by Sandra Hutchinson
During the first week of January, 2019, my family spent several days in Bogota, Colombia, as part of a nine-day adventure in Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota. One of my sons had made the travel arrangements for us, and he had booked us into a walking/food tour in Bogota’s La Candelaria.
This neighborhood is the oldest part of the city, dating back to the 16th century. It’s an area of colorful buildings, cafes, hostels, restaurants and shops. Although it is considered a popular tourist area of the city, we were warned against wandering around the area after dark.
The food tour was under the auspices of “The True Colombian Experience.” We met our guide, Paula, at a hostel called the “Cranky Croc.” Our group consisted of our family of five, plus a man from Turkey who was planning on spending a month in Colombia, and who had just arrived that day, and Reggie, a native of the Philippines who now lives in Chicago.
Paula was an articulate, charming young woman, 23 years old, with a BA in history, and a native of Bogota. She explained that we would be stopping at six or seven places, sampling a different type of traditional Colombian food or beverage at each stop. Her English was far better than our Spanish, for which we were grateful.
First stop: La Selina, which interestingly, is a hostel with a restaurant and bar. We sat in an outdoor courtyard and had a traditional Colombian soup called ajiaco santafereño. Made of shredded chicken, potatoes, corn and guascas (an herb), it was served with a side of white rice, avocado, large salty capers and cream. We were told the tradition is to add the avocado, cream and capers. I enjoyed it, although it could have been hotter.
Next stop was a small restaurant and shop called Nativa, run by indigenous people from the Muisca community. The shop sold handmade soaps, lotions and organic herbs. In the small restaurant we had patacones con ahoga’o, or green plantains that had been flattened and fried, and served with two kinds of sauces — one mild, and one quite hot. Frankly the only plantains I’ve ever really enjoyed are the ripe ones that are roasted.
Stop number three: we headed to a spot with benches outdoors under an awning, and first examined and tasted a variety of Colombian fruits. These were largely fruits we had never seen or tasted, like guanabana, which looks like a large, spiky cactus. We also tasted lulo, a citrusy fruit from which a delicious lemonade/coconut drink is prepared. Below is a photo of some of the fruits we tasted. I can’t even name them all, let alone spell them!
After our fruit tasting, we then had Colombian tamales, which were presented to the table as a large packet of plantain leaves on the outside, with rice, chick peas, chicken, pork and spices inside. You unwrap the leaves, and break the inside apart with a fork. It was hot, tasty and filling. We were told that the dish is a traditional breakfast for Colombians who do hard outside work, since it is such a substantial dish.
The mixture within the leaves was quite tasty, although I couldn’t begin to tell you what the spices and flavorings consisted of.
Stop number four: we were introduced to Juan, and walked a block or so to his home. If we had any question whether this was an authentic experience, that dissolved when we entered this modest home, complete with barking dogs and an interior laundry line where items were hung to dry. Juan instructed us in making carimañola. These are made by grinding yucca to make a pasty dough, shaping the dough into balls, then making a little bowl (kind of like your childhood clay class), filling the bowl with either ground, cooked meat or shredded cheese, sealing the packet, and deep frying it. To me, the exterior of the carinañola tasted like bland mashed potatoes. I couldn’t get too excited about it.
Stop number five: a chocolate cafe. Colombia, of course, is known for its cacoa production. This, to me, was the most interesting stop on the tour. We cut open a large red cacoa fruit, and tasted the white fleshy seeds. Inside the white bean-shaped seeds are darker seeds, which are roasted and ground to use in making chocolate.
We sampled a traditional Colombian way of drinking hot chocolate: local farm cheese is dropped into the beverage, and if the drink is hot enough, it will melt. Interesting complement of sweet and salty.
Finally, our final stop was actually outside, to the rear of the chocolate cafe. We sampled three different craft beers before each selecting one to enjoy.
I went with the lightest brew, said to be made with limonaria, an herb. The darkest brew was made somehow with the addition of coffee, and had a distinct coffee flavor.
If you’re interested in booking the tour, I suggest checking the Website thetruecolombianexperience.com . The cost was 60,000 Colombian pesos each, which comes out to about US $20. We met at 3:00 pm and finished around 5:30. If you go, be prepared to get over any expectation you might have for pristine, sanitized conditions. All of us tasted everything, and we were all fine!