Breakfast is one of my favorite meals (well, so are: brunch, elevenses, lunch, sobremesa, linner, high tea, supper, dinner, natmad “nightmeal”, and stumble-home-greasy-and-spicy-mouthful…). Some people consider eggs to be a vital part of a “breakfast” and others consider a piece of bread dipped in coffee to be the start to the day. In some countries, soup is it. In Vietnam, it’s pho (as in my photo from New Mexico, USA) and in Colombia, it’s a broth with rib meat and potatoes. In China and Thailand, the breakfast “oatmeal” is a rice porridge soup… I hereby advocate for more soup for breakfast!
A few nights ago, I heard a strange sound through my open windows. It was the sound of monsoon rain. Before moving here, I was told that the weather in Bogota is the same every day. Always 60 F (15 C), cloudy with a chance of sun. Now that it’s October, I’m being told another story. In October, Bogota has a rainy season. Every day for a month, the rainstorms will last longer and may include thunder and wind gusts. And, the temperature drops a few degrees. But, I’m told that come December, the weather will be really nice again.
A street in Candelaria, the old part of Bogota.
This “cold” weather is perhaps the reason that soup is so popular here.
Every place has it’s national dishes. Here in Colombia, if you ask, they’ll probably mention the two most famous soups: sancocho and ajiaco. Or the empanadas and arepas.
I really like ajiaco because it’s got cream on it and you can add your own rice and avocado (like bacon, avocado makes everything better). The distinctive taste and color of ajiaco is a herb called “guasca” which is translated into English to “gallant soldier” but I’ve never heard anyone call it that. It also has medicinal uses. There are many types of corn in the world. The cob in my soup was different than in the corn in the U.S. The corn that most of the world, outside from the birthplace of corn — the central Americas, eats is the small and sweet variety. This corn was starchier and each kernel was much larger (choclo, like what I’ve had in Peruvian restaurants). The way to eat the cob in the soup is to take the handy skewer, turn the cob, and spear the skewer into the end of the corn. Then it’s easy to bite the kernels off the cob. I’ll write more about the restaurant where I had the ajiaco another time.
Every country has a dumpling of some sort, sometimes boiled, steamed, or fried. The other day, I had a delicious fried Bogotano empanada. The sauce was surprisingly spicy. Everyone told me that Colombians don’t like spicy food. That may be, but this salsa did not take prisoners. Wowza. Eating these empanadas from a street stall reminded me of the fuchka of Bangladesh.
As for the arepa. This one was made of white corn, griddled and brushed with butter. Inside was a center of melted cheese. I didn’t actually like this very much as it had a slightly soured yogurt-like tang to it which I didn’t find all that appealing although I love that flavor in dairy products (more about dairy another time). I’ve had arepas before which were spliced and stuffed like sandwiches but this one was more like a pupusa. Will have to try others along the way.
Washington, DC’s Ethiopian restaurants are well-known. Yet, I tried Ethiopian food for the first time in Ethiopia. The food was new to me. It was perhaps not so different from the bhorta of Bangladesh, but it was a world away from the sancocho of Colombia, and the burgers of America. When I was in Ethiopia, my friend took me to a restaurant serving traditional Ethiopian food. First, we sat at low tables about the size of chair. The food was served on a large platter (about a yard/meter wide) on which the waitress placed our different dishes along with the national bread, injera, a spongy flat bread. The waitress brought a silver pot and poured water over my hands so that I could wash them, although I only ever dream of using my right hand! We had a boiled egg, stewed greens, a curry, etc. I found the food to be on the sour side and immediately thought of certain friends who love sour foods — like lemons.
As we were at a tourist friendly, the other guests appeared to be a mix of expat Ethiopians, families, and the national football (soccer) coach. For dessert, we had coffee. After all, coffee comes from “Kaffa” in Ethiopia. It was strong in the “Turkish” style. I enjoyed it.
During the meal, traditional dances of Ethiopia were sung and performed for us. I’m sure that the stories being told in the dances were those of battle, courtship, and harvest, and they involved a style of dance which required high impact step aerobics and what is fondly called the “chicken” dance. As the evening progressed, the men changed into costumes that seemed to allow them more air during their feverish dances while the women continued to put on more and more clothing like sweaters and headscarves. I don’t know if any of the restaurants in DC have dance performances like the one I saw in Addis but I found the dance and the music uplifting and I’d watch it again.