Las Margaritas: Traditional Bogotano Cuisine in the heart of Chapinero

Once upon a time, Chapinero was one of Bogotá’s nicest areas. Wealthy families lived in what is now one of the city’s largest and oldest neighborhoods (after La Candelaria and Teusaquillo). Over the years, the area has become slightly run down and gritty, which has its charm and gives the neighborhood a distinct personality.

Old Bogotá

Given its history, Chapinero has seen a lot. People, restaurants and shop owners have come and gone, but for the last 110 years, Las Margaritas hasn’t stopped serving up traditional santafereño or bogotano fare. What kind of food is that? Well, to start it isn’t pretentious or fancy but definitely flavorful and filling.

For example, the well-known ajiaco – a Bogotá icon. This hearty soup is made with three kinds of potatoes – criolla, sabanera and pastusa – a native herb called guasca, and additions like chicken, corn on the cob, avocado, capers, cream and ají. At Las Margaritas you can go old school and order ajiaco with a whole chicken quarter on the side, or you can choose the easy route and order it with shredded chicken already in the soup, like me.

Another popular dish is the puchero bogotano. Only served on Thursdays, this stew gets its name from the clay pot in which it was originally cooked in Spain. When the conquistadors came to Colombia they brought their food with them and the rest is history. Some ingredients have changed here and there over the years, but the idea remains the same.

The meats and vegetables (beef, chicken, chorizo, plantain, yucca, arracacha, cabbage, potato and corn) are all cooked in the broth, but when it comes to serving time, the broth comes out first and the rest comes out afterwards smothered in hogao (onion and tomato mixture). It’s a feast to be sure and you definitely get your money’s worth.

Other popular dishes include sobrebarriga, lengua (beef tongue), and breakfast with the works (tamal, changua, hot chocolate, etc.).

For a bit of Bogotano history makes sure to stop at Las Margaritas (also a stop on the Bogotá Eats & Drinks Food Tours) and don’t even think of leaving without trying the empanadas. According to Julio Rios, the owner of Las Margaritas, they are the “ferrari of empanadas” and account for almost half of the restaurants earnings.

Las Margaritas

Calle 62 # 7-77

Tel: (+57 1) 249-9468 / 345-3156

Mon-Thurs 12:00-4:30 p.m.

Friday 12:00 – 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Sunday and holidays 8:00a.m. – 6:30p.m.

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Posted in Andean cuisine, Bogotá, Colombia, Culinary History, Eats | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Top 5 things I did (and ate) in Boston, MA

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I got back from my vacation to Boston. The idea wasn’t to let this much time go by before writing up a quick post about the trip, but I guess it’s better late than never. Here are some highlights and things I’d recommend if you’re visiting Beantown:

1) Boston North End Market Tour – This was pretty much THE highlight for me because I didn’t just do it for fun but also as research for the Bogotá Eats & Drinks Food Tours. Al was our guide and he was great, leading us around the neighborhood to several stores in the North End. We snacked on Italian pastries, meats, cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegar along the way. The day after the tour we went back to Monica’s for an Italian sub. So. Good.

Monica's Mercato

2) Lobster Roll at Belle Isle Seafood – I watch No Reservations every week even if it’s an episode I’ve seen more than once (unfortunately in Colombia, it usually is). So one thing I did before going to Boston was to find out where Tony ate, because even though I don’t know the guy, I trust him when it comes to food. That’s how we ended up at Belle Isle Seafood. There was so much lobster on that roll that you could barely pick it up. It was heavenly, the weather was perfect and we ate outside on a concrete block overlooking Logan airport. Thanks, Tony.

Belle Isle lobster roll

3) Urban Adventours Bike Tour – Going on a bike tour was also a combination of fun and research, and a lot like the food tour, it exceeded our expectations. It was the perfect way to get to know Boston and work in a little exercise after all the eating we’d been doing. Boston is a great town for biking, so if you’re considering doing a tour of the city, please don’t jump on a bus tour – go green and bike it.

UrbanAdventours bike tour

4) Tamarind Bay – I had read a lot about Tamarind Bay before getting to Boston so when we walked right past it in Harvard Square, we decided it should be our dinner. It’s won several awards which is good, but aside from that everything we ordered was fantastic. I love Indian cuisine and we only have about two Indian restaurants to choose from in the entire city of Bogotá so this was a real treat. (No picture available – I was too busy eating.)

5) Otto Pizza – I love pizza. I haven’t really led on to that on this blog because it’s about Bogotá and all but…I really do love pizza. So, after a long day of attending Harvard graduation ceremonies we stopped by this pizza joint from Portland, ME for a quick bite to hold us over till dinner. Otto’s did not disappoint.

Mushroom and ricotta pizza

Mushroom and ricotta pizza at Otto’s – Cambridge, MA

Well, that’s my top 5 for Boston. We packed so many activities and eating into 4 glorious long, sunny days, that I really couldn’t list everything. There was also the dim sum in Chinatown, a soft pretzel in Quincy Market, New England clam chowder at Legal Seafoods, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, local handcrafted beers, perfect spring weather and long days (not to mention the Cuban food eaten at MIA during our layover) which all made for a great vacation.

Thank you, Boston and Happy 4th of July!

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An introduction to Colombian cuisine: 5 places to get started

(Guest Post for See Colombia Travel)

Last week I wrote my first guest post for the lovely folks over at See Colombia Travel Colombia Travel Blog. I listed my top 5 restaurants for typical Colombian cuisine in Bogotá. How did I narrow it down to these 5 (plus one bonus) restaurants? Well, it wasn’t easy but quality of food, ambience, price and personality were all factors. Check out my list and let me know what you think…

Gallina (hen) has been served at El Piqueteadero Doña Nieves for 65 years! This family-run establishment strives to keep the recipes just as they were back when the restaurant was founded.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Bogotá for Colombian food?

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Ají: Colombia’s answer to hot sauce

Colombian food is not spicy and aside from a handful of Colombians I know, most aren’t particularly fond of very spicy food. Regardless, this thing we call ají is by far one of Colombia’s most popular condiments and, as its name implies, ají is in fact spicy.

That’s because the word “ají” means chili pepper in Spanish and is also the name given to several variations of this spicy condiment that can go on everything from empanadas to soups to boiled potatoes (like the boiled salted potatoes shown below – papa salada), and so much more.

Ají de Aguacate, Ají de Maní, Ají Casero, Ají de Huevo

At home there is, without fail, always an argument over how spicy to make the ají. Some family members like it HOT (like me and my dad) other family members like it mild. So mild, in fact that according to my dad it’s just a cilantro sauce. I agree. Ají should be spicy, hence the name! But to each his own…

That said, ají reminds me in a way of the preparation of garam masala in India. Each family has its own recipe, with a little more of this or that, or variations that have evolved over the years and sometimes have even been passed on from generation to generation.

The following recipes are basic road maps but once you taste the final product, you might want to tweak the amount of chili (or even leave the seeds in), or add more cilantro, water, vinegar, or maybe even something else to suit your taste.

So let’s begin with the basic ají casero – the ají that most people make in their homes and which you’ll find in restaurants and along side every empanada being sold on the street. While the recipe is basically the same across the board, you’ll find slight variations depending on the person making it. A lot of people put oil in theirs – no one in my family ever has. Some people add more tomato, others none at all. I add mostly cilantro and a little tomato if I happen to have some on hand. Some even go so far as to add parsley, vinegar and oil which practically turns our ají into chimichurri.

Whichever you choose and whatever your final recipe looks and tastes like, I’m sure you’ll be reaching for it often…

Ají Casero

Ají Casero

  • 1-2 chili peppers, seeded and finely minced (the variety you choose depends on how hot you want your ají – habanero is a good one if you like it really hot!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, or more to taste
  • Water

Place the finely chopped chili peppers, salt and vinegar in a small non-reactive bowl (wooden or ceramic works well). Set aside while preparing the other ingredients. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and combine. Add enough water to loosen the mixture slightly to a “saucy” consistency.

Ají de Maní (Peanut):

Ají de maní comes from a city called Popayán, the capital of the Department of Cauca. It’s usually served with empanadas or tamales de pipián, also typical of the region. Now that I started making it though, I like to put it on everything or even use it as a dip.

  • 1/2 cup stock (I used beef but you can use chicken or veg)
  • 1/2 pound raw, shelled peanuts, roasted
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts chopped
  • 3-4 chili peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, or more to taste
  • 1 hard boiled egg, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt to taste

Place the roasted peanuts and stock in a food processor. Blend until the mixture reaches a uniform consistency. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until everything is incorporated. If the mixture is too thick, add more stock (or lemon juice) until you reach the desired consistency. 

Ají de Maní

Ají de Huevo (Hard-boiled egg):

My Dad remembers this ají de huevo from his childhood, but somewhere along the line people stopped making it. I’m not sure why because I think it’s pretty amazing. A little unusual but very special – the yolk turns into a creamy saucy consistency when mixed with the vinegar and lime juice.

  • 2 chili peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime juice

Place the finely chopped chili peppers, salt and vinegar in a small non-reactive bowl – set aside while preparing the other ingredients.  Combine all remaining ingredients.

So there you have 3 recipes for ají. I haven’t included the recipe for ají de aguacate because it basically entails mashing up some avocados and adding some of the ají casero and a chopped up hard boiled egg. It’s very much like a guacamole but runnier because native Colombian avocados have a slightly higher water content – therefore more of a sauce than a salsa consistency.

Have fun experimenting and adjusting these recipes to suit you and your family’s taste. If your family is anything like mine, you might end up making two batches – one normal batch with lots of chili and one for the wimps 😉

Posted in Andean cuisine, Bogotá, Colombia, Eats, Ingredients, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sunday at Usaquén’s Flea Market

If you come to Bogotá, you shouldn’t miss Usaquén. It’s worth going on any day of the week to stroll down cobblestone streets lined with colonial buildings and eat at one of its many restaurants – but Sundays are special in Usaquén. Take a look at this post I wrote for Proexport’s Official Blogger program and you’ll understand why….

Usaquén’s Central Plaza

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La Xarcuteria: original handcrafted sausages in Bogotá

La Xarcuteria is more than just a sausage shop. For me, it satisfies like comfort food but also impresses with its creative combinations, adding something new and different to the casual dining scene. That’s why I’d rate  it as one of the most exciting new restaurants in Bogotá at the moment.

It has all the makings of a great establishment: nice ambience, fantastic food, attention to detail, and even great music – I mean, how often do you hear the Grateful Dead in Bogotá?! Not often enough, in my opinion.

Homemade sausages or salchichas are their specialty but I didn’t try one on my first visit. I was drawn to the cheeseburger, cooked medium rare with real cheddar cheese (imported). I also chose fried chicken hearts with alioli dipping sauce to accompany my burger. “They’re like nothing you’ve ever tasted”, I was told. And they were right. I’ve been back 3 times and ordered  chicken hearts with each meal.

Aside from the highly recommended cheeseburger, there’s a variety of handcrafted sausages like: boudin blanc, chorizo, pork sausage, chicken sausage, a thai beef sausage with rice noodles (you can see pieces of noodle through the casing), and specials like italian and andouille sausage.

Each one comes in a toasted bun with a topping that perfectly complements the sausage (like the chicken sausage with green apple and fennel slaw, pictured below).

The place has great colors, lighting and a long mirror that makes the narrow space feel a lot bigger than it is. On two out of three visits the service was perfect; the third time was a little spotty but that won’t stop me from going back.

What truly counts is the work that goes into the handcrafted sausages, the creative fried side dishes (fritos) and the specials. You’ll be tempted with fried cauliflower and capers, philly cheese steak au jus, bbq ribs, and for you Canadians, there’s even poutine on the menu. It’s not a terribly extensive menu but everything sounds so appealing that it’s difficult to decide on what to eat.

French Fries / Chicken Hearts

La Xarcuteria serves a dressed up version of comfort food that suits me just fine and continues to set the bar higher for other restaurants of its kind in Bogotá.

La Xarcuteria

Carrera 15 No. 83-52

Tel: 256-6652

Web: http://www.laxarcuteria.com.co/

Follow La Xarcuteia on Facebook and Twitter.

All the sausages are available uncooked to take home.

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South American Gastronomy on wheels…

Check out this post I wrote for Proexport’s Official Blogger’s site about a Colombian chef who is biking his way around South America to learn more about the continent’s gastronomy.

A few days after I posted this, Diego Moreno emailed me to say he had arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia and got news of the post. Check out his blog where he posts occasional updates on his journey.

Posted in Colombia, Gastronomy, Travel | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Guama – A sweet pod with a fun seed

Guama (Inga feuilleei) is a rather peculiar “fruit” that can sometimes be found on carts around Bogotá. I had never tried it but always heard about it because of a Colombian saying that goes, “salió como pepa de guama“.

The seeds are a lot like slippery watermelon seeds but a lot bigger, and when you squeeze them between your fingers they shoot out like little erratic projectiles. So the saying, “como pepa de guama” (like a guama seed), is used when someone or something leaves very quickly – a lot like a “bat out of hell”, is my approximation.

This “fruit” is actually not a fruit at all but a legume, like carob or tamarind, with large greenish brown pods that can reach the length of a person’s forearm. Other sources place it in a sub-category of “cotton fruit” along with guanabana and mangosteen, among others, which explains why it’s sometimes called the “ice cream pod” because of the sweet cotton-like flesh that surrounds the seeds.

Yes, it definitely feels like a moist cotton ball in your mouth, which is a little strange, but it has a mild sweetness that is rather pleasant. It probably won’t knock your socks off but it’s a nice little “fruit”.

The guama tree is native to Central and South America and people sometimes use it to make fruit juice, although I’ve never seen guama juice being sold anywhere in Colombia – or Bogotá, at least. What seems to be its main purpose is to provide shading for coffee and cacao plantations, while its abundant fruit provides some sustenance for families that live in the vicinity of the tree – or for curious people riding around ciclovía in the rain.

One pod costs $1,000 pesos (a little over 50 cents).

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The 7 Links Challenge: A look back at Bogotá Eats & Drinks

The 7 Links Challenge was created by Tripbase.com in order to “unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.”

Me eating a tamal or doing research for Bogotá Eats & Drinks

And now here I am, happy to have been nominated by the good people at the See Colombia travel blog to dust off some old posts and share a few of my most memorable blogging moments with my readers.

Before I get going though, I must nominate 5 other bloggers to choose some of their best, most beautiful and proudest moments. So, here are my nominees from the blogosphere:

Mantaraya Colombia Travel Blog: Drew is also part of Proexport’s Official Blogger Program. You’ll find all kinds of useful and insightful articles about Colombia here and plenty of reasons to come visit.

Mike’s Bogotá Blog: Mike, another fellow Official Blogger, writes about current issues in Colombia. With everything from cultural to political and every day topics, you’re sure to learn something new about Colombia on every visit.

Mis Aventuras Gastronomicas en Bogotá: This blog is in Spanish and has some great restaurants reviews, recipes, tips and more. Roni makes some great observations about Bogotá’s dining scene and even has an online radio program where he interviews Colombian chefs and foodies.

Brickell Life: Chad’s blog is one way I can stay in touch with Miami so I don’t lose touch with my home town. Some of his topics include Colombia, his balcony garden and Miami history.

Eggton: A friend introduced me to this blog a few months ago and I’ve been following it ever since. It’s always a good laugh plus there’s a recipe with every post and pictures of Thunder, the puppy.

And now, without further ado, here are my 7 Links:

The Most Beautiful Post:

El Cocuy National Park, Boyacá (and a little lamb)

Laguna Grande de la Sierra seen from the top of Pan de Azúcar

The pictures just don’t do it justice, but I think my most beautiful post was one I wrote about my trip to the Cocuy National Park in Boyacá. This 5-day trekking adventure was rough but totally worth it.

The Most Popular Post:

Andrés Carne de Res in Chia & Andrés D.C.

andrés carne de res chia

Andrés Carne de Res, Andrés D.C. and La Plaza de Andrés always, without question, get the most attention on the blog. It’s not really all that surprising – these places are special for so many reasons and definitely worth a visit.

The Most Controversial Post:

My Menu Collection: Or a mild case of kleptomania

This is my most controversial post because it involves stealing…just a little bit and only sometimes. The menu above is my most recent acquisition. I sneakily rolled it up and stuffed it into the sleeve of my jacket. Then, to my horror, I saw a security guard checking everyone on their way out of Andrés at 3 a.m. I panicked as the guard started patting me down, but when she discovered my hidden treasure, she just smirked and let me go – turns out I wasn’t stealing after all.

The Most Helpful Post:

Panela in sickness and in health

In case you didn’t know, agua de panela is something you drink in Colombia as soon as you feel a cold coming on. It has properties that help you sweat out the sickness and recover but it’s also great served chilled on a hot day.

The Post Whose Success Most Surprised Me:

Nick’s: Bogotá’s Go-To Deli

This post’s success surprised me because it got a lot more views than any other post before it. This may well have been the blog post that marked the turning point for the Bogotá Eats & Drinks – from something of a hobby, to a blog that people were actually reading.

The Post That Didn’t Get The Attention it Deserved:

El Motorista and Chiguiro Meat 

This was one of my first posts ever; you could say it was the meal that inspired a blog. Chiguiro is a large rodent and a damn tasty one at that. It deserves a lot more attention and a better reputation.

The Post I’m Most Proud Of:

Colombia’s Official Blogger Program Takes Off

Official Bloggers - Photo courtesy of http://seecolombia.travel/

I’m going to take See Colombia’s lead and make this my proudest moment too. It’s been a good year so far for Bogotá Eats & Drinks. First, I was selected to be among 30 other bloggers to write about Colombia and promote the country to the world. The blog was also nominated for Best Latin American Weblog for the 2012 Bloggie Awards (Congratulations to Banana Skin Flip Flops who ended up winning in that category!).

So that’s that – this trip down memory lane by way of 7 Links has been a good time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Here’s to a lot more eating and a lot more posts to come…

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Colombian Fruit Juices – A Love Story

Photo by flickr user indigo

Guest post by Drew Sullivan of Mantaraya Colombia Travel Blog

When it comes to lubricating a dry throat, freshly squeezed fruit juice is as good as it gets. The sweet, natural, aromatic flavors of fresh fruit trample over that of soft drinks. Sadly in the western world, freshly squeezed fruit juice is practically a delicacy and you can expect to pay far more for it than its infinitely inferior artificial counterpart.

Before I moved to Bogotá Colombia my fruit juice field consisted of apple, orange, watermelon, lemon, pineapple, mango and maybe a few others. I may have been a fresh fruit juice fanatic, but I was an imposter; utterly ignorant to the depth of the fresh fruit juice world. It was like I listened to one album of Miles Davis and called myself a Jazz aficionado. Colombia opened my eyes. It took me to nectar nirvana and now I’ll never go back.

You see in Colombia, freshly squeezed fruit juice doesn’t discriminate. It’s enjoyed equally by people of all socio-economic levels. At lunchtime it’s often a free accompaniment to the meal. Glass, after glass, after glass, of heavenly sweet freshly squeezed fruit juice. In the street you can buy half a liter for a dollar. Or a fruit juice ice block for 30 cents. And that’s just the beginning…

Colombia has over 150 different types of commercial fruits. Yes that 0 is meant to be there. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY. That is why I say that apple, orange, watermelon, lemon, these are the Miles Davis of fruit juice; merely the tip of the old iceberg.

Photo by flickr user Hembo Pagi

Ever heard of Lulo? Guanabana? Maracuya? Feijoa? Zapote? These are no doubt what Colombians would call the Joe Arroyo of Salsa. But to me, they’re as exotic as a curly haired Caribbean woman with coconuts for clothes. Damn, I could drink them by the bucket load.

Unlike in the West, Colombian fruit juice is not actually freshly squeezed but rather freshly blended, with water (or milk) and often a little sugar. This results in a much larger swig from your fig and it surprisingly doesn’t produce a watery taste.

Colombian fruit is an unchartered, mouth-watering and healthy world begging to be discovered. Being the most biodiverse country on the planet for its size, Colombia has an unfathomable diversity of ecosystems, each with their own flora and fauna and collection of fruits. Indeed, some fruits can only be found in one particular valley in one specific region of the country. No one has ever documented every fruit that grows in Colombia and I doubt that anyone ever will. But for now, I’ve got 150 on the cards which I can’t wait to start blending!

About the Author: Drew Sullivan arrived in Colombia after riding his motorcycle 20,000kms solo around South America. He now lives in Bogotá and works as a travel writer for Mantaraya Travel, a leading travel company offering tours to Colombia. You can find more of Drew’s stories and videos on Colombia at http://www.mantarayatravel.com/blog and follow him on facebook and twitter @mantarayatravel.


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