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.
When a person considers traveling to another country – or even moving there – one of the keys to success is to see what others have done, what’s worked for them (and what hasn’t). That is, I think, the lure behind interviews: they tell us how to do things.
Recently the enthusiastic creator of the amazing blog Sarepa, Sarah Duncan, interviewed me. Her blog is dedicated to all things Colombian, and she got curious about my life in Bogota.
The Expat Chat is all about travel and the expat life, and how people have done it – how they’ve changed everything and gone off to live in another country. And how they’ve made it work. And why they like it.
Want to find out everything there is to know about expat life in Bogota? There is one simple way to do it: listen in on the weekly Colombia Calling interviews. Richard McColl, British journalist, author, and conflict resolution specialist is also the host of Colombia Calling.
Since 2013, this radio program has focused on getting the inside scoop from expats who are living and working in Colombia, uncovering the reality of this complex and ever-changing country.
Episode 105 just hit the air, and it’s a special one because I’m the interviewee! We talk about life in Latin America, my time in jail, little-known Colombian ingredients, top chefs in Bogota, and Colombian cuisine. We also discuss the new Colombian Bloggers Association Listen to it on Overseas Radio (the podcast is free).
If you want to visit, live in, or invest in Colombia (or if you’re just curious about what life in Colombia is all about), check out Colombia Calling, where Richard has talked with an amazing group of expats about a mind-boggling variety of topics that range from understanding the culture, raising expat children, to real estate and war.
Here are just a few of the topics that have been covered on Colombia Calling:
Colombian peace dialogues Episode 100
Security in Colombia Episode 96
The reality of being an entrepreneur in Colombia Episodes 95 and 36
Food in Colombia Episode 2, 38, 57, 70, 76, 99, and 105
Traveling in Colombia Episode 64, and 42 is with a Lonely Plant Guide author
English-language newspaper Bogota Post founder Episode 87
A friend of mine from New York moved, quite wisely, to a small island in the Caribbean and sees this view from her bedroom window every day (now you know why I think she’s wise).
Thankfully, this island in the Caribbean belongs to Colombia (which is actually odd because it’s far from Colombia, about 700 km to be exact, closer to Nicaragua). But why I am thankful about this island’s nationality? Because that means flights from Bogota are cheap – just US$50 one way.
And I’m just as thankful that this friend and her husband have a spare guest room and invited me and my husband for a visit. Which we recently took them up on.
San Andres Island has a fascinating history – the British claimed it centuries ago, leaving a heritage of the English language, and others fought over it, but in time the Colombians were the ones left holding the title deed (although we’ll see for how long). It’s head-spinning to visit an island that belongs to Colombia where you hear more English than Spanish, dance to more reggae than salsa, and eat more crab patties than arepas.
But my husband, Peter (my faithful taste tester), and I were up for the cultural challenge, and decided to eat our way through the island.
In search of the essential eats on San Andres, we crunched on fried fish (my New York friend loves the crispy tails, which makes me think she’s not really from New York). We savored coconut rice and nibbled on fried breadfruit.
We downed plantain patties and carefully tried conch ball sandwiches (they are way better than they sound).
We ate peto – a warm corn dish – made with cinnamon instead of panela, and attacked fair tables, those tables that Islanders put outside their homes on weekday evenings and weekends to tempt neighbors with their best homemade treats.
We gorged on carimañolas and arepas de huevo, the best we’ve had, with enough grease to last us for the rest of the year.
Along the way we explored the island, picked up some Islander expressions, admired the people’s love of spiritual conversations, and of course, we snorkeled in the multicolored waters among fish and stingrays.
What a silly question, you may say. (If you’re asking yourself, Gabo who?, check out my brief post last week explaining who Colombia’s dearest writer was). Gabo, that most Colombian of writers, was certainly not from Ireland.
A couple of months ago Chowzter, that international food website that spurs around-the-world feeding frenzies, interviewed the founder of Flavors of Bogota (that’s me). They asked me what got me interested in food, how in the world I wound up living in South America, and if I really use my kitchen at home.
Chowzter: What took you from Philadelphia to South America?
Karen: I left the United States to do a volunteer educational work in South America. A few years later, I fell in love with a Colombian man who later became my husband, and we have stayed in South America.
Chowzter: What sparked your love of food?Earliest food memories?
Karen: My mom was a foodie back before being a foodie was popular. I remember watching her developing new recipes for her bakery, and also for dinner parties and for our family; those were my first experiences with the rewards and pleasures of tasty dishes.
But I didn’t take a serious interest in cooking until I met husband-to-be, Peter; he was chef in a kitchen where I was the baker, and he was my go-to man for all of my baking woes. In time, he simply became my go-to man in life. His love of food, his readiness to try anything (quite literally!), his interest in the unusual and unknown, opened my eyes to a whole new culinary world.
Chowzter: What role does food play in your life? Do you cook? Do you eat out often?
Karen: Since my husband is a chef, we tend to eat at home. We love the aromas and tastes of simple ingredients as they are mixed together, or changed by heat or cold. There’s nothing better than a house that smells like fresh-baked bread or cookies, or the comfort of a warm kitchen on a chilly Bogota afternoon. No restaurant will give you that sense of home.
Of course, we also get out to restaurants to taste new ideas presented by the creative chefs here in Bogota.
Chowzter: What publications and news media have your reviews and expertise been featured in?
Karen: My articles have been published in CNN, Esquire, Casa Viva Cocina (Colombia’s top cooking magazine) and about 15 other publications. For two years I had a regular restaurant review column in The City Paper, at the time Bogota’s only English-language newspaper. I also worked with the Lure team to write and edit the Living in Bogota expat guide, a beautiful 234-page book with advice on everything about expat life – including a good restaurant section.
Chowzter: What do you envision doing five years from now?
Karen: Since the Bogota food scene is growing at an exciting rate, five years from now I would like to be doing the same thing I’m doing now: eating my way through all the new restaurants in a city that continues to thrill me.
Chowzter: How can people reading your profile contact you?
I’ve lived in Latin America for about 19 years. I’ve traveled and lived all over the map: Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Panama, Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico, and other warm places with (sometimes) amazing beaches. I’ve seen my fair share of dingy buses, overcrowded subways, and lonely stretches of highway reaching into the jungle. At times, all those mountains, beaches, big cities, small towns, empty plains and jungle paths all seem to meld into one confusing Latin American collage in my mind.
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.
Colombia is shaking off its negative reputation and forging a new reality. One example of that new reality is the growth taking place within the IT sector in the city of Medellin.
Nestled in the Andes Mountains of Colombia, Medellin is called the City of Eternal Spring due to its pleasant climate. Colombia’s second largest city with 2.4 million inhabitants, Medellin was voted City of the Year in 2013 by the Urban Land Institute due to its progress in political, educational and social development. Francisco Aristeguieta, CEO of Citi Latin America that was involved in the selection process, called the city “vibrant and innovative”.
But Medellin hasn’t always been known for its progress. It was once the most violent city in the world due to the activities ofone of the most notorious drug cartel leaders in history. The name of the city was nearly synonymous with Pablo Escobar and the terror he brought to Medellin and indeed, all of Colombia, as he struggled to dominate the majority of the world’s cocaine traffic.