A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Food Options in Bogota – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[Photo: An average breakfast: fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, eggs, and a croissant with cheese. Approximately 10 mil (around $3.50) total.]
When you read travel blogs and information guides about Bogotá, one of the sections that always seemed to be extremely lacking was the “food” section. After living in Bogotá for a month, I completely understand why. You can certainly get a lot for your money, but it isn’t always the most flavorful.
While all countries tend to have their special dishes that are savored all over the world, the idea of “Colombian food” isn’t always particularly savory. The most “Colombian” meals that I have eaten have usually been lunches served in small cafeterias that you can find on every street. Meals in a cafeteria usually cost around 6 mil (equal to about 2 dollars). A typical breakfast consists of rice, potato, patacon (a smashed, fried plantain) some meat, and fruit juice. Overall, breakfast is a lot of unseasoned starch.
Dinners tend to be very similar as well, with maybe a bit more meat added to the mix and a bit of a rise in price.
Then, of course, there is the loyal arrepa. An arrepa is a sort of flatbread made of fried maize dough or corn flour. You can find it literally everywhere in Bogotá. Every cafeteria sells arrepas (often with cheese), and throughout the day you can find street vendors selling arrepas of every sort. For breakfast I usually buy them with cheese, and later in the day you can usually buy one stuffed with veggies and different types of meat.
There is no end to the different types of arepas that I have found, and as I’ve had the opportunity to travel I’ve come to realize that arepas vary across region as well. When I visited Boyaca (a department north of Bogotá), I was surprised to find that the arepas we bought from a stand on the side of the road had hard, crunchy outsides and were filled with sweet cheese on the inside.
[Photo: Then there are also tricky hamburgers such as this one. It is not, in fact, a hamburger, but a very thin chicken patty with a piece of ham on it that is sold as a “hamburger”. It also features a very common pink sauce that is a mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise. But this cafeteria felt that pink sauce was not enough, and added extra ketchup and mayonnaise separately. Eight mil (roughly 3 dollars) for the meal.]
While arepas are delicious and I eat them at least once a day, I’ve found myself taking advantage of the fact that Bogotá is a city with a lot of international influences. In the area around my school, there are several Peruvian restaurants and cafes. My apartment building is located by the Universidad Javeriana, a fairly large university in Bogotá, and the surrounding restaurants cater to the presence of college students. Pizza, burgers, wings, and fries can be found everywhere, and more international food like Japanese, Israeli, and Chinese food can be in the general area for a fairly decent price.
[Photo: My favorite Peruvian lunch. Seasoned beef, potato, rice, and a salad of onion, corn, and carrot. I’ve eaten more Peruvian lunches in Bogotá than Colombian lunches. Lunches at this restaurant cost 8.5 mil, which is equal to a little less than three dollars.]
About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
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26 responses to “A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Food Options in Bogota – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
Reblogged this on Professor Liang 梁弘明教授.
When reading your article the price of food in Bogota surprised me. For only three dollars you were getting a healthy meal that seemed like it would fill you up. You started to talk about how you mostly ate at Peruvian restaurants, but you had the option of food from Japan and Israel. How was their way of Chinese food different from North America’s way? I really enjoyed their interpretation of a hamburger, literally ham on the burger, it just seems so comical. All of your talk about arrepas made me want to buy a ticket to Bogota to try one! Great Article!
The hamburger was hilarious. The hamburgers I ate in Mexico were sometimes the same way, but I hadn`t yet had one with a chicken patty.
Chinese food in Bogota is very hit or miss. There are many places that claim to have “Chinese food” but really just serve rice with chicken and soy sauce and patacon. In order to get anything close to Chinese food I`ve usually had to go to a chain restaraunt.
I am surprised to hear that the food is not very seasoned. The relatively cheap price sounds very convenient though! The variation you mention from region to region is interesting, it makes me wonder if that is because of a long standing tradition of the people there or just a trend? With all the international food available is it becoming harder for more traditional foods to compete and retain their dominance in the local diet? Or is there more blending of local and international food as with the hamburger?
Colombia as a country is very divided because mountains run straight through the country. If you ever look at an elevation map of the country, it becomes very obvious that many of the cities aren`t very far apart on a map, but take forever to travel between because there are massive mountain ranges between them. I think that this may have contributed to such strong regional traditions.
I`m not sure if there is competition between traditional and international foods throughout Colombia, but I know that international chains and influences are very strong in Bogota just because it is the biggest city as well as the capital.
The reason I think that there isn`t much competition is price. A “traditional” meal usually runs very cheap, but anything with an international influence or is sold by an international chain here is super expensive by comparison. A lunch at a Colombian restaraunt is about 8,000 pesos, while a sandwich and drink at Subway will run about 16,000 pesos.
Your article on food surprises me. I always expect that the food abroad will be more savory and rich-tasting than the food we find here in the United States. Although, now that I think about it and after discussions in Politics of Globalization the food we encounter is a movement of people, and culture. So i suppose it would be a lot of the same instances just with different influences. I am so intrigued to taste Colombian food and arrepas now, though. Thank you for your article and keeping us updated on Bogota, Colombia!
After reading this, I have a craving for arepas! I find it comforting that they have such a variety, so you can truly find any sort of taste you are looking for. The “hamburger” confused me, I’m assuming that by adding ham, they feel they can call it a hamburger? How did that taste??
I like that there is such a global influence on the food choices too, that way you don’t have to stick to just starchy foods!
The hamburger was…interesting. (However, I was incredibly hungry at the time, so I thought it was perfectly fine.)
I`ve found the “adding ham to a hamburger” thing happens in a few different countries. I encountered the same thing in a few restaraunts in Mexico.
Jeez, reading that article made me hungry! How often do you find yourself eating the American food that is offered around you? I wonder if the restaurants around the University feel less obliged to offer unique Colombian meals, as they know more inexpensive, common meals will satisfy the hungry college kids. Do you find the Spanish language used in Mexico and Colombia to be fairly similar or very different?
I unfortunately find myself eating the American-style food around my house very often. However, this is due to the fact that I start work between 12 and 4 in the afternoon and work until 9 or 10 at night, so the only places that are open are pizza or burger places.
Lunch is the main meal of the day here, so it seems like over half of the restaraunts in Bogota close after 3 or 4. (And heaven forbid you try to find anything to eat after 4 on a Friday or weekend. Everything is closed.)
Because I am in Bogota, I feel that the language is fairly similar. There seems to be much more regional slang, but Bogota has fairly neutral, easy to understand Spanish.
One of the best things about travelling abroad, in my opinion, is seeing the differences in food. Just like somebody asked earlier, it would be interesting to see the differences in Chinese food in Colombia from that in the U.S. Over the summer I was in London for three weeks and their food was also extremely bland and I found myself eating in Chinatown or Italian restaurants over the traditional English pubs, or if I did eat in a pub I would order nachos or the like. The cheap prices of what were you eating was also a little shocking as you could find very little food at restaurants for only a couple of dollars in the U.S.
I think I may have responded to somebody else`s comment on Chinese food, but I can`t seem to find it.
The Chinese food is hit or miss. I usually have to go to a chain restaraunt to get anything similar to Chinese food, otherwise it just ends up being rice with chicken and soy sauce.
I experienced the same thing when I went to London as well! I ended up eating in China town as well as in Indian restaraunts. The richer areas of Bogota always have a few “English pubs”, and I always find it a bit entertaining that over half of their menu is usually Indian food (although I certainly won`t complain–I love Indian food!).
Food varies so much from culture to culture it is cool to hear about how Colombian food was. The interesting part was how cheap every meal was compared to what you might be able to get in the U.S. for the same price. could it be because it is made locally and not shipped from out of country?Even though you say you’ve eaten more Peruvian lunches than Colombian you have still experienced the world in a different way through food. Thanks for sharing!
Very interesting read. I have known several people who have traveled to Peru, Brazil, and other South American countries that have found the food to be quite flavorful and fairly balanced. It’s cool to know that the food can vary so much from country to country and even within the country. Arrepa sounds like the Colombian version of American pizza; found everywhere and varies region to region.
I find it very interesting that they have the option for other foods from different countries! How did the pizza and wings compare to the ones you’re accustomed to from the states? The “pink sauce” was also comical to me when they also added extra ketchup and mayo to accompany it. I suppose it adds to the presentation!
The pizza is actually surprisingly similar! They have all of the staples, like pepperoni, hawaiian, sausage, and all of that good stuff.
Wings are also very similar, but the major difference with eating wings here is that they usually give you a plastic glove that you`re expected to wear when eating the wings to prevent things from getting messy. Wings are also one of the few foods that`s probably more expensive here.
It’s interesting to see how something such as the presence of a university can change the landscape and culture in a city.
An arrepa is definitely something that I want to try now that you have described it so well. I’m curious to if the arrepa started taking on cultural differences as you said that there was a diverse food culture in Bogata. Did different cultures take the concept of the arrepa and put a twist on it to meet their own culture preferences? Overall the food seems very good in Bogata.
It amazes me that you are able to get a meal for three dollars or less. It also sounds like you never have to worry about meals when you are in a hurry, food stands seem to be everywhere. With having so many types of food from other countries sounds like fun. One could easily try foods from other countries that one would not even think about trying at home.
After reading your article, I am now thinking of all the cultural influences that my food has. I began with restaurants, and now I’m thinking about influences that I can find inside my own kitchen cupboard. Unfortunately I don’t think I have the ingredients to create an arepas but its still interesting to me how much of a global reach my food has. Thanks for sharing!
This food looks amazing!! When I was in London, the food was definitely different, but more in terms of freshness and lack of chemicals. They also served meals with different things like ketchup, mayo, and vinegar instead of the ketchup and mustard that we’re used to here in the States. However, I’m sure you know all about that since you were in England too! I think it would be interesting to go to other countries to try their food, but it’s challenging with food allergies.
I definitely remember the different condiments being a big difference when I visited London. 🙂
I remember searching high and low for honey mustard and never being able to find it at a lot of restaraunts and fast food places. I was very thankful that honey mustard is considered a “normal” condiment here in Bogota.
It is interesting that you spoke of how little food was mentioned in travel catalogues for Bogota. My roommate is actually from Medellin, Columbia and often talks about the types of food she has at home in comparison to here. I am a vegetarian myself, and she often teases me by saying that I would not survive as a vegetarian if I lived in Columbia because much of the meals she eats at home are centered around meat. Would you find this to be true in Bogota as well?
Being a vegetarian is for sure very difficult here!
A good friend of mine in the program was a vegetarian for five years before joining the program, and on the advice of a friend that grew up in Bogota she decided to start eating meat again. There are a lot of people that I know that are “vegetarians” as much as possible–meaning, they eat meat when they have to just because it can be very difficult to always have vegetarian options. However, Bogota is so big that it has a lot of options. There are a few vegetarian-only restaraunts scattered throughout the city.
The people in my program that are placed in the coastal cities seem to be having an even harder time finding vegetarian options. I know one girl that goes to the same place every day for lunch because she can`t convince any other restaraunt to serve her lentils instead of meat.
I also was surprised at the cost of food. Whilst in Mexico, prices seemed to be a little more inclusive than in the US, however they were still pretty normal in comparison. However, those in Columbia seem quite cheap! I thought this was kind of neat.
Also, Laura, do you find yourself missing home food, or are you happy to have the variety of foods from places even further? The idea of traveling abroad is so fascinating and having had a taste of it myself, I live vicariously through reports like these 🙂
I definitely do miss food from home.
I listen to MPR in the mornings just to keep up to date on news from home and they`ve been featuring all sorts of “holiday cooking” pieces about hot dish and casseroles. I tried making tater tots the other day just because I can`t seem to find them at the store.
Apples are also incredibly expensive here compared to other fruits, so I spend a small fortune every week buying apples because I`m so used to eating them.