This is a guest post by the author of Bogota-based food blog ‘Bogota Foodie‘, Loon Lio. Loon is originally from Brisbane in Australia, where he quit his office job in 2009 to follow his passion and eat/travel the world! He has ended up living in Colombia where he blogs about food and leads off-the-beaten-track food tours around the Colombian capital.
Tens if not hundreds of top 5 lists have probably been written about food in Bogota or Colombia in general and they probably all include things like Ajiaco, Bandeja Paisa and Arepas. While these are all legitimate dishes, they seem to be over-spoken about when it comes to spitting vocabulary on the local culinary scene. It’s a trend that I’ve been noticing on my Food Safaris when I ask people what they know about local food. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. The examples I’ve given are all very traditional dishes that Colombians actually eat and in order to have the full Colombian experience, they must be indulged. The problem is that they overshadow many other great dishes that don’t get eaten by visitors. I’m here to help out with that.
Here are 5 things in Bogota that I consider to be must-eats to truly appreciate Colombian food.
I’ve always thought of empanadas as the original Latino fast food before franchises like Subway and McDonalds started setting up shop in Latin America. They make for a great pick-me-up type of food and lie somewhere in between a snack and a meal (depending on how many you have). Colombian empanadas come in all different forms and can range from underwhelming to mouth-watering. As they are commonly eaten as breakfast on the go, you can get them freshly made before mid-day out of street carts. My pick for the best empanada shop in town is a place called Cafeteria Daniel. They serve piping hot empanadas baked fresh all day long. Chicken and mushroom is my favourite. Check it out on the corner of Carrera 4a and Calle 59 near La Universidad de la Salle.
- Cocido Boyacense
Let’s be honest for all you meat-lovers out there, when you stick a whole bunch of fatty meat and potato in a pot and slow-cook it for hours can you go really go wrong? That’s basically what a Cocido Boyacense is. This workman’s dish originates from Boyacá, the department where all the local potatoes are farmed. As Boyacá forms part of the Andes region, it is only fitting that its marquee dish is a hearty, soul-warming, full-flavoured potato and meat stew. To start things off, there is longaniza (A type of local chorizo), beef, pork and chicken. Thrown into mix are mazorca (Colombian corn), fava beans, peas as well as local roots called chugua and cubio whose flavours I can only describe as a blend of potato and fruit. As if that’s not enough, the party on the plate is then joined by a mountain of red and yellow potatoes. The end result is a huge slop of fatty and potatoey love that’s laced with a rich tomato-based sauce oozing fat from all the meat. The whole thing is then slopped on a medieval sized platter and served with a plate of rice and slice of avocado. I can’t imagine doing anything other than dropping into a food coma after this one. It’s definitely my main dish of choice if I ever had to pick a final Colombian meal.
If you dare to take down a Cocido, then head over to Doña Elivra. Cocidos are only available on Thursdays and Sundays.
- Arequipe with anything
If you have a sweet-tooth then you’ll love arequipe. If you don’t have a sweet-tooth well then you’ll also probably love arequipe. I used to think Nutella was the best spread in the world but I’m now starting to rethink my opinion. More commonly known as dulce de leche in Latin America, arequipe is basically caramelised condensed milk. It’s similar to caramel except it’s much creamier. You can spread it on bread, put it on a cracker, use it as a dessert topping or just scoop it straight out of the tub with a spoon (fingers work too). There’s no judgement when it comes to arequipe. Indulge, and indulge generously.
I’m ashamed to say it took me more than a year of living in Bogota to even hear about tamales but after gobbling one down, I can assure you that I have since made up for lost time. Like the empanada, tamales are a typical Latin American fare that have been around for centuries. In Bogota, they are made with a corn and rice masa (dough) and mixed in with chicken, pork belly, a boiled egg, carrot and onion. The ingredients are then wrapped in a plantain leaf and steamed until the masa is soft and the meat is nice and tender. To experience a real Bogotano breakfast/bunch wash it down with a mug of hot chocolate. If you want to try a legit tamal in a historically and culturally significant spot, check out La Puerta Falsa in La Candelaria on Calle 11 #6-50.
One of the more relaxing things you can do in this giant city is to get out to the countryside and try some picada, a Colombian-style barbecue. There really is no better way to try a variety of Colombian favourites in a social setting than getting out of town to one of the many piqueteaderos (picada house) and getting your fix of grilled meats as well as a whole bunch of starchy goodies. The concept of a picada is simple. You order what you want and everything comes chopped-up into bite size portions and served in a large basket/tray for you to chow-on with your group of friends/family. Typical treats include beef, chicken, pork, chorizo, sweet plantain, intestines (don’t hate, they’re delicious), blood sausage, arepas and envueltos (sweet corn wraps). All this coupled with some cold beer and good conversation while enjoying the view of Bogota’s mountainous backdrop makes for a pretty damn good weekend getaway.
The best picadas in Bogota are in La Calera, a small pueblo located just a stone’s throw away from Bogota’s financial district. To get there, you need to catch a collectivo (local bus) that says “La Calera” from the corner of Carrera 13 and Calle 72. The bus goes up the mountain and goes by a number of restaurants. From there, you need to tell the driver where you’re getting off. My two favourite piqueteaderos are El Tambor and Casa de piedra.