Note: Although this restaurant closed, the dishes we mention from Medellin and the Paisa area are found all over Colombia.
Surrounded by international hotels and a selection of the best restaurants in the city, it looks like it was imported from a small town in the Andes Mountains; a simple terracotta floor, and thick wood doors and window frames with wrought iron decorations. Just on the other side of the front doors, a large brick and sandstone fireplace stands next to an old-time cash register that gleams in a corner. The white walls bear testimony to the passage of friends, as visitors have scrawled messages in black marker. At the back, a tree peeks through from the backyard.
It seems like a home, but is actually a restaurant, A’tipico. The foundation of the restaurant is soups, the Colombian basics: cazuela de frijoles, sopa de arroz, ajiaco, and mondongo. The menu draws a lot of inspiration from the coffee growing region (eje cafetero), known as the Paisa region, with a few intrusions from the rest of the country – ajiaco from Bogota, and a soup from El Valle (sancocho valluno).
This is fast slow food – cooked slow, served fast.
What did we try?
- Empanada de papa: also goes by the name empanada iglesia, since after church people had the custom to gather to talk and eat empanadas. They’re filled with yellow criollo papas. Crispy, well done, they were a delicious way to start (though some people might be left searching for the meat).
- Platano: thin strips of fried green plantain goes well with the typical hogao sauce (made with tomatoes) that is served.
- Chorizo: well worth the calories, this type of sausage is brought from Medellin in two varieties – spicy or not.
- Cazuela de frijoles: this was, frankly, like a bandeja paisa all put together in a soup. Plantains (ripe, chopped, fried) corn, fried shredded potato, fried pork rinds, rice, avocado, meat all goes into the soup (but can be requested on the side). The beans (cargamanto blanco type) are imported from Medellin. The Hass avocado is black-skinned and buttery, and a way to eat it is to hold the avocado in your left hand scoop out bits with your spoon as you eat your soup. This soup is a big, complete meal, and at the end it’s best to find a bed to curl up in.
- Mondogo: yes, tripe soup. If you’re squeamish about eating it elsewhere, the owner assured me that they take 2-3 days to wash the tripe in lime water, pre-cook it, wash it again, and then the soup is made. It is served with a basket that has, among other things, a banana. Yes, a ripe banana to put in your tripe soup. And yes, Colombians eat it that way.
They serve a “hot” sauce and a not-hot one. The “hot” sauce is pleasantly hot. And the arepa is different than you’ll usually see; called arepa tela, it is a wafer thin corn arepa from Medellin.
Desserts in Colombia are different than what most Americans think of as a dessert. Mazamorra is cold milk, cooked corn, and crumbled panela. Cuajada con melao, slabs of rather bland white cheese, is smothered in warm panela (raw sugar) sauce. If you don’t like squishy food, you might want to avoid this cheese. However, I personally love corn and panela, so I liked the desserts.
Paisa food and drink
What wines go well with Colombian dishes?
- Ajiaco – white wine
- Mondongo – Merlot
- Frijoles – Cabernet sauvignon
They serve two beers that go beyond the basics: BBC and 3Cordilleras. 3Cordilleras comes in Wheat Ale, American Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Sweet Stout and Rosé. The refajo I tried had a different flavor (“It’s poisoned” someone jokingly said). When the waiter placed the pitcher in front of me, it looked normal: beer, pink Colombiana soda, lemon…but there’s something additional here. They’ve powered it up with shots of vodka and aguardiente and serve it by the pitcher.
They also have shots of national drinks like Aguardiente Antioqueño (smoother than the typical one served in Bogota, Nectar). They say aids digestion, like a Colombian grappa. While I’m not sure if that’s true, after a meal of beans, avocado, fried foods, and corn, I was ready to try it.
My favorite space was upstairs, where the walls are bathed in colonial colors and wood tables and chairs dominate the space. On one wall they set up the back end of a chiva bus, license plate and all. Red, yellow, and blue shout out the colors of Colombia, and the names of towns on the bus route are scrawled across the back window: Armenia, Pereira, Manizales. There’s even a white ‘How do I drive’ sign. Touch the exhaust pipe – it’s all genuine.
On Sundays they have another Colombian favorite, calentao. This rice dish has chicken, beans or beef, with a fried egg on top if you’d like. And, yes, that is breakfast food. In Colombia.