So what should be on your hot list of Colombian foods to try when you visit Bogota? Here are some of our favorites.
(Disclaimer, warning and apology: You will not find arepas on this list. Not because we don’t love them, but just because we’ve talked too much about them already.
And we promise to not mention coffee.)
For meat lovers
Bandeja paisa is not for the faint of heart. Born in the “paisa” region of Colombia, it’s called bandeja because it’s served, not on a plate, but on a tray (bandeja) to accommodate the huge portions. Rice, plantain, chicharron, ground beef, blood sausage, avocado, arepa, and red beans, with a fried egg on top. Did we mention the large portions? (Tip – plan on a nap).
I looked up at the sky. I should have known better. When I left the house it was sunny, and just half an hour later the clouds had gathered quick and dark above me. But that’s typical of Bogota and its weather. During the rainy season, 15 minutes of sun and 15 minutes of rain can alternate all day long.
But I was promised that the street food tour by La Mesa Food Tours would go on rain or shine, so I had my umbrella in hand as I walked through the Parque de los Periodistas in Bogota’s La Candelaria neighborhood. Mt. Monserrate loomed over me, it’s head in the dark clouds.
One of the funny things about living in another country is that you discover just how much money shifts, changes, and simply dances about all the time. Before moving to South America, the dollar was just the dollar to me. Sure, there was some inflation, but I never worried about it (I left the United States in the early 1990s).
Then I arrived in South America and I continuously heard “the dollar went up,” “the dollar went down,” and I always thought – the dollar doesn’t move around that much, does it?
Steve Collins, a travel writer and broadcaster from Australia, has the interesting job of interviewing people from around the world that are involved in the art and business of travel.
Steve recently interviewed me for Radio Roaming to discover why Bogota is such a great destination for travelers. We discussed a little bit of everything about Bogota, from food to bicycles to pre-Columbian art.
Here are some of the topics we covered:
Do you need to know Spanish to have a good time in Bogota?
Are Colombians helpful to tourists visiting the country?
Is there a need to acclimatize to the high altitude in Bogota?
What the future holds for tourism in Colombia.
I also shared some tips on how to survive Bogota traffic.
Art and culture
How to get a taste of pre-Columbian art and history in Bogota.
How to take advantage of Bogota’s ciclovia (bike routes that stretch throughout the city).
What are the most outstanding foods to taste in Bogota?
What areas of Bogota are the best for finding exceptional restaurants?
National Geographic interviewed me about why I love Bogota. Of course, I could write about my love for this city indefinitely, but the interview hit just the top point. Some of the questions they asked me were:
What I do with friends and family that visit Bogota
Colombian cuisine is often referred to as mestizo, or a mix of Spanish, indigenous, and African influences, with a bit of Arabic thrown in. An important player in the cuisine in Bogota is the humble potato, which here takes on a variety of colors and shapes rarely seen elsewhere. Corn is also an ingredient that pops up again and again, often becoming a backdrop for the many different methods of preparing meat.
Breakfast in Bogota can mean feasting on arepas, soup, tamales or even lechona (oven roasted pork). People break up their morning by snacking on “medias nueves” around 10 am., then eat a hefty corrientazo lunch at noon, and tank up with “onces” in the afternoon. After all that eating activity during the day, dinner can run late, from 8-10 pm.
The city’s restaurants are divided into dining areas that sound like an alphabet soup: Zona C, T, G, or M all stand for different areas of the city where there are an abundance of restaurants, street food, and cafés. Additionally, Usaquén and the Parque de la 93 have more upscale dining.
There are some essential eats that can’t be missed when visiting Bogota, including some traditional foods and drinks that have been eaten here for centuries.
Over the years I’ve moved many times, started over in many different cities that span two continents and several countries. It’s never easy to settle in, to deal with that initial confusion that can last for weeks (ok, Bogota still confuses me and I’ve been here for over two years. It’s a big city).
And there are those little details that can ruin your day, like not knowing who to call when the toilet breaks. Or when you need to pick an area of the city to live in (that you won’t regret later), or get curtains made for your house.
Just simple things, like how to get a taxi or needing a suggestion for a good restaurant (in a language you can understand) can become aggravating in a new country.
That’s where expat guides come in. These are guides published for main cities around the world, with information oriented to short-term or long-term residents. In a language they can understand. It’s like having a friend take you by the hand and show you around the city, even if you don’t have any friends there.
Bogota needed one of those expat guides, written by expats in an English that’s actually readable.
So when Boris Kruijssen, Director of Lure Media and publisher of the beautiful Lure City Guides for Bogota and Cartagena, contacted me to tell me about their project for an expat guide, I was all ears.
I’d admired the Lure City Guides for some time, since they are practical for visitors and tourists but almost as importantly, their excellent design and photos make them beautiful and easy to use. They’re easy to read, entertaining in either Spanish or English (or you can read both and still find them a good read, thanks to their talented and creative translator).
Boris explained that their next goal was to produce Living in Bogota, a publication with detailed information about living and working in Bogota, with the customary beautiful design that characterizes Lure Media.
And I was quite enthusiastic when he asked me to join the project as editor, to help keep an eye on the details of the book.
The untiring researcher he is, Boris investigated travel guides from around the world (and I mean that, from Mexico to Amsterdam, Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, and other places you can’t pronounce) to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
In all, the Living in Bogota project lasted about a year, with the input of over a hundred foreigners from all around the world that now make Bogota their home, with their thoughts on the best of the best in Bogota.
Different from the crowd
The Living in Bogota expat guide is different from others. It’s a complete guide, starting with what you need to know before you arrive, for settling into life in the city, all the way through to tips for when you have to finally leave.
The 11 chapters of the book each have a telephone directory so you know who to call, with everything in Spanish and English. Out of the thousand recommendations (yes, really, someone counted) you’ll find the main brands and services in the city, as well as that little known seamstress that you might need, or that Japanese guy who owns that tiny restaurant that serves the best lunches in town…
As well as some ads to help you know where to get what you need. And of course, some beautifully edited articles.
All those recommendations made by all those expats have been carefully verified, investigated, and come with a carefully crafted description of each place, person or store.
The book is practical because of its content, which I know you’re now impressed with, but also because of its beautiful photos, infographs and maps. The size is practical to handle – at 223 pages it is complete but not overwhelming. The spiral binding on the hardback book makes it easy to flip through, leave open, make notes on, spill coffee on, or whatever else you need to do.
Think of it as your expat workbook to help you survive and thrive during the change of habitat to Bogota.
What else is in it?
The 11 chapters will neatly divide your life into all you need to know:
Domestic stuff like a good plumber and electrician or who will make that custom-design kitchen for you.
Stores, like where to get imported ingredients and clothing your kids will actually wear.
Real estate. Enough said in such a huge city – anyone needs guidance.
Education. For when your kids need a place to study, or you want to pick up some Spanish classes (or salsa classes!), or even get your MBA in Spanish (now, that’s a challenge).
Doctors and hospitals and how to survive them.
Restaurants. Yea, my favorite chapter. Believe me, the recommendations are good. (I wrote them. Sorry, I’m biased.)
Entertainment and culture
Traveling, both near and far.
(Ok, if you count, that wasn’t 11, but I didn’t want to share the whole long list in such a short post).
To get the book off to a running start, book launches were planned. In addition to several smaller events, the main one was held on the evening of Thursday, September 18th at the residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands.
The Embassador of the Netherlands, Robert van Embden, and his wife, María Estela van Embden (who is also the President of the Association for Spouses of Accredited Diplomats in Colombia) hosted an elegant launch for Living in Bogota at their residence, with ambassadors, diplomats, Lure Media clients, and the Lure team present. It was an exciting moment to share the book with expats and locals that love Bogota and want to transmit that love to others.
The book will be available in major bookstore chains in Bogota.
To see the Lure team as we were photographed by the guys with the cameras at Jet Set, a leading social magazine here in Bogota, click here.
And you can see the coverage the newspaper El Tiempo gave it it here.
Even though Colombia is near the equator, Bogota, at 2,500 meters (8,360 feet) above sea level, can get downright chilly. Nighttime temperatures can go down into the mid-40’s (that’s a chilly 7 degrees Celsius), and indoor heating is rare. And on days when the sun doesn’t come out from behind the clouds, it can feel downright cold.
I always find myself looking for good ways to warm up in Bogota. Here are a few of my favorites (and since I’m a foodie, expect them to involve food).
Of course, in this coffee producing country, there are coffee houses on almost every corner of the city, and usually several down the block, too. Juan Valdez is one of the most famous ones, but there are many other coffee houses that have comforting lattes and cozy armchairs and sofas to enjoy them on, such as Oma, Amor Perfecto, Diletto…and thousands of other places.
2. A Ride on the Transmilenio
Transmilenio is the immense bus system that crosses Bogota. Normally it’s the quickest way to get around the city, but at rush hour the buses get packed beyond what you can imagine. So after 5 minutes of being nearly cheek-to-cheek with other passengers, you’ll no longer feel the slightest bit cold.
3. Chocolate santafereño
Thick, rich hot chocolatehas been a classic in Bogota for centuries. The unusual thing here is that cheese is often served with the hot chocolate – for dunking. So yes, go ahead and drop the cheese into the chocolate and when it’s hot and gooey – fish it out and eat it. Whether you want it with the cheese or not, good hot chocolate can be had all through the city, but famous places to have it are at La Puerta Falsa in the historic La Candelaria and not to far from there at La Florida Bakery.
Ajiaco is a soup made with chicken, corn on the cob, three different types of Colombian potatoes, and an herb called guasca, that, frankly, you’ll just have to come to Colombia to taste. On the side you’ll get a dish with avocado, rice, capers and cream (the last two go into the soup). It’s creamy, thick, and delicious – and is a comforting way to warm up on a cool Bogota evening.
5. Ride the Ciclovia
Ciclovía is the extensive cycling route covering about 70 miles and taking you from one end of Bogota to the other end. This isn’t just for bicycling – on Sundays whole families keep warm while jogging, rollerblading or just moving any way they can.
6. Walk to top of Monserrate
Yes, it’s quite a hike up that symbol of Bogota, Mt. Monserrate. But when you get to the top you’ll be warm even on the coolest morning. If you’re not up for the climb to the top (at 3,152 meters, or 10,341 feet, above the sea level), take the cable car up and walk around. To beat the cold, get a canelazo, a cinnamon drink made with aguardiente.
Tea in Bogota takes on a fresh attitude. Aromatica is a hot drink made with fresh fruit and herbs and often sweetened with panela, a type of raw sugar. Mint aromatica is very common, as well as frutos rojos, a berry tea.
Tamales are meat stews encased in corn dough, then wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled. If you order one at any of the many bakeries or restaurants around the city, you’ll get a steaming hot package ready to be unwrapped, and guaranteed to warm you up.
9. Outdoor heating
Bogotanos love to eat outdoors, and most restaurants have year-round outdoor seating. But what to do when the temperatures plummet? Heating elements are the answer, and you’ll find electric heaters hanging from the walls or ceilings or ingenious standing gas heaters with flames of fire that drive away the cold.
Beer is popular in Colombia, so you can choose from a variety of Colombian brands like Poker, Club Colombia, Bavaria. Artisan beers are a bit more common, and aficionados can go to any of Bogota Beer Company’s many pubs to pick one up, or try the newly opened Chelarte. For imported beers from Europe, go to El Monje– with 174 different types, you’re sure to find the one to warm you up!
So tell me – what’s your favorite way to keep warm in Bogota?
Food tells us so much about a country – the values, the mindset, and the history. In Bogota food lovers have a feast not only for their palate but also for their thirst to understand the culture throughout the whole country. Here are nine places to get into the Colombian frame of mind – for eating.
#1 Palo Quemao Market
Taking a trip to the Palo Quemao market is both a culinary and cultural experience. Chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants have told me that the market gave them goose bumps. It’s the smells, the sights and the tastes of fruits and vegetables in all their freshest glory. It’s also the place to get a look at bizarre vegetables with names like cubio and guatila, pick up banana leaves to wrap tamales, or buy achote (a natural food coloring) and sweet-smelling fruits with names like pitaaya or maracuya. There are also stands that sell the entire repertoire of Colombian dishes. A popular combo is eggs, cheese, bread, hot chocolate and caldo, a beef rib soup – yes, all that for breakfast!
#2 Specialty Coffee Shops
We always hear that coffee in Colombia is some of the best in the world. But why? Visiting coffee shops in Bogota, you can get a complete education in specialty coffee. Find out about coffee growing regions in Colombia, what makes one region different from another, and why it makes a difference in the brew you drink. Try coffee made in ingenious brewing methods that bring out the particular flavors of each coffee.
Want to dig deeper? Take a coffee shop tour with us to discover how to taste these specialty coffees to fully appreciate the fragrance, aroma, flavor, and unique characteristics.
#3 Sunday fair at Usaquen
On Sundays the streets of Usaquen, a neighborhood of Bogota that still retains the feeling of a small town, are taken over by vendors selling arts and crafts, leather products and handmade jewelry. But this is also a foodie experience. Taste a wide variety of Colombian fruits, fried empanadas filled with chicken, beef or pork, meat-filled mashed potato balls, chocolates made by hand in Colombia, and of course – Colombian coffee produced on small farms.
#4 La Candelaria
On the narrow streets of historic La Candelaria, there are many restaurants that serve typical Colombian food. Here you can get an excellent bandeja paisa, the national dish, which is a dizzying array of rice, beef, fried pork rinds, sausage, avocado, fried egg, beans, plantain and arepa. All on one dish!
At the tiny La Puerta Falsa restaurant just off the Plaza de Bolivar, try award-winning chocolate santafereño, hot chocolate served with cheese on the side for dunking. Yes, the idea is to dunk the cheese into the chocolate, mixing sweet and savory. The tamales, made from corn flour filled with meat stew and wrapped in banana leaves, are also famous. To get a taste of it all with some history thrown in, try a food tour with La Mesa.
#5 Andres Carne de Res
With its bizarre collection of animal statues, a circus-like atmosphere, live music, and fantastic Colombian food, Andres Carne de Res is a place that most visitors find their way to at some point. For the full experience, take the trip out to Chia. although the Andres D.C. in Bogota has five levels of pure Colombian enthusiasm.
The prices are high, but most people don’t complain since the show is worth it. The 64-page menu is 100% Colombian, with dishes like lomo al trapo, (meat that, as its name suggests, come wrapped in a cloth), a meat lover’s Colombian-style barbecue, and soups with odd names like cuchuco de trigo.
#6 Villa de Leyva
Ok, so it’s not in Bogota, but it is an easy day trip from the city. The interesting thing about this small Colonial town of about 9,000 inhabitants is that it has several hundred restaurants. It even has a cooking school. With all this culinary activity, it’s a place that foodies can’t miss. A hungry tourist can get food from around the world; Italian, French, Japanese, Spanish and more. And of course, there’s Colombian food in abundance, from all different regions of the country.
Yes, this mountain is best known for its church and a lookout point to catch the best views of Bogota. But it’s also a great place to drink a canelazo, which is aguapanela (cane sugar), cinnamon and aguardiente all warmed up and served in a sugar-rimmed glass. Also try the meat filled empanadas while watching Bogota’s frenzied pace from a safe distance.
#8 Street Food
Street food is a fun pastime in Bogota. Cheap and ready to eat, there’s enough variety to keep a person’s stomach busy for days. Buñuelos, almojabanas, corn arepas filled with gooey cheese and crispy fried pork rinds (chicharrones) sold with plantain and small yellow potatoes are some of the most popular ones. At dinner time charcoal grills are set up with meat, chorizo, arepas, and large corn on the cob. On the sweet side try obleas, two thin wafers served sandwich-style filled with arequipe, a South American caramel.
The menu at Misia is all about traditional Colombian food – criollo, as they say in Spanish. It’s about what’s relaxed and popular, what people grew up with. It’s the kind of food you’ll find in people’s kitchens, at markets and street food stands, and at fairs. Oh, and those simple plates and cups? They’re typical of what people use at home around Colombia (so the chipped enamel is not a mistake). Carrera 7 #67-39 Local 2, Zona G, Bogota
Carrera 6 No. 27 – 50, right next to the Museo Nacional (National Museum), Bogota
Bogota’s restaurant scene has plenty to keep an eye on for next year. Here are eight places to visit in 2014; some new, some old and some renewed, but they are all places to try out or go back to again and again.
The menu at Horacio Barbato is difficult to pin down to a certain geography or ideology. It takes a bit from here and a bit from there – pate from France, Italian gnocchi, and a British sausage – and creates a new identity. But Colombian food is the main actor here, and the star of the show is the pig (the bearded Horacio). Simple ingredients and basic cooking techniques let the flavor of the food shine through. Don’t miss the lechon, the codito de cerdo and prawns from the Colombian Pacific.
Calle 118 #6A – 37
The posh, retro look of the immense La Fabbrica is something to love. The Italian dishes made with artisan house-made products are something to love even more. Have a drink on the living room mezzanine in front of a fireplace and the fantastic view of the Parque 93 before choosing a table in this multi-level restaurant.
Calle 93A # 13-25
Pass through the thick wooden doors of Café Amarti, keep walking back towards the kitchen where cooks put flatbreads in the wood-burning oven at a frenetic pace to keep up with the demand. Keep going until you reach the back dining area, where the high ceiling, vertical gardens and glass walls create a bright atmosphere. The long menu has all the favorite international dishes, and is a good place for pizza or pasta. For dessert try the chocolate volcano, one of the best I’ve had in Bogota.
Calle 119 #6-24
Just a few steps from the National Museum and the downtown business district, Lima Canton’s open kitchen and modern design make it a classy option in the area. This restaurant is dedicated to one of Peru’s most popular cuisines, chifa, a mix of Chinese techniques with Peruvian ingredients. Try the amazing Alitas KamMen, large chicken wings filled with prawns marinated in Chinese spices and pisco. For dessert try the unusual and delicious maclau de palta, an avocado mousse with merengue topping and a kiwi sauce.Calle 30 #6-50/54
Brasserie Mr. Simon Entrecôte is an informal restaurant where you can expect to get the French classics all made with the unique enthusiasm that Swiss chef Simon Buhler musters up. You can start with an onion soup and follow it up with the main attraction of the restaurant, entrecôte served with salad and French fries. The dessert menu is brief but good; I’m a fan of the profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and topped with whipped cream, candied almonds and chocolate sauce.
Carrera 14 #97-09
Casa is a house of surprises. A national monument, the award-winning design of this renovated house provides plenty of separate environments for a meal or a drink. Choose from the tables on the first level, or walk down a few stairs and around the corner to the bar and living room area, with seats by the fireplace inviting you to stay for a while. The outdoor patio in the back removes you from the stress of the city and takes you into a relaxing, sunlit garden. The impeccable Mediterranean food is made with the freshest ingredients and dishes are designed to share.
Carrera 13 # 85-24
Located in Zona T, the newly opened Cabrera has a Meatpacking District vibe. The red leather booths inside give it a retro look and the partially open roof gives inside dining an outside feel. The industrial look comes from sheets of randomly placed metal and industrial piping in a get-your-attention-orange that snakes around the ceiling. The kitchen is perched on a mezzanine creatively designed with railroad ties and corrugated iron. The long bar just begs to be sat at, and there’s a temptingly long list of specialty cocktails. The menu is light, mostly sandwiches and hamburgers, but if you’re a steak lover, don’t miss the New York strip steak.
Carrera 12 A #83-21
An old favorite is Niko Café, a white tablecloth Mediterranean restaurant focusing on seafood. It’s small, so reservations are necessary at almost any time. The antipastao arabe is a platter of Middle Eastern appetizers meant to share among several people. Their emphasis on using USA certified meats is a good reason to visit the restaurant, but the risottos and pastas are too.
Carerra 13 #83-48