I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.
Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.
Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions… New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see… Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix. Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam. Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places. Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue. Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico. Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.
Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?
Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.
Folks told me that Lima’s Chinatown was not that exciting. I’m glad that people played it down. When I saw it for myself, I was pleasantly surprised.
Chinatown consists of a small pedestrian street with requisite arch and aura cleaners… and many shops and mini-malls in the surrounding streets. Chinatown is actually very close to Lima’s central square, the Plaza de Armas.
I was pleased to see that the Chinese stores also sold Thai curry paste and other rare items here in Peru.
In almost every shop, there were items that I did not recognize. That’s part of the fun of exploring.
Considering that the Chinese (mostly from Canton) got to Peru a bit after they got to California in the 1800s, in many ways, lots of Peruvian food is Chinese food. For example, the Peruvians love fried rice, “chaufa,” and eating Chinese food from a “chifa” is a normal part of life.
As I was checking out at one store, I noticed that a last minute “temptation” like chewing gum or candy, were snack packs of chicken feet (three, which I thought an odd number).
When I went a restaurant to get some fried rice and wanted to make sure that their recipe did not involve soy sauce, the owners of the restaurant TOLD me that I’d have it with soup (what is a meal without soup?) and they tried to teach me how to order “chaufa” without soy sauce. In Chinese.
****** Update February 21, 2016***** The rising trend of ramen shops has reached Colombia. Here are the ramen shops I’d say are the best. Actually, Ramen Factory’s noodles and pork combined with Tokyo Ramen’s broth served at Tomodachi would be the best.
Tokyo Ramen, Carrera 11 and Calle 98. 12/13: It’s probably the best ramen shop in Bogota, and the restaurant is perfectly nice to sit in when slurping. They are not open on Saturday night (and maybe not at all on Sundays?). They have a variety of items to eat. I’m not a huge fan of their pork, a rolled style with a slightly porky flavor (and not in my favorite sort of way). They have a variety of types of ramen.
Ramen Factory Tokai-No-Men, Calle 93B # 13-65, Centro Comercial VEI Plaza (down the street from Parque 93, after the Andres kiosk, inside a courtyard that whose entrance looks like a parking garage). 11/13: It’s the far left corner of a covered food court courtyard. The broth is a whitish color and the noodles are chewy in that good alkaline way. I liked the pork here as it’s tender pork belly. But most people would not be impressed with the iceberg lettuce or lack of seaweed in the soup. Also, this is truly a hole-in-the-wall sort of feel (not elegant at all as it’s located in a food court). I liked the place. For those who care about this sort of thing, the guy working here is Japanese. His gyozo/dumplings are fine.
Tomodachi, Diagonal 70A No. 4-66 (turn up the little hill at Bagatelle, and it will be on the left just before the butcher), 12/13: This place has the atmosphere down perfectly. The broth is not special. And the noodles are too bland with a tendency to get overcooked instantly. They are open 12-3 and again 7-10, even on Sundays. Also, this is the only of the ramen places in Bogota that serves the eggs soft boiled. Yum.
Arigato, Calle 80 No. 11 – 28. 10/13: It’s a large restaurant and the service is fine. Feels like a chain restaurant.
Sushigozen, Carrera 14 # 93B – 45. 10/13: I don’t like the their sushi but the bowl of ramen was okay.
Wok, various locations. 8/13: It’s not as bad as one might expect. It’s a chain.
I’ve also been to a restaurant called Ramen in Macarena. Not good.
Yup, I found the best place for Tokyo style ramen in Bogota. The restaurant is located at Carrera 11 and Calle 98, overlooking the little park between 11 and 12. (*** update January 5, 2016 **** Telephone number is 609 09 59. They are open Monday-Saturday from noon to 9:30 p.m. and on Sundays/holidays from noon to 6 p.m.)
They must cater to salarymen because they aren’t open for dinner on Saturdays, nor are they open on Sundays.
I enjoyed the soft tofu appetizer, the kontaksu (fried pork or chicken cutlet, here served on fried noodles as light as air), and the calamari which were soft and tender.
Some people would probably like me to keep this place a secret. Ooops.
“Prepare to have your mind blown,” said Mr. X. I stepped into Afternoon Tea, a two-month old Taiwanese bakery and I was indeed bowled over to find such a delicious bakery. Their baked goods, especially the Taiwanese cream bun, were soft and sweet. They also make bubble tea (tapioca balls were pretty good with a bit of chew at the center) with fresh juices. I had passion fruit today but I’ll be back to try the others. Supposedly, soon, they will have the red bean paste buns as well. They are located on Carrera 15, No. 94-51 and they have plans to expand, including providing delivery (domicilio as it’s called here). Their cakes are delicious too. I ordered a cake to take to a birthday and for 45,000 Colombian pesos (about $22), I got a spongy delightful eight-inch white cake decorated with fruit. Their cheesecake is good. Not cloying but it does have fibers from the fresh mango and passion fruit (thanks for the roughage in my diet). They can also make a chocolate cake with alcohol, but I haven’t tried it so I don’t know how it is. ***I was in for a chat when I picked up my cake and I commented that they should post photos on their Facebook page… and they did! I hope that they’ll soon post delicious food photos…
It was a great day for finding Asian (or “oriental” as they call it here) grocery supplies. Earlier, I found the Global Gourmet on Carrera 14, No. 90-12, and nearly collapsed from joy at finding fresh tofu, edamame, fish sauce, wonton wrappers, sesame oil, sesame seeds, peanut oil, woks, chopsticks, mango chutney, seaweed, green curry paste, cookbooks, rice bowls, miso paste, tapioca flour, somen noodles, rice noodles, 10 kilo bags of rice, and so much more. Unfortunately, they do not have fresh vegetables. Not a cheap store but at least they have all sorts of hard to find items. They have been open for nine years so there must be someone buying the goods. The folks in Afternoon Tea didn’t even know about this store.
Then, I found the Asian section at Jumbo, the mega supermarket near Calle 110, No. 9B – 4 (like a Walmart) located in the Santa Ana mall. This mall also has a taxi service in the basement so it’s easy to catch a cab home with one’s groceries.
For kimchi, I bought some at the Casa de Coreana restaurant, Calle 104A, No. 11B-61. It cost 10,000 Colombian pesos ($5) for about a pint. It was acceptable, and according to the lady in the restaurant, the best in town. We’ll see.
Carulla also sells some imported goods like sushi seaweed and rice.
Now, the most difficult part of shopping for Asian food is finding vegetables. I found out from the folks at the Taiwanese bakery that Paloquemao market sells Asian vegetables on Tuesday mornings.
I’ll update this as I find more sources. Later, I’ll blog about the Asian restaurants… as I taste test them.
If anybody knows of more sources of Asian food or good Asian restaurants in Bogota, please share this with me by commenting or sending me an email at email@example.com. Thanks!
Someone told me that Maki Roll, a restaurant, was also an Asian grocery store. I went to investigate. The restaurant smelled of bulgogi and sesame oil. They had a few items for sale in the glass counter and on the shelf between the kitchen and the cash register. They sell Korean spicy ramen (which makes them the only place to carry this brand so far). They also sell kimchi (not as good as Casa de Coreana’s), individually prepped seaweed, and kochikang, the spicy Korean red paste.
All in all, between these stores, it is possible to almost find everything I’d need to make the basics of Korean food. Tonight, there’s a bag of bulgogi beef happily marinating away.
An easy flight from Dhaka and you are suddenly in Singapore (so clean that I was smitten but not bitten). The soup dish called “laksa” is delicious cheap food (around $4)… and not just because Tony Bourdain said so! Take the number 14 bus to check another thing off the bucket list.