Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wilfredo Arturo Diaz Ardila, 32
Wilfredo comes from a small town called Mogotes near Bucaramanga in Santander, Colombia. He talks to us for this week’s Listen to a Londoner about his life in the UK, where to find a Colombian experience in London and about a product called panela that he plans to import from home.
LLO: How long have you been in London and what brought you here originally?
WD: I have been in London for almost 3 years. I came here for studying English and to do a master diploma in civil engineering which I just finished. Now I would like to work in London as a civil engineer and begin the importation of a product called panela from our family business in Colombia.
LLO: How does life in London compare to life in Colombia?
WD: It took me almost one year to adapt to life in London, for the weather (in Colombia there are no seasons), the different food and different cultures. It was difficult to make good friends because everyone is always working or studying and don’t have time for friends. I miss my family and my friends. In Colombia I spend a lot of time with family and friends at the weekend having barbeques, playing football, dancing, eating out in restaurants. I’m impressed with the culture in London, the architecture and the history.
LLO: Favourite place to go dancing to Latin American music in London?
WD: The Cuban in Camden Market, Salsa! on Charing Cross Road and Floridita in Soho.
LLO: Best place in London for a taste of authentic Colombian food?
WD: Leños & Carbón on Rockingham Street in Elephant and Castle and The Latin Corner pub on Camden Road.
LLO: You were talking about your sugar cane plantation in Colombia where your family produces panela, a product that you plan to help import to sell in London. What is panela?
WD: Panela is a product that is made with sugar cane, grown under the Colombian sun. It’s 100% natural and unrefined. It’s made in different presentations – compact in the shape of a square or circle or in powder form. My family has been producing this product for over 10 years with a team of 15-20 employees on our farm.
LLO: How is it used?
WD: You can use it to make juice, cakes, sweeten tea and coffee. It’s a more natural substitute for more refined sugar.
LLO: Can you share a few photos of the production process and explain how it is made?
WD: The first step is preparing the ground to grow the sugar cane on the plantation. Growing the sugar cane takes between 15 and 20 months depending on the type of plant. The plants are cut and transported to the factory to be processed. The sugar cane is passed through a machine where it is crushed and the juice is separated and cleaned through a filter. The juice flows through a series of three huge containers where it is boiled in each one growing thicker each time and changes to a slightly different colour. Then it is passed through more containers where it continues to thicken and the air is stirred out. It’s transferred into moulds where it sets for half hour into a solid form. When the product cools, it is packaged and ready to sell.
LLO: Where’s your favourite shop in London to pick up Colombian products you miss from home?
WD: There’s a small shop in Elephant and Castle shopping centre that has cereals, beans, arepas, saltines, milo and different tropical fruits I use to make juice, yuca and plantains.
LLO: What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome since moving to the UK?
WD: I think it is the English. I didn’t know any English when I arrived in London. I started studying in a beginner course. Getting the post study work visa I have now was difficult too.
LLO: Best London discovery?
WD: Mi novia!
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If you have or know of a company interested in stocking panela imported from Wilfredo’s family farm, email him at email@example.com.