In its vibrant green valley in the middle of the Andes, the Colombian capital is having a culinary moment.
Over the past five years, Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, has become a mecca for foodies. From the classic Harry Sasson to the farm-to-table El Ciervo y El Oso and the Pacific-Amazonian fusion flavours at Mini-mal, Bogotá’s chefs are embracing traditional Colombian ingredients, recipes and flavours.
The food revolution has brought with it a new awareness of how important it is to recognise and support every aspect of the production chain. Chefs and restauranteurs have created associations like Fogón Colombia to protect farmers, encourage sustainable practices and promote post-conflict initiatives. Restaurants also contribute to repurposing spaces and encouraging the preservation of old mansions and colonial structures in various areas.
Chef Leonor Espinosa, this year’s Best Female Chef in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, won the Basque Culinary World Prize 2017, an award for chefs who improve society through gastronomy. Espinosa won the prize for her work supporting rural development and promoting the use of small producers in Colombia. The award also noted her revival of indigenous and Afro-Colombian knowledge and celebration of Colombia’s food heritage, especially as a means for socio-economic development.
Where to start on a culinary tour around Bogotá? Here are our favourite spots for each meal of the day, including some of the city’s most responsible eateries.
A big perk of Colombia’s tropical location is the abundance of fruit. Juice is a staple of every meal and fruit plates are a feast. Café Ázimos (La Macarena), a lovely bakery and organic market, is the perfect place to grab a freshly squeezed juice and start the day on a sweet note with one of their pastries.
For a more savoury breakfast, try the canasta de panes típicos – cheese, yucca and corn starch pastries – at Bagatelle (Rosales), or arepas – cornmeal flatbreads, some fried, some filled with cheese – in the lovely Abasto (Usaquén).
With all the charm of La Candelaria’s colonial architecture and a small-town feel, Prudencia is an airy, bright restaurant that uses local produce to create a weekly menu of vegetarian fare.
Park views, a rustic-chic style, high-quality organic farming and a genuine interest in environmentally-conscious dishes make Canasto Picnic Bistró (Parque del Virrey) a lovely spot to grab a bite. Don’t miss the super-fresh bruschetta de burrata on beetroot bread, or the smoked trout sandwich.
England has tea time, Colombia has onces. The mid-afternoon snack break can be a meal on its own, with typical dishes including mini tamales, empanadas, sweet and savoury pastries, and Colombia’s famous hot chocolate with cheese on the side. The second floor of Pastelería La Florida (Downtown) is one of the most traditional places for onces. Masa (Rosales), a bakery run by two sisters, is also a great choice for fruit cakes and bread with all sorts of interesting jellies.
To grab a superb cup of coffee, head to Café San Alberto inside the Gold Museum (Downtown), where they roast a premium selection of beans, or relax at Café Devoción (Rosales), who practise fair trade with producers in areas impoverished by conflict. Azahar Coffee’s (Parque de la 93) single-origins are as remarkable as the shipping-container-come-coffee-shop in which they are served.
Leonor Espinosa’s fine dining restaurant, Leo (Downtown), offers a journey through little-known ingredients and Colombian cooking techniques. The seasonal menu is based on pairings and the exploration of different biomes and ecosystems in Colombia with research that involves biologists, producers and growers. It is the perfect mix of ancient knowledge, local ingredients and beautiful craftsmanship.
Carnivores will enjoy the reinvention of roast chicken, pork and lamb dishes at El Chato (Chapinero).
Finally, for a spectacular feast where molecular gastronomy meets traditional cuisine, ElCielo (Rosales) offers a tasting menu that supports their not-for-profit foundation.
The ElCielo Foundation seeks to reconcile differences between various people in Colombia, with injured soldiers, some of whom have lost limbs to landmines during the country’s conflict, training in cooking alongside former FARC guerrillas – some of whom might have laid those very mines. They also train displaced people from all over the country. ElCielo’s head chef, Juan Manuel Barrientos, calls it ‘cooking peace in Colombia’.