I am a big foodie, and Bogotá has not let me down when it comes to local and national delicacies. Where do I begin?
I guess I should start with what 99% of Colombians deem to be Bogotá’s representative dish: Ajiaco. Ajiaco is a greenish-yellow thick soup primarily consisting of three different kinds of potatoes, as well as chunks of chicken and corn, and the spice guasca. It is served usually with heavy cream and slices of avocado, which each individual can dump in to his or her preference. Though it is a soup, it is so heavy that most consider it to be an entire meal, so please do not order this dish as a side to another dish, at least until you know!
Tamales are another mainstay in the diets of Bogotanos, though they differ in style from the Mexican dish that many Americans are familiar with. They are much larger than their Mexican cousin, and usually round rather than cylindrical in shape. Basically, a tamale consists of masa filling (a sort of cornmeal dough), eggs, pork, peas, chicken (still on the bone – be careful!), carrots, and hogao sauce. It is wrapped up in plantain leaves and tied with string, and then wrapped again in aluminum foil and steamed for a few hours. This is a delicious dish, and is usually a full meal; again, do not order this as an appetizer thinking it may be as small as its Mexican counterpart! Tamales are served typically around Christmas and for breakfast, most commonly on Sunday mornings. Eat it with a cup of hot chocolate on the side to feel like a true local.
Speaking of hot chocolate, I need to touch on this for a bit. Though it is a common drink in most civilized countries in the world, Colombians drink theirs with breakfast consistently, as an American has a coffee. And that’s not all. It seems that hot chocolate is a base to throw other food into.
Hot chocolate, though served with a meal, also has cheese or bread that it is usually served with. No one seems to drink it straight; instead, Bogotanos like to take slices of cheese or pieces of bread, and tear it up into little pieces and allow them to drown into the drink. Then, when the person has finished drinking the hot chocolate, they dig out the prizes at the bottom with a spoon: soggy bread and melted bits of cheese.
Another typical dish is Bandeja Paisa, or Paisa platter. This dish is named for paisas, the term given to inhabitants of some of the northwest departments in Colombia, including cities such as Medellín, Pereira, Manizales and Armenia. Though it is not natively a Bogotano dish, it is still quite popular throughout the entire country, and considered to be the national dish. The bandeja paisa is an unbelievable amount of food, and usually is served on a large platter, or two or three dishes, to include everything. The bandeja paisa has many ingredients, including: white rice, red beans cooked with pork, chicharrón(pork rind), ground meat, patacones(plantain pounded until flat then fried) or fried sweet plantain, a chorizo(sausage), an arepa(I’ll talk about that next), a fried egg, a slice of avocado, hogao sauce, and black pudding, which is blood that is mixed with flour and cooked until thick. Yum! Also, on the side of bandeja paisa, you could be served ground panela, which is the byproduct of the sugar-making process and deliciously sweet, and mazamorra(also known as peto), which is a drink made with maize grains and soaked in water, and then cooked.
An arepa is a Colombian staple like tortillas are in Mexico. An arepa is a flat and round biscuit-like patty that is unleavened and made of cornmeal. There are many styles; some are flat, and some are very thick. I enjoy the thicker ones from the street vendors that are fried with cheese or an egg in the middle. I have eaten arepas many times for breakfast or as a snack later in the day. If you eat it for breakfast, try dipping it in your hot chocolate for a few seconds and then eating it.
Empanadas are a Colombian specialty, and many cafes and restaurants and street vendors serve them. There are many varieties, such as pulled pork and pulled chicken, cheese, and egg. They are either baked with a flaky crust, or fried. Some guys even make up their own version. It seems to be just as popular as arepas, some may say that it is more popular.
Morcilla is another food item that is common in Colombia. It is a type of blood sausage, and usually consists of pork blood that has congealed mixed with rice and spices. This mixture is stuffed into a pig intestine or cow intestine, tied off, then deep fried. It is very rich and delicious when it comes out, despite the disgusting appearance and name.
Colombians seem to have a sweet tooth, and it is evident in many of the desserts and pastries. Arequipe is a dulce de leche-like spread, and it seems to be filled inside everything, including Dunkin’ Donuts’ donuts. Almojábanas are sweet balls of dough that sometimes have melted cheese inside and are delicious when dipped first in coffee or hot chocolate. Buñuelos are similar treats, though there is cheese mixed into the flour, and it is fried until the shell is golden-brown, and served traditionally during Christmas time.
Coffee is known in Colombia to be of very high quality, and served in very small amounts. A “large” coffee in Bogotá is about the size of a “small” in America. Every variation of coffee beverage there is made with shots of fresh espresso, so the smaller size will have that large effect. If you are looking for the American-style drip or filter coffee, ask for a tinto, which in other Spanish countries would mean “red wine”.
Aguapanela is a traditional Colombian hot beverage made by mixing blocks of panela in hot water and possibly adding some lime juice. Aguardiente is the national alcoholic beverage of Colombia, and each region has their own variation. Aguardiente tastes heavily of anise, and Colombians are very proud of this beverage. Salpicón is popular drink on the streets of Bogotá and many street vendors serve this beverage, consisting of diced fruits mixed in Colombiana soda.Chicha is a fermented beverage made with maize, yuca, quinoa, pineapple, rice, potatoes, etc, depending on where you are. I had some as I was walking up towards Cerro de Monserrate, and it was quite good, though sour. Be careful, as some Colombians add coca and/or marijuana leaves, to further the “good times” you will experience with this alcoholic beverage.
Many fruits are consumed in Bogotá as well. You can find exotic varieties such as guanábana, chirimoya, carambolo, lulo, maracuyá, guanábana, and many more. These fruits are often freshly squeezed and served as a beverage.
Places to Eat
As Colombia further modernizes, a slew of restaurant chains have been gaining popularity. Crepes & Waffles seems to be the most famous chain, virtually found in every mall and many streets. As hinted by the name, this restaurant serves variations of crepes and waffles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The atmosphere is classy, and is a great place to go, though not quite cheap, as it is not considered fast food. El Corral is almost as popular as Crepes(which is what most refer to the restaurant to shorten it). El Corral is a hamburger joint with a southwest US feel, but they have several burgers that combine ingredients from specific regions of Colombia. Great burgers, about $10 USD for a combo as of 2010.
Other popular chains include Presto (another burger joint), Kokoriko (more traditional Colombian dishes as fast food), Pan Pa’ Ya (bread and pastry shop), Oma (coffee shop with pastries), and of course, Juan Valdez (the more popular coffee shop with pastries).
Places to Drink & Club
Andres Carnes de Res – This is probably the most popular joint in Bogota. Originally, the colorfully-kitsch establishment only existed as an outpost in nearby Chia, but it has since opened up a satellite restaurant/bar in a busy area of Bogota; the original is still the best, many will tell you. Check out their website.
The Bogotá Beer Company has many locations throughout the city, and is a nice place with loud music from the 80’s and 90’s.
Palos de Moguer is a similar joint with several locations as well. The Bogotá Beer Company serves its own brew, which is produced in a distillery nearby, and Palos de Moguer serves the popular beer Colon. Both are great little bars, with indoor and heated-outdoor seating.
Parque de la 93, or 93 Park, is the hippest of all the bar and club areas. It is named because it is on the 93rd Street, or Calle 93, with Carrera 13. Around this small square park are many chic restaurants and bars, that all stay open late every night to receive the affluent and wealthy crowd that heads there.