inspiration in setting up Cumbia. Travelling to Colombia four years ago with Burgos Canon, whose family operates their own large food enterprise El Antojo, Pittelli discovered the dish and knew Australians would lap it up.
“Julietha and I embarked on setting up the business, then it was a matter of time in finding the right place, which we have now,” he says. “I was coming past here one morning and saw the sign ‘Express your interest’, so I called up Morry Cappo, who had Cappo Brothers [the previous long-standing tenant of the space], and he said they’d moved inside and the market really wanted a food place to activate the Grote Street side.”
Burgos Canon and Pittelli made their pitch for the space and, as he says, the Market administrators were blown away by the concept. Seven months later they were open for business. It forms a part of the Market’s apparent strategy to diversify its offering from produce to including more restaurants and world cuisine, as seen in its producer-in-residence stall, the likes of new French patisserie/café Les Deux Coqs, and new food stalls lining the market’s edges.
“It’s not only about the old-fashioned fruit and veg shops,” says Pittelli of the Market’s direction. “It’s a tourist attraction now, and I think if we can supply a different flavour when it comes to food in the market, we’re on a winner.”
That proximity to the Market’s produce sellers is always an advantage, of course, and one that Cumbia is already exploiting to the benefit of diners.
“We make the empanadas, the arepas ourselves, so it’s labour intensive, but I think it’ll pay off because it’s all fresh food,” he says. “The market is a big pantry for us, with [the restaurant] being a smaller place, we can go and source stuff to make fresh food right away.”
Asked whether the restaurant sees a need to ‘Australian-ise’ its menu, Pittelli says it really depends on customers’ reactions to the dishes, and that the dishes most popular with punters will naturally stay on the menu.
“You have to have the Australian fusion of course,” he says. “At the moment we’re keeping with our originals, but we have to have room to make the fusion in time.”
With generous helpings of avocado, fresh vegetables, animal protein and more-ish, cheese filled arepas, Cumbia’s menu certainly has Australian appeal. Is there another advantage of Colombian cuisine in the modern Australian market?
“Our cuisine is very authentic, and very healthy,” says Pittelli. “100 per cent of the food is gluten-free, and a tasty gluten-free at that because of the arepas.”
Cumbia also hopes to up the Market’s ante in terms of evening-trading. With a liquor licence in hand, the restaurant will run tapas nights and stay open until late on Fridays. As such, Cumbia’s bar has a long list of South American beverages, including pisco-based cocktails such as chilcano and pisco mojito, Chilean wines, Colombian and Argentinian beers Club Colombia and Quilmes, and the Brazilian cocktail caipirinha.
With plans to spread its dining space out to the Grote Street footpath on warmer days, Cumbia also has potential to grow upwards, being based under the Market’s Grote Street tower. Asked whether the restaurant plans to go up as it grows up, Pittelli says there are no firm plans at the moment, but the option is always there.
“A new stairwell has been added, which is a change to the original tower,” he says. “I believe it’s up there for other traders to use. We’re here of course, so we might get the first bite of the cherry.”
Photography: Sia Duff