From the Amazon with love: Celebrating food from the Colombian rainforest

I was lucky enough to be in town last month for another one of Mundo Wok‘s excellent gastronomic events. These evenings generally begin with a short presentation about a particular ingredient (like The Yuca Event I attended last year) or in this case, products from a particular region, followed by a 5 course tasting implementing many of those ingredients. Sounds about as good as a night out can get, right? For a food nerd, anyway.

Mundo Wok menu amazon

This event was centred on ingredients from the Amazon. Sure, most of us know that there is a significant amount of rainforest in Colombia – it is after all the second most biodiverse country in the world (Brazil is first) and the most biodiverse per square kilometre –  but did you know that 40% of Colombia is covered by the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest? That is a lot of rainforest!

The Colombian Amazon source: Shadowxfox

The Colombian Amazon, source: Shadowxfox

The Bogota-based ice cream company, Selva Nevada, had its two partners participating in the event; Antonuela Ariza working her magic in the kitchen and Alejandro Álvarez talking to guests about the business of sourcing ingredients from the delicate ecosystem that is the Amazon and the responsibilities that come with it. Selva Nevada specialises in flavours from the rainforest and other parts of Colombia. They work directly with many of the producers in order to ensure supply for their product and provide farmers with the tools to create sustainable livelihoods (more on Selva Nevada in the near future!).

Clearly not news to some, such as the founders of Selva Nevada, but the beauty of the rainforest’s biodiveristy is that it offers such a wide range of products that can be used for culinary purposes. Perhaps it’s due to lack of infrastructure, production techniques or willingness in Colombia that the Amazonian products that grow and are native to the country - the tasty edible things we were gathered at Mundo Wok to learn about – rarely, if ever, make it out of the balmy depths of the forest…this is slowly changing.

Some of the ingredients we were introduced to at Mundo Wok and later sampled in beautifully prepared dishes were copoazú, tucupí, asaí, chontaduro, and camu camu.

I love these names and I love the possibilities of using these ingredients in innovative creations while supporting the indigenous producers of the Amazon in the process. Our chefs that evening did a stand-up job as you can see below.

The spice of life - chill peppers from the Colombian Amazon.

The spice of life – chill peppers from the Colombian Amazon.

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Fresh heart of palm salad with arazá vinaigrette.

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Trio of mushrooms with açai, nettle pesto, and Wai Ya peppers.

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Pork loin with chontaduro and pineapple chicha.

Amazon dessert

Amazonian Sunset: nut sponge cake, chocolate, camu camu pearls, cocoa nibs and copoazú foam.

Special thanks to Mundo WokAntonuela Ariza (Mini-mal and Selva Nevada, Bogotá), Eduardo Martinez (Mini-mal and El Panóptico), Rodrigo Isaza and Jhony Cañas (Herbario – Bonuar, Medellín), and Diana Barrenche (Pídele a Diana, Bogotá) for a job done deliciously well.

Posted in Colombia, Gastronomy, Ingredients | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gourmet Week in Bogotá 2013

Guest Post by Matt Rines (@rinestone33)

Bogota Gourmet WeekI was thrilled when I noticed Bogotá Eats & Drinks mention that Bogotá was to have a Gourmet Week. Back home, I had been to Restaurant Week in Boston and loved it – I assumed this was similar. If nothing else, it would be a great excuse to check out some new spots and cross a few off my ever-running list of places to visit which I keep in a notebook.

Burger Market in Zona T, just around the corner from The Rockefeller Casino was the first place I visited. Next came Nolita on Calle 85, diagonally across the street from Sofitel, followed by Criterion and El dia que me quieras, both in Zona G on Cll. 69A.

Sliders @ Burger Market

Slider @ Burger Market

There were highlights to all four- Burger Market had an excellent slider, Nolita a generous portion of well-seasoned tartare, and El día a delicious steak for its main course, but Criterion was the only site which truly grasped the concept of restaurant week.

Conceptually, the pursuit of restaurant week is to provide multiple courses on a unique menu at a discounted price. People are then drawn in by equal parts – ‘I always wanted to try that place’ and ‘Wow, that seems like a pretty good price’. While there, they ideally like what they eat, realize the restaurant isn’t all that expensive, tell friends, and return throughout the year themselves. Restaurant Weeks are not an opportunity to generate immediate income. That comes later with return visits and referrals…..maybe that’s why in Bogotá it’s called ‘Gourmet’ Week?

Steak @ Nolita

Steak @ Nolita

Ironically, yet not unintentionally, only Criterion ‘got it.’ At 60,000 pesos (or slightly over $30 U.S.) they charged the maximum allowed by Gourmet Week, but it was by far and away the best bargain I experienced. This is expensive for many spots in Colombia, but for one of the best meals I’ve ever had, it’s a bargain. When I glanced at the menu for Criterion, I was disconcerted. They were the only ones to put forth that one could visit for lunch only and they would only accept four reservations per that lunch, per day. I read this and thought they either (A) resented being compelled to participate or (B) were so exceptional and wise regarding restaurant weeks that they didn’t need to pander. I remain incredibly glad it was the latter; I cannot wait to go back.

Criterion was ranked the 19th best in South America by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and with good reason. At an expensive restaurant you do not pay so much for the ingredients as you do for the technique assembling them and the mind of someone acute enough to top a delicious onion soup with a foie gras cappuccino foam.

Criterion

When we finished our six courses the chef came out to thank us and ask us how everything was. He spoke very functional English. I took this to mean he spent significant time training in another country where he got his arms around the true concept of restaurant week.

It appeared to me as if most Bogotá restaurants simply crowbarred three dishes off their normal menu, slapped them together, and knocked a couple bucks off their cumulative price. I really hope Gourmet Week returns next year, with someone explaining to them the true intent of the week. Hopefully next year they’ll hit closer to the center of the dartboard, it is not a wasted pursuit and I hope to see it again.

I’ll be there, if it is!

  • Criterion – Cll. 69A # 5-75, (57 1) 310 1377
  • Burger Market – Cra. 14 # 83-53 & Cll. 120A # 6A-16, (57 1) 257 9047
  • Nolita – Cll. 13 # 85-25, (57 1) 610 0080
  • El dia que me quieras – Cll. 69A # 4-26, (57 1) 540 4585

Guest post by Matt Rines. You can follow Matt on Twitter @rinestone33.

Posted in Bogotá, Eats, Guest Post | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latin America Chowzter Awards in Lima, Peru

I recently had the amazing opportunity and pleasure of travelling to Lima, Peru, thanks to Chowzter, an organization devoted to finding “the world’s tastiest fast feast”. I was invited earlier this year to represent Bogotá as Chief Chowzter and so far I think it’s a pretty nifty idea and one you should check out for your hometown or whenever you travel.

chowzter

So, what does a Chief Chowzter do? Well, it’s really hard work. It involves hours of research in order to find places that claim to serve great food. Next, we have to go eat at all these places to see just how great it is and if it is good enought to make the Chowzter cut. After compiling all this information, a list of the city’s greatest fast feasts is created and people from around the world have a great reference for finding the tastiest fast feasts throughout North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe and Africa!

Let the ceremony begin...

Let the ceremony begin…

The first Chowzter awards for Latin America were held this past September 6th at La Mar Cebichería, in the swanky neighborhood of Miraflores. It’s tough to say what the best part of the evening was: the seven-course meal we indulged in or meeting some amazing food bloggers from all over the place (several of which I have followed for some time).

Food bloggers are generally a pretty awesome group of people – if I do say so myself – so the best part was indeed meeting them and drinking numerous pisco sours together.

Pre-ceremony pisco sours at the Westin

Pre-ceremony pisco sours at the Westin

So, without further ado, the Top 7 Tastiest Fast Feasts in Latin America are:

  1. Pastel de Choclo @ Divertimento – Santiago, Chile
  2. Arepa Reina Pepiada @ Franca – Caracas, Venezuela
  3. Bolinhos de Feijoada @ Aconchego Carioca – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  4. Empandas @ Las Margaritas – Bogotá, Colombia
  5. Cebiche de Lenguado y Pulpo @ Chez Wong – Lima, Peru
  6. Tacos Al Pastor @ El Huequito – Mexico City, Mexico
  7. Fugazzetta @ La Mezzetta – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Voted the best empanada in Latin America!

Voted the best empanada in Latin America!

Of course, here at Bogotá Eats & Drinks, we are most excited about #4 – Las Margaritas. Congratulations to Julio Rios for maintaining the quality of these empanadas and other aspects of Bogotano culture alive throughout the years.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post about Mistura and 72 hours of discovering Peruvian cuisine…

Posted in Bogotá, Colombia, Eats, International cuisine, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guest Post: Interview with Nohora Smith, Founder of My Colombian Cocina

Guest Post by Will Castillo

My Colombian Cocina

Swiss author, Friedrich Durrenmatt once said:

“The art of the cuisine, when fully mastered, is the one human capability of which only good things can be said.”

In my opinion, this quote could not be any more relevant in today’s society. Let the country that is without any social dilemmas cast the first stone!

Truth be told, no matter how much I try to change people’s opinions of Colombia there will always be people who simply have a negative perception of it and will manage to point the finger at anything; mainly the country’s politics.  Personally, I’m indifferent to politics and always try to remain neutral. However, when it comes to a country’s cuisine or gastronomy I will always be the one sharing my opinion of it. Not only by tasting as many dishes as possible, but also by trying the recipe for myself (I’ve been cooking since the age of 12). So, believe me when I say that Colombian cuisine is exceptional, delightful, diverse, and that only good things can be said about it.

I’m of the philosophy that eating and drinking are perhaps the most important activities any social group.  That is why food in general makes a big part of our culture, regardless of where we live. An excellent example is Nohora Smith, a Colombian native now residing in the UK. She is also founder of My Colombian Cocina, a website dedicated to showcasing the colourful and traditional Colombian cuisine.

I instantly took the opportunity to interview her to get a glimpse at how she manages to create these delectable dishes in a country that lacks so many of the important ingredients in Colombian Cuisine.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself and about My Colombian Cocina.

I was born in Bogotá, Colombia. My family and I have lived in Canterbury, England for the last eleven years. I am an architect, a homemaker, lover of cooking and of autochthonous fruits from Latin America. Ever since I arrived to the UK I have tried to look for and adapt many of the ingredients to our traditional dishes. My first intention was to help some of my friends find Colombian products and recipes, especially since reading my family recipes in books or the internet is not the same thing as actually trying the recipes with the products that one can find in the UK.

You’ve been living in the UK for eleven years now.  How do you remember Colombia?

I remember Colombia with a scent left impregnated in my memory and in my soul. Colombia is the Caribbean and mountains. Colombia is hot and cold temperatures both in the same region; long days full of light others with lots of rain. From outings to the park or sitting on the couch with a cup of agua de panela (panela water) in your hands. It’s all part of our folklore, and the memories of those who have left it in search of new horizons, but always with the hope of returning and being able to sit in a hammock and enjoy the breeze of flowers and the rustling of birds.

How do you manage to recreate Colombian dishes without access to important ingredients?

I remember my first challenge was to make empanadas, but here the flours, cereals and condiments are very different. Plus, I don’t live in London, where you can find some Colombian products, but in a smaller town. That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to finding replacements or equivalents of some products that can be adapted to my recipes. I’ve spent eleven years in England and I have taken the time to find out what I can actually change or replace. In fact I have some banana plants so that I can make tamales in the fall and then save them for the winter.

From your point of view, what types of food do Colombians abroad miss the most?

I think the majority of Colombians miss the tropical fruits such as guanabana (soursop), chontaduro (peach palm), mamoncillos (Spanish lime), Andean figs – very different from the European figs – guavas, maracuya (passion fruit) and especially lulo (naranjilla) and the curuba (banana passion fruit). These last two are almost an unattainable dream. As for other products, it all depends in the area that you live in. Sometimes it is possible to find cassava, plantains and flours in some supermarkets. Other products are only attainable through internet stores at very steep prices.

What can we do to make Colombian cuisine more popular to the rest of the world?

Well, when I first arrived to the UK my first recipes were a means to rescue my tradition, so that one day my children could use and share them with their families.  However, I later realized that it’s our duty to promote every little secret about Colombian gastronomy and at the same time give it that personal touch.  Fusing and evolving it with the modern world and with the resources that each of us has in our countries of residence.  As my grandfather used to say, “Every bit helps to fill the wagon”.

What’s your favourite Colombian recipe?

My favourite recipe is the Ajiaco Santafereño, which is a recipe that I will be sharing with you today.

Ajiaco Bogotano or Bogota’s Soup

ajiaco nohora

Also known as Ajiaco Santafereño, this soup is usually thick and rich, and makes a substantial main meal as well as a patisserie. Corn Cake or ‘arepas’ are traditionally added to many meals, and in this dish avocado, rice and capers.

Ingredients

Serve 6 to 8 portions

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 litres of water
  • 1 litre of milk
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 3 spring onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 500 grams of red potatoes peeled and cut into squares
  • 10 small yellow potatoes peeled and cut into halves
  • 4 corn in a cob without leaves and cut in halves
  • 1 cup of double cream
  • Few capers (optional)
  • Guascas leaves “Gallant soldiers leaves” or you can use 1 tbsp of oregano
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation

In a large pot pour the water and milk and place the chicken and onions and set in medium heat.

Add the chicken stock cube, bay leaves, cumin, salt and pepper.

Add the corn on the cob, red potatoes and let cook until tender.

Then add the yellow potatoes and let to cook until the soup gets thicker.

Take the chicken apart and shred by hand into medium-sized pieces.

Add a bunch of guascas (or it can be replaced by a teaspoon of oregano), and remove before serving.

Remove the pot from the heat and serve hot.

Notes:

You can serve the soup with a slice of avocado and white rice on the side. Capers and double cream can also be served.

Dessert

You can complete this delicious meal with a mantecada as a dessert.  Check this video for the recipe and step by step instructions.

Will is a blogger, writer, and photographer currently living in Toronto, Canada. Living by his motto “see the world through a different set of glasses” his aim is to help people vision the world in a different way than what they are accustomed to. Follow him on Twitter @iwill_travel or look for him on Google+.

Posted in Andean cuisine, Bogotá, Colombia, Gastronomy, Ingredients, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Fama: Smoky southern barbecue a la Colombiana

Address: Calle 65 Bis # 4-85 (between 4th and 5th streets), Bogotá 
Reservations: 644.7766

It seems that Bogotá is currently swimming in a sea of North American-inspired food trends. At least a handful of new hamburger joints seem to pop up every few months, I see comfort foods like mac and cheese on menus more and more often, food trucks are just now rearing up to be “the next big thing”, and real barbecue is gaining momentum. Case in point…

Bogotá Barbecue

Even though I’m all for Colombian gastronomy and its growth and appreciation, I do believe that every capital city should have a large variety of restaurants. Enter La Fama, Bogotá’s first southern barbecue restaurant and innovators of the Colombian barbecue.

What is a Colombian barbecue? It consists of using the hump of the beautiful Cebú cow, pictured below. I’ve been a fan of these animals ever since I can remember and not necessarily for their meat; they’re just really cute. Aren’t they?

Cebu cow

Anyways, the menu at La Fama has all kinds of barbecued meat like pork ribs, pork belly, chicken wings, brisket, baby back ribs, chicken, suckling pig, and then some. But all those are your everyday cuts of meat…what really defines this Colombian barbecue is the hump or morrillo, a part of the cow that is not usually considered a prime cut.

In order to make this place as authentic as possible, a couple of pro butchers (None other than Tom Mylan and Brent Young of Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook) were brought from the States to help out. During their quest to find the best brisket, they came across, and barbecued, the hump and the rest is history…very recent history, but history nonetheless. I didn’t even know you could eat the hump. Did you?

From top right (clockwise): BBQ ribs, brisket, onion rings, murrillo (hump), coleslaw.

From top right (clockwise): BBQ ribs, brisket, onion rings, murrillo (hump), coleslaw.

Well, you can. And as you can kind of make out in the picture above, it is marbled with fat and that is very much a good thing.

Meat, meat, meat!

Did I mention I am on the verge of becoming a vegetarian? Yes, well, it’s not easy (I’ll elaborate in another blog post) but I am trying to eat a lot less meat of any kind which brought me to La Fama for a second time (I ate a lot of meat the first time) in order to to try their salad. All by its lonesome on the meat-heavy menu, the salad turned out to be one of the best I’ve had in Bogotá. Of course, the waiter’s idea is for you to order the salad with a pile of meat on top, but it does beautifully on its own, accompanied by a meatless appetizer or side dish, of which there are quite a few.

La Fama salad

My final verdict is that La Fama is a welcome addition to the Bogotá food scene. It is a meat lovers paradise but also a somewhat veg-friendly spot. They have comforting desserts like pecan pie and an ice cream sandwich, unpretentious ambience which is supposed to make people comfortable enough to eat with their hands (some highfalutin Bogotanos have this “thing” where they eat everything with a fork and knife…even burgers and ribs…it’s mind-boggling), and a great soundtrack of BBQ appropriate music.

La Fama interior

Also, La Fama has a conscience: it sources its meat from responsible farms that care about the wellbeing of their animals, part of the restaurant is run by solar power, rainwater is used in the bathrooms, and probably some other sustainable, earth-friendly things that I don’t know about.

I leave you with a series of 3 excellent videos (in spanish and english with subtitles in spanish) that show part of the process that led to the creation of one of 2012s most anticipated restaurants, La Fama:

Posted in Bogotá, Colombia, Eats, Ingredients | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Slow Food Bogotá – The Yuca Event

Slow foodSo, I went to a Slow Food Bogotá event back in November of 2012 and I’m just posting it now…no, this is not an April Fools joke. It actually took me nearly 5 months to post this…yeah, I know.

Anyways, the Taste Workshop event focused on yuca and was hosted by Slow Food Bogotá and Mundo Wok. To be honest, I was surprised at the quality of the event. After all, I’ve been back in Colombia for five (going on six) years now and these are the first signs of life from the local Slow Food convivium. I really hope that there are many many more events like it.

Caguana de yuca brava

Caguana de yuca brava

The event began with a yuca cocktail, of course. Yuca juice, soy milk, gulupa juice and sake – unusual, yes, but it tasted like something I would order again. Next were the appetizers: first a kind of chicha called Caguana de Yuca Brava made by the Uitoto indigenous community of Putumayo. Two representatives from this community were present to discuss the role of yuca in their culture.

For instance, men have very little to do with yuca at any stage. It’s the women who organize the planting, clearing of land, harvesting, preparation and cooking. While sitting around the hearth, grandmothers will appoint their daughters and granddaughters to different tasks. It takes a special woman, with special hands, to plant yuca, and it takes another kind of woman with different skills to  peel and grate yuca. This kind of wisdom and know-how is passed down generation to generation every year.

The next appetizer was Mote de yuca y queso costeño made by one of my favorite chefs in Bogotá, Diana García of Diana Garcia – Chef en Movimiento. It was a shot glass portion of a yuca-based soup with chunks of salty cheese from the coast. Traditionally mote is made of corn but being a yuca event, another chef challeneged her to make it with yuca and the result was a success.

The final appetizer was inspired by tapas called montaditos and created by chef Tomás Rueda from Tábula (one of the restaurants that Tony Bourdain visited for his new show). A slice of morcilla (Colombian blood sausage) sat atop a cripsy breaded croquette of yuca and cauliflower. This one was a winner for me. The textures, flavors and aroma of the herb used in morcilla called poleo, made it a hit. I only wish we could have had more than one!

After a chat by a representative from the organization Semillas de Identidad about the conservation of native seeds and the traditional production of yuca in different areas of Colombia, and an introduction to Slow Food by Lia Poggio, the Director of Latin American operations, we moved to the dining area for the main course tastings paired with Bogotá Beer Company beers.

Again Diana García spoiled us with a Guiso de Camarones en leche de coco titoté. A small serving of perfectly cooked shrimp and bites of tender yuca in a mild coconut milk sauce. There were a few bites of eggplant and bell peppers for color and presentation but the sauce is what really made the dish. We had jugo de corozo (the fruit of a palm tree) which is made by boiling corozo seeds and then straining them. Delicious.

Guiso de Camarones en leche de coco titoté

Guiso de Camarones en leche de coco titoté

Next came a yuca souffle with goat cheese and pink peppercorns. The souffle was delicate although not as light as a traditional souffle due to the density of the yuca. It was however delicious and the presentation in the yuca skin was impressive and an excellent use of raw materials.

Yuca Souffle by Chef Klaas de Meulder

Yuca Souffle by Chef Klaas de Meulder

A smoked chicken dish came next, prepared by another one of my favorite chefs, Eduardo Martinez from Mini-Mal. He implemented a smoking technique used by amazonian cultures and although the dish was extremely simple in presentation, the flavors were full and complex. The chicken skin was one of the best I’ve ever had. Not greasy at all and so crispy. The yuca thickend broth reminded me of a sticky brodo I had in a restaurant in Australia years ago. So good I only stopped to take a picture of my last bite…

The last bite...

The last bite…

And finally desert by another chef from Mini-Mal, Antonuela Ariza. A trio of desserts were presented on a wooden sushi dish and included yuca cookies, yuca caviar (tapioca pearls) flavored with camu camu (an amazonian berry), enyucado (a traditional yuca-based dessert from the Colombian coast), and some yuca ice cream made with pureed yuca. I could have eaten a lot more of this dessert but I was so full at this point that I could barely manage. I was so pleased with the quality of the food and the explanations given by the chefs regarding how they decided on their dish and what inspired them.

Trio of yuca desserts

Trio of yuca desserts

At the end of the night I was completely content, as they say here in Colombia “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (Full belly, happy heart!). I learned so much and ate so well – I hope to become more involved in Slow Food here and make sure that events like this happen more often and that they get more exposure.

I bet most people – even most Colombians – don’t know that there are hundreds of varieties of yuca and that the most poisnonous varieties are bitter and contain traces of cyanide and that’s why they are planted around the sweeter varieties to protect them from pests. I bet most Colombians don’t even know how versatile our humble little yuca is, or can be…if you’ve only ever eaten yuca fried or boiled, you simply haven’t lived.

Thanks, Slow Food. I’m ready for the next event and I promise it won’t take me 5 months to write about it.

Posted in Bogotá, Coastal cuisine, Colombia, Contemporary Colombian cuisine, Culinary History, Eats, Gastronomy, Ingredients | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekend Getaway: Cartagena de Indias

I’ve been to Cartagena three times in my life. Once when I was about 7 years old (my memories consist of the hotel pool), once for work (the company I worked for paid for everything), and again towards the end of last year for a proper vacation (I was in the right place at the right time and won two nights at the Hotel Las Américas!). So basically, I’ve managed to visit this beautiful city almost entirely on someone else’s expense three times…pretty good for not even trying.

A room with a view...

A room with a view…

So, of course we stayed at the Hotel Las Américas, a world-class hotel and convention center right on the beach (Currently nominated for Best Hotel in Colombia – Premios La Barra 2013). It has two parts: the older Casa de Playa and the very new and shiny Torre del Mar.  Casa de Playa has a more family resort feel to it and Torre del Mar is brand-spanking new, modern and has an awesome 10th floor adults-only pool (fantastic views!). Aside from the hotel’s amenities, the staff was incredibly friendly and accomodating and the food was delicious albeit a bit pricey…this is Cartagena, after all.

We took our bags to our fancy ocean view room and then went immediately down to the beach…

Hotel Las Américas

BTW, you can follow Bogotá Eats & Drinks on Instagram – BogotaEats

On any beach in Cartagena you are likely to encounter vendors (jewelry, clothes, food, etc.) and they will inevitably try to get as much money out of you as possible. Word to the wise: settle (haggle) on a price before you accept any “free samples” of deliciously fresh crab or oysters.  All vendors tend to be very friendly at first but they are also very persistent (they are trying to make a living after all). Be nice but don’t be an easy target either. We were still fresh off the plane and thus ended up shelling out a chunk of cash before the hotel’s beach security guard came to our rescue. Yes, there is a security guard for this particular reason…

Buying ceviche de camarón from a beach vendor.

Buying ceviche de camarón from a beach vendor.

On another note, the Hotel Las Américas website lists no less than sixteen bars and restaurants – and that’s not including the new one that’s opening soon with a Michelin starred chef. For someone who loves to eat, this can result in a lengthy decision-making process. Where to eat? Fortunately the choice was clear - Kiosco Cielo Mar - right on the beach. I ordered the best Shrimp Coconut Rice ever (I’m very close to recreating the recipe!). Of course I also had about as much limonada de coco (coconut lemonade) as humanly possible – you can’t go to Cartagena and not have this drink. Forget your diet and sip away!

Beachfront dining

Beachfront dining

Now, you can’t (and absolutely shouldn’t) stay at the resort the entire time you’re in Cartagena. Hotel Las Américas is a short drive from Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress (UNESCO World Heritage site) and they offer a very convenient free shuttle service to and from the beautiful ciudad amurallada throughout the day. We went into town for dinner one night, to visit the Castillo San Felipe the next day and then in the late afternoon we took a bike tour with Vélo Tours.

Getting to know Cartagena by bike, or getting to know ANY city by bike (see the Top 5 Things I did in Boston post), is simply the best way to get to know a place. If you are in Cartagena for a few days I’d recommend doing a tour like this one in order to get a better feel for the city. It starts to cool down after 3pm and you can enjoy watching the sun set from some beautiful spots.

Velo Bike Tours Other musts while in Cartagena include the obvious Castillo San Felipe de Barajas,  the Convento de la Popa, a convent founded in 1607 which overlooks the city, and strolling the beautifully preserved streets of the ciudad amurallada. Needless to say there are dozens of things to do and museums to visit and festivals throughout the year that I’ve never experienced. Coming from chilly Bogotá makes me just want to sit on the beach or by the pool the entire time – I was just starting to thaw out when we had to come back home.

View from atop the Castillo San Felipe with it's enormous flag.

View from atop the Castillo San Felipe with it’s enormous flag.

La popa cartagena

The beautiful courtyard of La Popa.

In terms of eats and drinks, there are so many options. Somehow on this trip, food became secondary to other activities. I did manage to make a quick visit to a little place called Donde Fidel at one end of the Portal de Los Dulces in the Plaza de los Coches (stock up on the local sweets while you’re there). You’ll find locals, salsa music and ice cold beer at this place. It’s low key and one of my favorite watering holes in town.

The sound system at Donde Fidel...and a must-have beer.

The sound system at Donde Fidel…and a must-have beer.

And finally, on our last day in Cartagena we took to the water. You can book a trip to Playa Blanca for the day (I recently found out that you can sleep there too which lets you enjoy the beach before and after the throngs of people and boats and vendors arrive). The cost of the day trip includes rountrip transportation by boat to the beach and lunch.

playa blanca lunch

Lunch at Playa Blanca – you can also buy ceviches, fresh fruit, coconut water and sweets from the many beach vendors.

After a whole day of ocean and beach we were in dire need of a shower before boarding the plane back to Bogotá. Fortunately the very kind people at Hotel Las Américas let us use their spa showers and changing rooms to get travel-ready (although all I really wanted to do was get a massage at the spa)…

We made it to the airport with plenty of time to have some ceviche at Ceviche Rico – apparently something all high-profile travelers, like ourselves, like to do. Not a bad way to bid farewell to such a lovely city…

A beautiful balcony in Cartagena de Indias

A beautiful balcony in Cartagena de Indias

Now, my only question is — who is going to take me to Cartagena next?

Posted in Coastal cuisine, Colombia, Eats, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Chopinar: Chorizos, Pinchos & Arepas

Chopinar is a small fast food chain that serves some rather tasty Colombian snacks. You may have seen them around Bogotá at gas stations or at some free standing locations, but you’ll probably remember them because of Babe, the talking pig on their logo. It’s always nice to be reminded of what (or who) you’re eating, right? No, of course it’s not. But anyways…

The name – Chopinar – is a mash up of the 3 items served at this place –  CHORIZO, PINCHO and AREPA. The important thing to remember is not that you are eating a little piggy but that the arepa with cheese is one of the best in town and that the chorizo and beef, chicken and pork pinchos (skewers) are perfect accompaniments to that arepa. The portions are also small enough that you could make it a snack or a meal depending on how hungry you are.

I remember the first time I took my family – they were all very skeptical. “Let’s just order one basket for the 5 of us”, they said. But before we got through the first basket someone had been nominated to go order 4 more. Need I say more?

It’s not fancy by any means, but it’s fast food and it’s Colombian – two things that are often only found in street food.

Chopinar has several locations around the city. The original is on Calle 53 # 16-04.

Other locations include:

  • Avenida Boyacá # 49-48
  • Cll. 151 # 32-19
  • Cll. 68 # 26-55
  • Ave. (Cra.) 30 Calle 70
Posted in Bogotá, Eats | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Las Margaritas: Traditional Bogotano Cuisine in the heart of Chapinero

Once upon a time, Chapinero was one of Bogotá’s nicest areas. Wealthy families lived in what is now one of the city’s largest and oldest neighborhoods (after La Candelaria and Teusaquillo). Over the years, the area has become slightly run down and gritty, which has its charm and gives the neighborhood a distinct personality.

Old Bogotá

Given its history, Chapinero has seen a lot. People, restaurants and shop owners have come and gone, but for the last 110 years, Las Margaritas hasn’t stopped serving up traditional santafereño or bogotano fare. What kind of food is that? Well, to start it isn’t pretentious or fancy but definitely flavorful and filling.

For example, the well-known ajiaco – a Bogotá icon. This hearty soup is made with three kinds of potatoes – criolla, sabanera and pastusa – a native herb called guasca, and additions like chicken, corn on the cob, avocado, capers, cream and ají. At Las Margaritas you can go old school and order ajiaco with a whole chicken quarter on the side, or you can choose the easy route and order it with shredded chicken already in the soup, like me.

Another popular dish is the puchero bogotano. Only served on Thursdays, this stew gets its name from the clay pot in which it was originally cooked in Spain. When the conquistadors came to Colombia they brought their food with them and the rest is history. Some ingredients have changed here and there over the years, but the idea remains the same.

The meats and vegetables (beef, chicken, chorizo, plantain, yucca, arracacha, cabbage, potato and corn) are all cooked in the broth, but when it comes to serving time, the broth comes out first and the rest comes out afterwards smothered in hogao (onion and tomato mixture). It’s a feast to be sure and you definitely get your money’s worth.

Other popular dishes include sobrebarriga, lengua (beef tongue), and breakfast with the works (tamal, changua, hot chocolate, etc.).

For a bit of Bogotano history makes sure to stop at Las Margaritas (also a stop on the Bogotá Eats & Drinks Food Tours) and don’t even think of leaving without trying the empanadas. According to Julio Rios, the owner of Las Margaritas, they are the “ferrari of empanadas” and account for almost half of the restaurants earnings.

Las Margaritas

Calle 62 # 7-77

Tel: (+57 1) 249-9468 / 345-3156

Mon-Thurs 12:00-4:30 p.m.

Friday 12:00 – 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Sunday and holidays 8:00a.m. – 6:30p.m.

Posted in Andean cuisine, Bogotá, Colombia, Culinary History, Eats | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Top 5 things I did (and ate) in Boston, MA

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I got back from my vacation to Boston. The idea wasn’t to let this much time go by before writing up a quick post about the trip, but I guess it’s better late than never. Here are some highlights and things I’d recommend if you’re visiting Beantown:

1) Boston North End Market Tour - This was pretty much THE highlight for me because I didn’t just do it for fun but also as research for the Bogotá Eats & Drinks Food Tours. Al was our guide and he was great, leading us around the neighborhood to several stores in the North End. We snacked on Italian pastries, meats, cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegar along the way. The day after the tour we went back to Monica’s for an Italian sub. So. Good.

Monica's Mercato

2) Lobster Roll at Belle Isle Seafood – I watch No Reservations every week even if it’s an episode I’ve seen more than once (unfortunately in Colombia, it usually is). So one thing I did before going to Boston was to find out where Tony ate, because even though I don’t know the guy, I trust him when it comes to food. That’s how we ended up at Belle Isle Seafood. There was so much lobster on that roll that you could barely pick it up. It was heavenly, the weather was perfect and we ate outside on a concrete block overlooking Logan airport. Thanks, Tony.

Belle Isle lobster roll

3) Urban Adventours Bike Tour – Going on a bike tour was also a combination of fun and research, and a lot like the food tour, it exceeded our expectations. It was the perfect way to get to know Boston and work in a little exercise after all the eating we’d been doing. Boston is a great town for biking, so if you’re considering doing a tour of the city, please don’t jump on a bus tour – go green and bike it.

UrbanAdventours bike tour

4) Tamarind Bay - I had read a lot about Tamarind Bay before getting to Boston so when we walked right past it in Harvard Square, we decided it should be our dinner. It’s won several awards which is good, but aside from that everything we ordered was fantastic. I love Indian cuisine and we only have about two Indian restaurants to choose from in the entire city of Bogotá so this was a real treat. (No picture available – I was too busy eating.)

5) Otto Pizza – I love pizza. I haven’t really led on to that on this blog because it’s about Bogotá and all but…I really do love pizza. So, after a long day of attending Harvard graduation ceremonies we stopped by this pizza joint from Portland, ME for a quick bite to hold us over till dinner. Otto’s did not disappoint.

Mushroom and ricotta pizza

Mushroom and ricotta pizza at Otto’s – Cambridge, MA

Well, that’s my top 5 for Boston. We packed so many activities and eating into 4 glorious long, sunny days, that I really couldn’t list everything. There was also the dim sum in Chinatown, a soft pretzel in Quincy Market, New England clam chowder at Legal Seafoods, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, local handcrafted beers, perfect spring weather and long days (not to mention the Cuban food eaten at MIA during our layover) which all made for a great vacation.

Thank you, Boston and Happy 4th of July!

Posted in Eats, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment