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Culinary Colombia

Culinary Colombia
Sorting coffee at San Alberta

My first encounter with the flavors of Colombia occurred in Buenos Aires last April while wandering the streets surrounding the San Telmo market. Guiding trips is hard work and after close to three weeks on the road leading a group of Wildland travelers on our Hikers Patagonia Anniversary Adventure, I was famished and on a personal mission to eat every empanada I could get my hands on. Fortunately they were in no short supply that Sunday with countless people selling the steaming, savory pockets of beef, chicken and potato mixtures from grocery carts on the street. Out of the fifteen or so I consumed, the one that stood out was the ‘Colombian style’ empanada which had a fried cornmeal crust and came with a little cup of spicy sauce that I came to know as aji picante. I stood there in the market crowd, relishing every moment with this newfound food obsession but when I turned toward the vendor to purchase another one, he had disappeared, never to be found by me again.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m a little food obsessed. My mom tells me that even as an infant and toddler, I’d make little joyful noises while eating something that pleased me or develop an instant foul mood if an anticipated jar of baby food or handful of cereal failed to impress. The simple equation of good food + me = joy continues to this day and on every journey to a new country, I look forward to experiencing the place through the local cuisine and the people that create it. Culinarily speaking, Colombia was outstanding with so many unique twists on Latin staples like fresh ceviche in coconut milk, wonderful, tender cuts of beef with a variety of zesty sauces to accompany (sorry Argentina…I think Colombia does beef better!), fluffy arepas, hearty Ajiaco (maybe the ultimate chicken soup), some of the best coffee in the world, a budding artisan chocolate industry, fresh tropical fruit and of course those dreamy little cornmeal empanadas. Here are a few photos and a recipe for Ajiaco Bogotano so you too can enjoy a traditional Colombian meal, though I’d recommend going to the source at some point...


Fruit vendor in Cartagena


Growing cacao in the Coffee Triangle    
Amazing spread; beef three ways, arepas con queso and papas criollas

Ajiaco Bogotano: (Colombian Chicken and Potato Soup) Extremely popular in Bogota but found throughout the country, this hearty soup usually contains chicken, three kinds of potatoes and is served with corn, avocado slices, capers and cream for garnish. A regional herb called guascas lends the dish a unique flavor. Recipe is adapted from www.hungrysofia.com which had the closest version to what I enjoyed in Bogota.

  • 1 whole chicken breast, with skin (halved)
  • ½ large yellow onion, quartered
  • 4 scallions 2-3 springs of cilantro
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, sliced and quartered
  • 1 pound red potatoes, sliced and quartered
  • 3 scallions, well rinsed and trimmed but whole
  • 2 springs of cilantro, plus more for garnishing
  • 1 heaping tablespoon dried guascas (Colombian herb, similar to a daisy – found dried in Latin groceries) 
  • 1 pound papas criollas, fresh or frozen (buttery, golden potatoes or yucca can be substituted) 
  • 2-3 ears of corn, cut into 3”-inch pieces 

Optional toppings:

  • Heavy table cream (Crema Mexicana by Cacique offers the most authentic flavor) 
  • Capotes (large capers)
  • Ripe avocados, sliced
  • Cilantro, finely chopped 

Put the chicken breast, yellow onion, scallions, cilantro, garlic, salt and peppercorns with 6-8 cups water to cover in a large saucepan or stockpot. Bring to a high simmer. Lower heat and gently simmer until cooked through – about 20 minutes. Off heat, remove chicken from broth, wrap in foil and set aside. Remove scallions and cilantro and discard. (Optional suggestion: brown chicken breast, onions and garlic with a little olive oil in bottom of pot first for more flavor)

Return broth to a high simmer and add russet potatoes, red potatoes, fresh scallions, and cilantro. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and adding more hot water as needed, until the russet potato begins to fall apart and the soup thickens, about 30 minutes. Stir in guascas. Add papas criollas and corn and continue to simmer until cooked through, 10-15 minutes. (You can also let the soup simmer for another hour or more to develop flavor) When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into pieces, discarding the skin and bones. Put shredded meat back into soup.

Pour into bowls and garnish with table cream, capotes, and cilantro. Serve with sliced avocado and you're ready to enjoy!


For dessert - a selection of street-sweets


Your friendly foodie,
Kirsten Gardner
Sailing the Nubian Sands
Beautiful in Borneo

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