Since I spend a lot of time cooking, I get attached to certain cooking implements. Has that happened to you? If you love to make cakes or bread, perhaps you have a special relationship with your mixer and oven. Or perhaps you can’t live without your backyard barbecue grill or that wine paraphernalia you’ve carefully collected over the years.
When you move abroad, though, those culinary affections can vary. Living in Latin America, my container of corn flour, which I reach for daily, is like an old friend. Perhaps you have a favorite yerba mate brewer. Or that perfect pan to fry plantain.
For me, there’s a special place in my kitchen and my heart for my budare.
Quick Reviews are short peeks at restaurants in Colombia
Colombia’s beloved culinary brothers, Jorge and Mark Rausch, have been on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list with their restaurant Criterion ever since the prestigious awards began. In 2015 they moved up the list to now come in at number 18.
Their popularity has reached new heights since Jorge formed part of the Master Chef Colombia team. Criterion’s location in Zona G puts this duo in one of the hottest restaurant areas with some of the top dining establishments.
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).
The annual charity banquet for Citymeals on Wheels is going Latin this year. More than 1,000 guests will try the Latin creations of chefs from around the United States and Latin America at ¡Qué Rico! Celebrating Latino Cuisine and Culture.
Warning: In this article about Colombian food you will find a high concentration of Colombian words that have no translation.
When one of your favorite chefs invites you over for a meal, you don’t say no. At least, I don’t. So when Leonor Espinosa invited me to try out Misia, her new restaurant in Zona G (the National Museum spot has been open for a year), I was quick to say Sí.
Zona G is a tough place to open a restaurant. You’ve got competition galore, high real estate prices, and limited parking. But Leo got the spot right – just a couple of blocks south of the concentration of restaurants, at the Holiday Inn on Carrera 7.
She got it right with the decor, too. Misia – both the one here and downtown – has an airy, relaxed feel. The large open kitchens are attractive, and the staff looks happy to be doing what they’re doing. The waiters were knowledgeable about what they were offering and serving, which is surprising in a city with a serious deficiency in server kindness and education.
The menu 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 those people use at home around Colombia (so the chipped enamel is not a mistake).
What we were invited to try
Arepa de huevo con picadillo de cebolla junca. Whaaaat? Yeah, a long name. But it just means an arepa de huevo filled with the egg, of course, as well as chopped green onion. This is a typical Colombian food item. Since we were sharing it, it was served cut into four large pieces. With a crispy light outer layer (well, for something that’s fried, it was pretty light) and filled to the stuffing point, it was amazing. At COP$6,300-7,900, depending on the filling, it is not the cheapest arepa de huevo I’ve had, but it is so worth the extra dollar or two.
We got the extra servings of aji picante, but don’t worry, nothing here is that hot. The suero one is a milky creation that was a bit non-descript. The sesame one (ajonjoli) was amazing, with a deep flavor like tahini with peanuts and a bit of a spicy hit. Unfortunately, you can’t buy this to take home.
Aborrajado en tempura was a very ripe sweet plantain, just at its peak, filled with cheese, then breaded and fried. It was crispy and yet soft, with gooey cheese inside. Eat it quick, this is best hot.
Salad. We got the arugula salad with yogurt dressing, caramelized nuts and basil. It was served in a mason jar, which you just shake to distribute the dressing. I thought it was a cute way to serve a salad, but I did take it out of the jar to eat it in a less messy way. It didn’t seem like that much salad until I put it on the plate – it’s a good sized portion.
The pork meatballs in aji criollo sauce were fantastic. For anyone missing good meatballs, come get these.
The chicharrones are what fried pork rinds should be – all meat, all edible, all delicious. (And no pesky pig hair sticking to them).
Pizzeta de maiz morado. This very thin pizza had an ingenious purple corn crust topped with doble crema cheese, tomato slices and basil. The colors are gorgeous – I’ve never before had purple pizza crust that I could feel good about. Delicious, gluten free and vegetarian – a good combination.
Raspado envenenado (lulo and gin). It was set on our table in a long stemmed glass, sweetly exotic and tart but not acidic. I’ll be ordering this one again.
Raspado de Kola Roman. This bright pink syrupy soda is a Cartagena institution. I think it’s an acquired taste, which I’m not yet Colombian enough to have acquired. It was visually beautiful, though.
The hot sauce on the table isn’t so hot. I mean, it’s tasty. It’s just not going to fry your taste buds. At least, not if your taste buds have been trained on Mexican food. Remember, we’re in Colombia. The hot sauce doesn’t get to the burning point.
They serve Devotion coffee, a Colombian coffee company that works with 800 coffee producers in Caldas and donates part of the proceeds to the Fundación Leo Espinosa.
To quench your thirst, try refajo (that very Colombian mix of soda and beer, with lime) or a raspado envenendado, which are shaved ice drinks with fruit and alcohol. The cocktail list takes advantage of fruits like mora, coconut, lime, gulupa, tamarind, lulo; the one with aguardiente, gulupa and mint sparked my imagination.
Juice is made with fruits like arazá, corozo, badea, feijoa, guayaba agria, guanabana, curuba, nispero, zapote, borojó, and chontaduro. Altogether, there are 21 fruits listed on the menu. And if you include the batidos (which are like milk shakes made with fruit) you can add 8 more flavors. That’s epic.
And that’s not counting agua de maiz, agua de arroz, chicha de corozo or the refreshing aguapanela with lime. Chicha is a fermented drink made from fruit or grains – I’m interested in trying the corozo version, which is new to me. Cholao de frutas is a drink of shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, and chunks of tropical fruit.
Piquete is all those fried things that you love about Colombia. COP$5,000-9,900
Entradas COP$10,500-19,000 (mostly, with a few exceptions that include shrimp and fancy fish and are therefore more expensive).
Meat COP$23,000-35,000 (chicken, steak, ribs).
Fish and seafood COP$23,000-27,900
Rice dishes COP$25,000-32,900
As you can see, the prices are quite reasonable for 1) a top chef’s restaurant and 2) for the area, Zona G – perhaps Colombia’s most expensive spot to get a bite.
Misia was comfortably packed at lunch. I’ll be dropping by soon to get some more arepas de huevo, so I’ll see what the breakfast crowd looks like.
And what in the world does Misia mean? It’s a term of respect like miss. So it would be Misia Karen. A new one for me: I haven’t quite adjusted to hearing people all over Bogota call me Doña Karen, so I’m not sure I’m ready to add misia to my Colombian vocabulary.
Looking for the bathroom? When you find the door that says Doña Petra, don’t think it’s a celebrity’s dressing room. Doña Petra is like a Colombian Jane Doe. It’s the ladies room.
Have you eaten at Misia? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!
Carrera 7 #67-39 Local 2, Zona G, Bogota
Carrera 6 No. 27 – 50, right next to the Museo Nacional (National Museum), Bogota
A major reason to live in Colombia, in my opinion, are the fruits, and pitaya is at the top of my list. Called dragon fruit in some parts of the world, the Colombian variety is different, and just has to be tasted here in the country.
The round, tough shell of the granadilla (Passiflora ligularis) is usually orange with white freckles all over it. Once you open it, you’ll find inside a mass of black seeds enveloped in goop, which you can scoop out with a spoon or do as Colombians do and slurp it out.
Nancy, a 30-something woman from Bogota, is on her way to work.
Under a sunny Bogota sky, she’s mounted on a motorcycle that is large for her small frame. On the highway headed north, she twists and turns through mid-morning traffic, narrowly missing getting hit by taxis and buses plowing through the heavily congested lanes.
Almost on the outskirts of the city, she turns right into the parking lot of a shopping mall. She parks her motorcycle in a central area and places the helmet on the seat. She opens the metal box attached to the back of the seat, and unfolds a giant green umbrella to shade her while she works.