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 decorozo 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.
Museums are all about learning, and how appropriate it is when restaurants within museums focus on education, on discovering something new, on continuing the cultural experience of visiting the museum.
Bogota has recently seen two new restaurant openings in important museums, and these restaurants focus on enlightening visitors on food, health and Colombian cuisine.
Enter the Museo de Arte Moderno, orMamBO, walk up the stairs to the left and step into a learning experience. Suburbio – El Bodegón del Museo, the second Suburbio restaurant in Bogota, opened recently and continues the philosophy of ‘biogastronomy’, which could be defined as the art of healthy eating. Organic. Natural. Local. Healthy.
At Suburbio they emphasize light meals that teach people proper proportions. For instance, only 100 grams of protein are served at each meal, which can be downright shocking to many Colombians. The style could be considered international techniques interwoven with Colombian ingredients.
A typical soup served could be a healthy Chontadura with honey and cilantro, or pea soup with mint and green pepper. Salads feature puréed cubio, or haba beans prepared with mint, Colombian potatoes and local farmer’s cheese. Here chicken gets a Colombian touch, cooked in Bogota Beer Company’s Candelaria beer.
And since the focus is on healthy and local, there isn’t any Coke or Sprite, but a variety of fruit juices and local beers from Bogota Beer Company. Since we’re in Colombia they serve, of course, good coffee, which is also a learning experience. Organic Azahar specialty coffee has coffee appellation, which means the coffee is grown in specific geographic microclimates which produce distinct aromas and tastes.
Even if you’re not planning on visiting the museum, the restaurant is easy to access. The decoration is a bit bare, but the overall environment is pleasant and, next to the bookstore and photo gallery, feels scholarly and could even inspire artistic inclinations.
Calle 24 #6-00
From the creators of Mini-mal we have a new addition to the Museo Nacional. In September of 2013 El Panóptico was born, a restaurant designed to give us a look inside Colombian culinary traditions.
Placed under the arches of the National Museum in an open space shared with the museum gift store, El Panóptico is casual, with sparse decoration. The stone and brick of the original jail walls are visible, and outside a fountain surrounded by the old brick walls and small, heavily barred windows are a reminder of the past of this jail-turned-museum.
The name of the restaurant, El Panóptico, refers to a type of architecture used for prisons, a circular building where the occupants of each cell are clearly visible to officials; another appropriate reminder that this museum was once a jail.
The mission of this restaurant is to keep typical Colombian ingredients and culinary techniques in the public eye. A few dishes were borrowed from the menu at Mini-mal but mostly it’s a new menu with an inclination towards Pacific-coast cooking, with some ingredients from the Amazon.
Here you’ll get dishes you won’t find in just any restaurant.
Proof of that is the carpaccio de guatila, made from thin slices of pickled papa de pobre, cubio, hibia and chugua. Before you reach for your dictionary, a word of warning; these words probably won’t be there. These are Colombian terms for root vegetables. If you’ve taken a tour of the Palo Quemado market, you’ve no doubt seen them – and wondered what in the world they are. Here’s a chance to try them.
The menu in general is a lesson in vocabulary and customs of Colombia. Pusandao is a meat and cassava dish served with delicious coconut rice from the Pacific region. Curulado is a rice and shrimp dish. There are also tropical juices like lulada, which is lulo juice with bits of fruit in it. One of the few decorations in the restaurant is a platter with tropical fruits and vegetables that gives you an idea of what you’re eating; achiote, guatila, cubio, papa nativa.
To fully understand the cultural focus of the restaurant, you just have to go and visit this unique opportunity to get a taste of Colombia.