I have yet to visit a country where I did not enjoy its food. Although I’ll be honest and say that Germany, Hungary, and Austria were relatively bland, but their food was still enjoyable for the time we were there, though it would not even be in my first 50 cuisines if I had to list them out. Before researching this trip, I didn’t know much about Colombian food at all, other than knowing that a) the variety of fruit would be incredible, b) their cuisine has a lot of overlap with other Latin American countries (arepas, fried plantains, rice and beans, lechon pork, chicharron), and c) I had to make sure that before the end of the trip that we had tried hot chocolate with local cheese dipped in it, as that’s a “thing” here.
Today, we had several delicious dishes beginning with our breakfast buffet at the hotel. Although many delicious dishes were served, the one that stood out to me in terms of how tasty yet simple it was was the caldo de costilla, or the Colombian beef ribs and potato soup. I felt the same way about this soup as I did the chicken soup I had at a random market in Puebla, Mexico, about nine years ago: it looks simple and plain, but it is really anything but. The beef ribs were juicy and extremely tender; you barely needed to chew to have them totally disintegrate in your mouth. The broth was extremely clear and clean tasting, clearly made with beef bones, cilantro, garlic, potato, maybe some carrots, and who knows what spices. And then, before eating it, you add in a cilantro-parsley “sauce” to it as a condiment, and it’s like a party in your mouth. Even after leaving breakfast, I was thinking about how much I liked the simplicity of that soup.
Next at lunch, we ate ajiaco, which is Colombian chicken and potato soup. This is far richer than the caldo de costilla, with what appears to be potatoes blended into the soup to give it richness, and it was also extremely impressive yet simple. To make it even richer and thicker, you eat it with slices of avocado and even dollops of cream added in! And then, you enjoy it with slightly salted white rice! We also had our very first Colombian tamale, which was wrapped not in a corn husk but in a large banana leaf, and inside was steamed masa with tender chunks of chicken. The texture was far different than the Mexican varieties I’ve enjoyed; during the first few bites, I really thought I was eating yellow rice given the texture of the masa, but in the end, I concluded it was definitely corn based.
And then as if we hadn’t had enough food, for dinner we had the tasting menu at Leo, the famous restaurant owned by Leonor Espinoza, who is known as a celebrity chef in South America. Leo is ranked as number 99 on the top restaurants of the world list as of last year. While other Colombian chefs have risen to prominence for using ingredients across Chile, Argentina, and other South American countries, Espinoza has stayed within the lines of her own country, sourcing as many local and little-known ingredients as possible, even for Colombians. We enjoyed fermented fruit wines of local exotic fruits ranging from coca to borojo, ate poncho, the largest rodent in the world (our server said that this rodent is about 1-meter long!), had limonero ants grated into dishes, and enjoyed herbs and vegetables sourced from the Andes. Other than at Attica in Melbourne, Australia, which obviously has a lot of ingredients that would be completely foreign to me, this meal had the most number of ingredients in it that I’d not only never heard of but wouldn’t even fathom eating. While not everything was something I’d necessarily crave eating again (the salty rum cocktail that tasted like the sea… was a novelty, but not something I loved), I loved the concept and plating of every dish, and am totally won over by how innovative this chef is. And, I’ll be honest: I was even more excited about this restaurant knowing it’s owned and run by a woman.