In Colombia, the dishes are often simple, like the standard lunch fare at local restaurants, where the menu offers a total of four options for the day, and everyone drinks the same juice and eats the same soup for a starter. Very little is spicy, and the most abundant resource is fruit. If you are visiting Bogota, try a little bit of everything—even if you only have one day, you can get a good idea of the local palete. Here are a few ideas to get you started on your one-day gastronomic tour of Colombia.
Before a long day of exploring Bogota, you´ll want something hearty to keep you going, say some milk, eggs, bread and cheese. Ask for a changua, and everything comes in one milky bowl of soup, where you can dig for the gooey, cheesy bread and smooth egg under its cilantro-sprinkled surface. Accompany that with fresh squeezed orange juice and a black coffee, tinto, and pay about the equivalent of three US dollars. And a tip from Colombian friends for anyone who is a bit sensitive to dairy; take a warm cup of straight lemon juice made from three fresh lemons, and you´ll be ready to take on the next dish!
When hunger hits mid-morning, drop by a street vendor for an arepa, cornmeal cake hot off a grill, slathered with butter and stuffed with cheese. Add chicken for protein, or search out the yellow colored arepa con maiz dulce, the sweet corn flavor adding a nice contrast to the traditional cheese.
Lunch in Colombia is the heaviest meal of the day, served around one in the afternoon. In this spirit, try the bandeja paisa, a traditional dish from the coffee-growing region. This dish represents a mixture of native and Colonial cuisine, including: sausages, arepa, white rice, ground beef, chicharron (pork rinds), patacon (plantain), fried egg, red beans, and avocado. Unless you´re really, really hungry, the junior size will probably suffice. Traditionally, the paisa will accompany this lunch with a fresh-squeezed, sweet lemonade.
Now that you´ve loaded up on proteins, search out a lighter dinner of ajiaco soup. Basically chicken soup broth with three types of potatoes, chicken, corn, and a little cream, ajiaco is one of the most internationally famous dishes Bogota offers.
A mainstay of Colombian desserts is something they refer to as arequipe, which in Argentina is called dulce de leche, and where I come from in the States, we call caramel. Made from sweetened milk and sugar, arequipe covers brownies, fills pastry puffs and caramelized fruits, or comes on it`s own in individual size cups. If you´re out in a plaza, find an oblea vendor for a round wafer covered in arequipe and jam, and, if you´re up for it, a sprinkling of hand-made cheese.
Tonight, you can go to bed full and happy—you´ve seen a lot of Colombia through your stomach!