Bogota: Empanadas, Savory Fruit Recipes, and Expanding Palates

New friends in Bogota

New friends Luis and Jennie (Bogota, Colombia)

New friends Luis and Jennie (Bogota, Colombi

During our second day in Bogota, we were lucky to meet up with a friend of a friend, Luis & Jennie (thanks again, Steph!). Luis is a native Bogotian, however he had spent the last 7 years living abroad in San Paulo and Paris.  Jennie is originally from Phoenix, but has lived abroad in Rio and Paris the past few years.  Jennie and Luis met during an MBA program in Paris and both moved to Bogota within the past few months.

We spent most of the day with Luis exploring parts of Bogota often overlooked by tourists as Jennie was interning at a prominent local restaurant.  Our first stop was a joint bakery and liquor store where many of the working professionals stop to socialize after work.  You can buy a bottle and enjoy it with cheese, meats, or a pastry right in the store – on the weekends they have music.  We tried pan de yucca and arepas de quesillo.  The pan de yucca (bread made of yucca) is shaped like a gigantic croissant, delicious and airy with a hint of butter and queso fresco inside.  It was so good I wish I had another one.  I wasn’t as crazy for the arepas de quesillo – the sweet corn masa was a bit too sweet and I’m not as big of a fan of the melted cheese.

Oldest restaurant in Bogota?
After teaching us how to take the locals bus (the bus color has nothing to do with the route, but rather the bus company, ha!), Luis took us to one (if not) the oldest restaurant in the city, La Margarita, which opened in 1902. The current manager actually went to college in Arlington, Texas. His original plan was to go to A&M (Matt’s alma mater), but changed his mind went he discovered that it was in the middle of cow pastures. Before we left he shared his favorite Aggie joke.  [There was a restaurant in College Station that used to serve iced tea, but one fall, they only served hot tea.  When a person asked the manager what happened to the iced tea, the manager said, “The senior who used to make our ice has graduated.”]

Matt enjoys empanadas and masato at La Margerita (Bogota, Colombia)

Matt enjoys empanadas and masato at La Margerita (Bogota, Colombia)

We shared some of the best pork and potato empanadas and a local fermented rice drink, masato.  The empanadas were not large like the ones I’ve seen in the US or other parts of Latin America, but rather the size of a roll of quarters. The empanadas were noteworthy because they wasn’t much dough and more emphasis on the filling.  Masato has a vinegary taste, Matt thought it tasted a bit like kombucha.   It really wasn’t to my taste, so I could only have a few sips.

We had appetizers at La Margarita to avoid the big lunch crowd at our eventual lunch destination.  We discussed the local food culture.  For workers, lunch is typically an hour, and not typical to drink alcohol at lunch.  Dinner is around 8PM, much earlier than Argentina and Spain.  He explained that it is very common to order delivery with friends.  It is hard to make reservations at a restaurant for a combination of reasons.  Everyone runs on Colombian time, and it is hard to get a reliable count of the number of people who will show up at a given time.  People have relatively larger houses in Bogota, so there is ample space to entertain in the house.  This has created a large restaurant delivery business in Bogota.

Jennie seeks to expand Bogotian’s palates with local and fresh ingredients
We met up with Jennie at Juan Valdez*, Colombian’s Starbucks.  During a 6 month trip to Italy, she was informally trained in the kitchens of Italian grandmothers.  She had always enjoyed to cook, but never thought of making it her profession until she saw that as a common theme in her work.  She is currently interning with a prominent Colombian chef, honing her skills and gaining restaurant experience.

She is hoping to open up a Mediterranean restaurant, focusing on locally-sourced and organic ingredients.  She notes the amazing tropical fruit available.  Traditionally, sweet fruits have not been incorporated into Colombian savory dishes, but she hopes to use fruits in innovative ways that will change our vision of Bogotian cuisine.  She says figuring out the sourcing for organic produce may pose as a challenge.  Jennie also hopes to introduce more lamb in everyday diet, as there are many wool farms near Bogota.

Jennie is still exploring the city and learning about the culinary culture.  From her observation, Bogota is a fairly conservative city in both their dress and palate, as most of the restaurants serve traditional Colombian dishes that have been passed on through the generations.  However, there has recently been a shift to more different types of cuisine, perhaps due to the influx of foreigners and local entrepreneurs that have opened international restaurants.

Cooking as a social group activity
To meet more people in Bogota, Jennie and Luis have joined a social group in which a group rotates houses for a cooking lesson, then share a meal together.  The group consists of mostly foreign transplants or Bogotians who have lived abroad.  It is a great way to share different culinary perspectives and meet (and get together with) new friends.  Jennie is toying with the idea of hosting pop-up dinners, for friends, then expand through word of mouth.

Interestingly enough, as we walk down the street, we pass a Hooters.  She says that Bogotians love the idea of American chain restaurants.  (There are Colombian versions of Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle).  In her opinion, the Colombian versions miss the mark just a bit, but nevertheless are very popular.

*Although Colombia is known for their coffee, Jennie laments that the quality is not consistent at this chain, but that she does like our particular location.

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