In my cultural classes about Colombia, it was made clear that “American” applied to everyone in this hemisphere, so the proper term for someone from the U.S.A. was “unitedstatesian.” Of course, here in Bogota, if you say that you are from New York, then the Colombians will say that you are an “American” or a “gringo” … so… so much for that.
Bogota has many “American” grocery items but some of them are very hard to find. But, most of the main grocery stores (like Carulla, Jumbo, and Exito) carry “American” goods. The specialized produce store, Surtifruver, has a meat counter and a cheese store, Cava de Queso, inside their stores. Also many items can be found at the Carulla on Calle 84 is what I call the “expat” Carulla as they carry pickled herring from Sweden and other items that expats look for.
The following are some of the items that I have found hard to find, and where to find them:
Sweet potato: sometimes called the “Peruvian camote” as the orange fleshed American sweet potato is used in Peruvian ceviche dishes (like the one in the photo above). This can be found in Paloquemao, not just at Peter’s Chinese vegetable stall, but at more and more places. They can’t be found every time I visit, but with more and more frequency.
Kale: Now it’s even available in styrofoam containers at Paloquemao. Also can be bought at the organic shop on Calle 72, and more and more, at the mainstream grocery shops.
Chili: It is possible to find chilis in Carulla, Surtifruver, etc. but the Chile Lady of Paloquemao has a wide assortment, both fresh and dried.
Lemons: seen sometimes in Pricesmart (Costco) and I’ve heard, in Exito.
Spring onions: Oh, you can find them, but they aren’t the succulent tender kind that I’m looking for.
Thai basil: It can be had once in a while in the Surtifruver on Calle 85. But, if you ask at the herb stalls at Paloquemao…. you will get some other herb with tight small leaves.
Mint: Also, if you ask for “menthe” you will get handed something that doesn’t quite smell like you imagined. If you want biggish mint leaves, then ask for “yerbabuena” and it’ll be good in your summer rolls.
Fresh milk: At Carulla on Tuesdays (and other days but Tuesday seems to be delivery day). Also, can be had from some organic grocery delivery companies.
Mexican food in Bogota? This is one of the most common questions I get. Americans (gringos) are obsessed with “Mexican food” and cry about how they miss Chipotle (an American fast food chain specializing in large burritos etc.). Well, too bad. Or take yourself to Gringo Cantina on Calle 80, 12A-29 (behind the Atlantis mall — or go south on Carrera 11, turn right on Calle 80, and it will be on your left.) The facade is painted in pale pink and blue with large letters that declare: NO MAMES.
This Mexican cantina that has been open for a month now and it doesn’t suck (This is a reference for those who speak Mexican slang). The owner is an Californian with some Colombian roots. He started La Xarcuteria but has sold that concept and no longer has a connection to it. This cantina is his third concept in Bogota. Way to go, entrepreneur!
The owner, Mike, came over to talk to us. His tacos, both corn and flour, are made in house. He is excited to be in Bogota for the start of its culinary revolution (and education). His dishes are small, refined, and fresh. The best dishes are the taco al pastor, the tongue taco (get over it, it’s delicious! Look up, as it is the first one shown in this posting) which he serves so it looks nothing like a tongue for the queasy. Make his day and ask for the taco al pastor without the pineapple (it is too sweet and overpowers the meat).
The sauces are interesting with one made from eggplant/aubergine. The warm tacos are served on warm Colombian pottery which helps keep the freshness. The cold smoked scallop dish was subtle and fresh for those who do not like tacos (and those that do). I would not order the shrimp salad again and the owner admits that this dish is only there to cater to local tastes. I liked the quesadillas with their crunchy fried exteriors and greasy, cheesy, and REAL steak inside (no ground beef, no shredded beef). I enjoyed when Mike and I commiserated about the difference between hard and crunchy as I told him that I like his chicharone/pork rind tostada (an open tortilla that is toasted). Ah, the thrills of foodie geeks!
Dishes came out at a heady speed and Mike left us to eat before coming back for a chat about flavor, sous vide, freshness, seafood, and where to eat in Bogota (so I have a few more to try!). He also kept sending out free dishes for us to try (full disclosure — although this didn’t influence my opinions — it just let me try even more of the menu).
This is a new place so let’s hope it does well. And, yes, he does make a chipotle sauce.
Also: I apologize for the blurriness (and awfulness — the one above which I took quickly as I waited for tacos — to show where the restaurant is situated) of some of the photos… it’s hard to aim and eat at the same time. But, I wanted to post this as soon as possible for the masses… all 37 of you, my readers…