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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

La Comida de Bogotá

After spending the first few months of our trip eating our way through fastfood outlets and IHOPs in the US, and limited choices of local cuisine in the Caribbean, arriving in Colombia was like stepping into food paradise. While the range of local food can't be compared to the offerings in Singapore, it has kept me more than happy during our 2 weeks here in Bogota. Being able to sample a new food item everyday at a cheap price gives me something to look forward to after 3 hours of Spanish lessons.

Hostel Food

One of the first meals we had was in the hostel - a weekly Thursday night BBQ at COP 8,000 (US$4) per person. Eating off the table tennis table was a good opportunity to get to know our fellow hostel guests who hailed from Korea, England, America, etc. When it came to the food however, variety was limited to beef fillets, salted baked potatoes, grilled bananas and some guacamole. The staff were frantically tossing the meats on the grill and went into a fanning frenzy in order to feed the hungry guests. The beef got charred on the outside but was left raw on the inside. We didn't sign up for the BBQ held the following week.

Thursday night BBQs at the hostel

Colombian Set Lunches

We read about the value-for-money Colombian set lunches costing US$1.50-2.50 and the hostel pointed us to a small restaurant down the street called Don Rafa. Not knowing how the set lunches work, we had a rather frustrating conversation with the staff when placing our order. That said, humans, when faced with conversational hurdles, inevitably find a way to communicate with one another through gestures, half-guesses and common words in our languages like "pasta"! Now we're pros at ordering the Colombian set lunch!

Basically, you get to choose an item under each of the following food categories:
- Sopa y frutas: soup (usually with vegetables) or fruit
- Carnes: pollo (chicken) or carne (beef), cooked in different styles
- Principals: pasta, verdura (veggies), frijoles (beans, ugh), patatas fritas (chips) or ensalada (guacamole salad)
- Jugos: usually mora (raspberry), fresa (strawberry), mango (well, mango), lulo (passionfruit) or pina (pineapple)

Every plate comes with a serving of egg fried rice, salad and half a grilled banana. For COP 5,000 (US$2.50), it's awfully good-value-for money and leaves us stuffed till dinnertime.

Digging into our first hard-earned lunch at Don Rafa - sopa verdura, pollo, pasta y pina.

Not much choice when it comes to soup - it's always veggie soup with a mixture of root veggies and lentils. My favourite is ajiaco - which, due to some herb in it, is more tasty than regular soup

Set lunch at a restaurant in Zipaquira after visiting the Salt Cathedral. COP 6,000 (US$3) I had the fried chicken, which was REALLY good.

Back at Don Rafa - our favourite eatery. I had the sobrebarriga asada as the choice of meat - roast beef (from the flank of the cow, literally "over the belly") Muy muy decliciosa!

Other Restaurants in La Candelaria

We tried some of the other food offerings in the La Candelaria area. Each dish doesn't cost more than COP 4,500 (US$2.25). Smaller items like desserts or sweets, such as arroz con leche (a rice pudding with milk and topped with raisins) cost less.

Arepa con chorizo. Arepas are small doughy pancakes made of white corn. Totally tasteless, so it's usually served as a side as part of a bigger meal.

Banjera paisa - typically Bogotan. A massive serving of food comprising rice, minced beef, beans, an arepa, a chorizo sausage, a grilled banana, a slice of avocado and a huge slab of deep fried pork lard.

Tamal - reminded me alot of our meat dumpings (bak chang or zhong zi) back home. Instead of rice, corn meal is used to enclose the meat (usually chicken) and is then wrapped in leaves and steamed. Absolutely yummy. We ate it, together with Vincent from Taiwan, and lamented about missing Dumpling Festival (held in July) back home in Asia.

Chocolate Santefereño - a Colombian tradition. Hot chocolate served with a buttered bun, a puff pastry and slab of cheese. You dunk the cheese into the chocolate.

Western Tastes: We checked out a pizza place nearby which the hostel recommended. We also made a pilgrimage to a fastfood outlet serving fried chicken to satisfy Dan's cravings (no KFC here!)

Enjoying a simple set lunch at Pizza Poli - a slice of freshly-baked pizza and a drink for COP 4,400 (US$2.20)

Donning guantes (gloves) for his oily meal - fried chicken, salted baked potatoes, fried bananas, and a drink (COP 5,000 or US$2.50)

No fried chicken for me, thank you. I had pechunga a la plancha - grilled chicken breast for COP 6.000 (US$3) Also served with salted potatoes, fried banana and an arepa.

Street Food!

Everybody loves street food! And Bogota has plenty of it! There's grilled corn on the cob, meat skewers topped with a small potato, fresh slices of coconut or coconut candies cooked in brown sugar, hot black coffee poured from thermos flasks and served in tiny cups (called tinto), cut fruits (mango, papaya, guava) and fruit juices (like soursop or guanabana as it is called here.) I'm not really into skewered meat cooked on the streets but personally love anything sweet or doughy. Here are some of our favourite street snacks:

Empanadas - similar to the curry puff, but the pastry is made of corn meal instead of flour. Filled with chicken, beef or veggies and eaten with a variety of dips. Empanadas with meat cost about COP 1,300 or US$0.65.

Obleas are our favourite. Light, sweet and crispy. They must be really popular with the locals too cos there are dozens of vendors selling obleas on the streets. Depending on what spreads you choose, an oblea can cost anything between COP 1,000 to COP 2,000 (US$0.50-$1)

This vendor was very proud of her Mickey Mouse wafers

Choose from a selection of spreads - mora (raspberry jam), dulce de leche (sweetened milk), arequipa (caramel), queso (grated cheese) and peanuts.

We chose mora, arequipa and dulce de leche, which are spread on a wafer and sandwiched with another.

On Independence Day, we took a walk around Plaza Bolivar which was bursting with activity. Food vendors were out in full force. We discovered a couple of new food items served on carts, which are not usually seen on a normal day. We tried bunuelos and avena - which reminded me a little of the soya bean milk and pancake combo at home. Bunuelos are deep fried balls of cheesy dough, fried to a golden crisp on the outside but the inside remains white and fluffy. Avena is a chilled oatmeal drink which Colombians are raised on, as an alternative to milk. Apparently, most Latin Americans are highly lactose intolerant and don't take diary products.

The buñuelo y avena combo for COP 2,000 (US$1)

I don't know exactly what these are called - helatinas, I think. Basically sticks of marshmallow.

This guy was doing a roaring business on Independence Day. We caved in and bought a soft-serve ice-cream, topped with chocolate sauce and rainbow sprinkles for COP 800 (US$0.40)

At Montserrat (which we will do a blog entry on later), we came across a market place where various open-air stalls were hawking local delicacies. We gave the intestine stews and scary-looking sausages a miss though. We saw some people spooning into some colourful red and white snacks, which turned out to be cheesy curd paired with your choice of mermalada (marmalade - a huge slab of it!) or arequipa

Red and white - a new National Day snack for Singapore?

The panaderias - or bakeries - here are quite a draw. The bread and cakes aren't exactly unique, and don't taste very nice at times, but the aroma wafting from the street side ovens is just heavenly and we occasionally stepped into one to buy a bun or a Swiss roll.

A Swiss roll? Just after wiping out a super heavy lunch set at Zipaqueria.

Fruits: Typically tropical fare - like what we have back home: papayas, soursop, bananas, mango, guava and the imported stuff like apples and oranges. What really tickled my bones was this tiny tiny comb of bananas we came across while shopping at Carrefour, even smaller than the small pisangs we have at home.

A whole bunch can fit into the palm of my hand!

Coffee: What's a visit to Colombia without sampling Colombian coffee? Besides buying a cup of tinto from the coffee carts along the street, you can also enjoy a cuppa at one of the chic cafes like Juan Valdez. A cup here costs less than one at Starbucks (not that there are any Starbucks outlets here) and tastes really good! Except for an ocassional craving for a kopi-peng, I'm not a coffee-drinker (refuse to get entrenched in the I-need-a-coffee-to-start-the-day habit) and I hate coffee-breath, but just had to give the coffee here a go.

Queueing up for a cuppa at Juan Valdez - all prepared to place my order in Spanish

The courtyard at Juan Valdez is a nice place to relax and people-watch - as long as you make your way back before dark.


While food in Bogota is relatively cheap, dining in a restaurant would still cost more eating out back home at a coffee shop or hawker centre. To save money, we only eat out in the day because of the availability of cheap set lunches and it's safe to walk or take the bus during the daytime (or so we were lead to believe, until the stupid robbers found us.) If we went out at night, we would have to spend extra dough on cab fare.

Being rather lazy cooks, we are limited to eating either instant noodles or simple pasta dishes. We started off on the wrong note - trying to cook pasta with just basil pesto and nothing else (we hadn't discovered the cheap combo of sausages and ham packaged together at the supermarket yet.) It was DISGUSTING. I almost died from my own cooking and Dan accused me of trying to murder him.

Is my cooking really THAT hard to eat?!

We were saved from more bad food when we discovered pre-packaged Oriental-flavoured pasta (you just dump the whole packet into boiling water) going at 50% off at the nearby supermarket. However, we're pleased to annouce that through a daily trial-and-error process, I'm now churning out pretty good pasta for dinner every night! Whoo hoo! And I estimate that we're spending less than COP 4,000 (US$2) for a dinner for 2.

To wrap up, we are enjoying our food in Bogota and can't wait to sample other local delicacies in other parts of Colombia - even hormigas culonas - literally ants with huge asses in the Santader region!

Eat on!


Tracy Su said...

Yum yum YUMM!!

I LOVE tamale too, and yes they did remind me of bak chang. I've tried to make them, but corn husks aren't easy to come by generally.

The marmalade and cheesy combination looks like something people used to eat in the Middle Ages, the English called the cheesy stuff leach. Maybe from leche or something like that? Anyway, like it or not, your geeky fact for the day ;)

Stephanie said...

OMG!!! im drooling......... yummy food.:p

WeLoveRoy said...

I think only Singaporeans will get so excited about food! haha and good of you guys to reference the food pics to familiar tastes for us "office travelers" (People stuck in office but also traveling with you guys) Now I suddenly have craving for Bak Chang and Curry Puffs (Tip Top ones at AMK)


PS - Nice pictures again! :D

Yi Lin said...

Haha, yeah, there's so much to try here, all the different foods. My Spanish tutor here is complaining though - she says it all tastes the same. She's longing for Asian food - Chinese, Thai, Indian, Indonesian - cos she says that they are so much more flavorful cos of the use of different spices.

Liming said...

Nice pics of the food! Haha you didn't actually say that you tried the cow hoof thing...only that it looked like marshmallow? Objectively, how did it taste?

Yi Lin said...

I was holding one in my hand mah... and Dan only took one tiny bite, so I had the whole thing to myself :(

I didn't expect it to be soft like marshmallow. I thought it would be more doughy - like mochi? I'm not a fan of marshmallow so didn't like it very much at the onset. Even less now that I was told it's made from cow hooves. It was just uber soft and sweet, quite melt-in-your-mouth actually.

Dannie said...

And I am freakin' craving for mooncakes. I think they should be selling mooncakes by now! Sigh.

iluzdaf said...

The food in this post has this local/home cook kinda feel. Poor Ping Pong table relegated to dinner table.

Yi Lin said...

Yeah, initial impression of s.american cities is that they are a bit like asian cities. The traffic, crowds, hawkers, street food, cheap local fare. Quite exciting to explore. Don't worry, the ping pong table has quite a few games being played on it thru out the day - to the point of driving me batty with those pinging noises.

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