August 8, 2019, 10:37 am
Part of learning about a new country is familiarizing yourself with its traditional food and typical dishes. In Colombia, there’s nothing that makes me happier than popping a piece of new food in my mouth, that’s why I was so excited to join Uncover Colombia during their Food and Cooking Tour in Bogotá.
I started the tour on an empty stomach and left it as full as that Violet girl from “Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory.” Except we were in Colombia, so instead of factory sweets, I stuffed myself with a variety of exotic fruits and breads, a traditional Colombian meal we made at a cooking school and tasty dessert to cap it all off.
Part 1: Paloquemao Market
The tour started with the friendly guide named Daniel taking us to Bogota’s second-largest traditional market called Paloquemao. I was immediately reminded of the bustling souks I visited in Morocco because Paloquemao Market was a buzzing whirlwind of exotic smells, sounds and colors.
Beautiful flowers in a rainbow of hues dotted a section of the parking lot that had been transformed into a garden of delicate roses, carnations and tulips. Vendors welcomed us to their make-shift kiosks by calling out “a la orden,” a Spanish phrase used in Colombia to mean “at your service.”
We slowly made our way through the rest of the market. Daniel patiently introduced me to the bright fruits that I had never seen in the United States. I even got to taste several Colombian fruits like guanábana and granadilla. We stopped at a small bakery inside the market where we snacked on yucca bread and a Colombian drink made from oatmeal, milk and sugar. Daniel also gave me a plate of pork called lechón, which is popular in Colombia, especially on holidays.
The market was huge and aside from the occasional tourist, it was filled with everyday Colombians just buying food for their homes and restaurants. We too were on the hunt for specific foods, as Daniel had a list of ingredients to buy for the second portion of the tour – cooking a traditional Colombian dish.
Part 2: Cooking Class
Daniel took us to a nearby cooking school during the second potion of the tour. We plopped all the ingredients from Paloquemao Market on the counter and donned hairnets and aprons. The chef was friendly and only spoke Spanish, so Daniel translated the words I didn’t know.
With years of experience and a love for culinary arts, the expert chef showed us how to make a dish commonly found on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. We made rice with the milk and meat of a coconut called arroz con coco. He also helped us make ceviche, trout, spaghetti squash and juice from a Colombian fruit called curuba.
While I was busy cutting and cooking, Daniel and the chef answered all my questions about Colombian gastronomy. Once the food was ready, we chowed down in the cooking school’s formal dining room while classical music wafted from somewhere upstairs.
Part 3: Dessert
Between all the food I ate at the market, plus the dish we whipped up at the cooking school, I was extremely full, but there’s always room for dessert. To satisfy my sweet tooth, Daniel took us to Bogotá’s dessert district, where shops full of Colombian treats lined the road.
The options in the quaint dessert shop was overwhelming. Custards, cookies, moist cakes and oblejas – a dulce de leche-type spread sandwiched between two big wafers – stared at me through the glass case. I selected a common Colombian dessert called fresas con crema, which is akin to a parfait of strawberries and sweet whipped cream. Happy and full, Daniel drove us back to our meeting spot when the food and cooking tour finished.
Food and Cooking Tour Tips
Here are some things to remember before taking this food tour in Bogota:
- Don’t eat breakfast, you will be eating plenty of food during this 5-hour tour.
- We made a dish with meat, but there are vegetarians options as well.
- Don’t worry about writing down all the ingredients used at the cooking school, you will receive a recipe for the traditional meal by email after the tour.
- Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot at the market, then standing a lot while cooking.
- Bring cash, all the food you will eat during the tour is free, but you never know what you might want to buy at the market for later.
If we’re being honest, I have never really enjoyed cooking, I can make eggs and pasta and that’s about it. But I liked the cooking portion of the tour just as much as exploring the market and stuffing my face with dessert because the chef actually walked me through the cooking process and gave me background on the dish we were preparing.
This tour in Bogota isn’t just for people who watch the Food Network every night, it’s for anyone who wants to learn about a unique part of Colombian culture, while also filling up on delicious food.
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