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A Taste of Colombia (via Brooklyn)

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 25 October 2011 | Views [7546]

Photo by Alisha Miranda

Photo by Alisha Miranda

Ask any traveler what their favorite part of a trip is and you can bet eating is at the top of the list. Food and travel go hand and hand, as they evoke memories and comfort which is often sought out by both locals and visiting travelers alike; so when returning home only to discover a neighborhood restaurant that takes you back to a destination through a single meal, you’re in luck.

Colombians in Brooklyn

In recent years, my borough of Brooklyn has become a trip for popular food-lovers seeking lively shops, weekly street fairs, traveling food trucks, and must-try fine dining venues. An abundance of global cuisines lie in just about every neighborhood, as Brooklyn is also home to an eclectic mix of proud nationalities, including Colombians. Having visited Colombia this past winter and being a devoted Brooklynite myself, my friends pointed me to Bogota Latin Bistro and Cafecito Bogota just a short subway ride away.

"It’s cultural and it’s home. It’s food I grew up being raised on and it’s food that I seek out when I'm really hungry," says Farid Lancheros, owner of Park Slope’s Bogota Latin Bistro, my first stop in this Colombian food tour.

As I wandered through many nooks and crannies of Bogota myself, I understood exactly what Farid spoke to. Colombia is a country of tradition and family, and at its capitol in Bogota, I often passed entire families feasting at snack stands or serving their neighbors at corner restaurants. Regional coffee and arepa creations in addition to fresh produce markets are what fuel the city day in and day out.

Sharing a meal

Food is prevalent in Bogota as it brings people together – whether you’re a regular in town or a visitor making new friends over a meal. Take the bandeja paisa, a lunch staple that offers everything but the kitchen sink: grilled steak, fried plantains (or patacones), fried pork chunks, rice and beans, with a side of arepa and avocado. This heavenly meat platter is recognized throughout the city, and was the first meal I shared with my host, then later shared with my new blogger friends teaching me history about Bogota, and finally the plate I taste tested at Bogota Bistro after my trip. As with any Colombian menu, you’ll find the same essentials: starches, meats, and veggies. No wonder the popular saying in Colombia follows “Breakfast - you eat like a king. Lunch you eat like a prince, and dinner you eat like a pauper,” to which Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations once quoted, “McDenny’s.”

“Part of our mission statement here is to elevate the status and awareness of Colombian cuisine. I feel that using superior products helps accomplish that mission,” says Farid.

Similarly, their friends at Cafecito Bogota in Greenpoint are taking an active role to spread Colombian love amongst the New York Latin community. Owner, Fernando Varela with his brothers and sisters are bringing an “urban brand of Colombia” outside of the notable Jackson Heights, Queens south of the border to northern Brooklyn. Opening first as a local coffee shop with brews straight from the motherland, Cafecito Bogota now offers an expansive menu including brunch specials and beloved by enthusiastic locals often seeking a hearty meal for a small fare.

Dining at both of these restaurants and meeting with the owners on my Bogota by way of Brooklyn tour, I was transplanted back to my trip through the tastes and smells of each dish brought out to me, and the joyful discourse we shared for family history. For Farid and Fernando, much like myself, keeping Colombian tradition alive through food is just one way to educate outsiders about their passions.

"It’s been a challenge to educate because people just don't know what Colombian food is,”  says Varela. “Colombian food has been led to be defined by two things: arepas and empanadas."

This new trend of finger food misinterpreted by many Americans is not real food according to Varela, a stereotype he continually struggles to fight. Here’s some tips about Colombian food: its very humble, organic food made from basic market ingredients. Rice dishes, soups, on-the-go snacks, small salads and potatoes, spiced meats – this what you’ll typically find in Colombian restaurants.

"Here's an opportunity right now … where I don't have to travel (to Bogota) anymore,” recalls Farid upon opening Bogota Bistro back in 2003. “I'm sure I can't be the only one who craves Colombian food, loves Colombian food, lives in Brooklyn, and wants Latin food in a very warm vibrant welcoming restaurant setting."

You’re not alone, Farid. 

Related Articles:

Weird and Wonderful: Authentic American Eats

A Taste of Peru

About the Author

Alisha Miranda is a certified Travel Geek. Recently, her travels have been featured on communities like Sosauce, Not For Tourists, Travel + Leisure, and Skillshare. She finds inspiration for travel through food, local curiosity, and the idea of creating global connections. Follow her next move at @makeshiftalisha. 

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Tags: america, brooklyn, colombia, food, usa

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