Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 5: Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral

A day trip out of Bogota started with Karl and I heading over to the Empanadita stand across Carrera 7 from the Hotel. Juan Valdez pastries would not suffice for our needs. But dos empanaditas Bogotano y tres empanaditas queso would. And that's what happened.

This is where you learn an important distinction between Karl and I. He loved the sweet queso empanadita with a slight dusting of sugar on the just fried crust.

I loved the savory carne y papas Bogotano, even for breakfast.

Off we went North to Zipaquira to visit what Colombians voted "The" marvel of modern Colombia. A cathedral built underground in a massive salt mine. 

The original cathedral was a small space in which miners offered prayers before starting their shift. It became a tourist attraction but was eventually deemed unsafe in the late 1980s. 

So from 1990-95 the mine undertook a project to create a massive cathedral in the mine. And create it they did. 

First are the fourteen stations of the cross providing a walking tour of Jesus' walk with and death on the cross. Stations are about 30-50 feet apart and feature huge crosses of 10-12 feet in height carved into the salt with stone prayer stands.

 Once past the fourteen stations, you descend further into the chapel of the cathedral, a MASSIVE cavernous set of rooms with ceiling reaching 100 feet and pillars 30 feet around holding it all together.

 There you see the main cross carved out of the rock. A 60-plus foot tall monolith in the dark under the rock and earth. 

 From the cathedral you can see the town of Zipaquira. About an hour north of Bogota, the town is about 110,000 people.

Some of those people have a job of taking meat from the kitchen and putting it on vertical spits standing over hunks of burning logs. Not a bad advertisement for your restaurant.

Like I said...meat on sticks. Beef, pork, and LAMB!

Here's the name of our lunch joint.

Here's what they do for you. Order by the number of people you have. Hunks of meat, yuca, plantains, roast potatoes, and guacamole. 

Plantains and guacamole get the close-up here.

Sadly, there was some food left on the plate when we were done. It wasn't much though.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 4: Bogota Street Food Monday and Bandeja

 The perfect crispy empanada shell. Corn meal. Thin. A crunch.

Guts of an empanada. Carne e arroz. A brilliant breakfast. The vendor had a fresh salsa in a tub for patrons to spoon over. There were also squeeze bottles of ketchup or mustard cut with mayonnaise. Drinks came with your order; that is, there were 2 liters with stacks of small cups over the lids for anyone to grab if they'd purchased an empanada.

Oh, did I mention they were being sold out of the trunk of a car? Yeah. Central business district with older gentlemen in suits at the local Juan Valdez cafe attached to the JW Marriott. Younger office workers were crowding this car and others like it all around the neighborhood.

The condiment table. Order your goods, stand and chat while you grab a lime wedge to squeeze or some salsa and finish your breakfast.

You are not surpised I took a picture of Karl in full Empanada Repose. Remember this Karl?
Second stop was just down the block on the other side of the street at the corner of Calle 73 and Carrera 8. Chewier dough. All beef. Karl got hisself the pollo e champinon and probably won this round!

But wait, there's more. TheQuietOne was waiting for an arepa con chorizo. Sure enough, walk around the streets in the financial district and you'll find it.

Mayo for TheQuietOne. There was a bit of relish in there as well. And this chorizo is much more akin to a knockwurst than either the Mexican loose and spicy chorizo or the cured Portugese version.

Mustard for the kitchen geek.

We needed a break, so we headed back the hotel to book our flights to and hotel in Cartagena. Can't thank the concierege at the hotel enough for working with us to find some good deals on flights. Superb staff here (and CHEAP with points versus American Marriotts).

But after that exhausting work, we needed more food. And of course I found my Colombian nirvana. Bandeja Vallencaucana. Good lord. You've been to the ubiquitous Tex-Mex joing in your town? You've ordered (or seen) the el Humongo combo that takes two plates? Yeah, they only need one plate here.

Thankfully there was a refershing pilsner-style beer with which to wash down all the goodness to come.

There was also a wholly new take on what to do with a plantain. Mash it out thin and serve it as a 'tostada' with some warm tomato salsa that had all of us grasping at a familiar flavor profile that was somewhere between a marinara and the best nature of sloppy joe sauce. Fantastic. There were thicker parts of the tostada that had more chew than the thinner, crispier bits.

And then it arrived. For scale, that is one fried egg. Note also that the slice of avacado is about twice as long as the Haas variety we see in the US. The beans are pinto-like, but larger and rounder. Chorizo at the bottom of the photo, morcilla at the top. Braised, shredded beef from 6 o'clock around to 10pm. The fried ball of dough was SWEET. Batter around mashed sweetened plantain with a sweet cheese center.

There were a few scraps of rice and beans left when I (with some help) was done with this typical Colombian lunch for laborers (lunch being the primary and largest meal of the day here).

The ladies each got the tamales. The corn meal was much more moist here, and the tamales are steamed in plantain leaves not banana. Plus, and here's a neat twist, watch out for bones as in addition to the shredded chicken inside, there was an entire chicken leg on the bone. So well cooked that the bone just slid off the meat.

You'll notice in the menu shot that this dish is made "with much love." Too true.

Karl asked what was the best and the server actually gave a straight answer. Chuletta de Cerno. Pork cutlet with fried plantains and rice. It was a clean plate club Karl with some help from the rest of us.

After this we were sluggish. But it's a vacation, so we didn't care if we weren't doing everything possible to see every scrap of the city. We rested. Walked to the Zona G, a three or four block spread of cafes and restaurants, sat outside and watched the rush hours pass us by, and then headed back to home base for a nightcap and a dessert (Bogota chain Crepes and Waffles around the corner from the hotel).

Tomorrow it's on to the Salt Cathedral and hour out of town and then an early night of packing so we can catch our flight to Barranquilla on Wednesday morning (we'll car from there to Cartagena and set up on the beach for Thanksgiving).

See you tomorrow happy readers. I've been told this makes some people hungry. I hope it makes more of you go see somewhere, anywhere really, you haven't seen before.

Bogota Day 3: Pictures with Captions

Simple concept. I show and tell. You enjoy.

 Casa Viejo near the Museo de Oro

 First two items ended up on our plates. None survived.

 We rocked five juices at our table of four (that thanks to our inability to fully comprehend the language). Here's Karl's strawberry juice. There was also Mango, Passion Fruit (tart and intense), Soursop (we have NO idea), and Guanabana.

Hello arepas. How are you this morning?

 A little fresh tomato salsa to go with butter and arepas.

 Speaking of butter for our arepas.

 When we go mixed appetizer, we go big. Mini-empanadas were crisp on the outside and filled with sausage and cheese. They sat next to the morcilla which used quinoa as its binder and had capers inside. Delicious and all mine after a few perfunctory "I'll try it again because it's different" tastes from the group. Fried yucca and chicharrones (deep fried bacon y'all). Chorizo and potatoes (the ubiquitous small sweet roasties that appear everywhere in Bogota.

 O.M.G. Sweet plantian pureed and then formed into balls and fried. Served with chorizo, lime, and guacamole. SOOOOOOO GOOD.

 A large arepa topped with queso fresco. Tasty, but we all got trough this first to move on to the other items.

I LOVE these little potatoes. In this meal, they served as the home fries to the morcilla's hash. It was perfect meat and potatoes bliss.

Yucca. Fried. Chicharrones. Fried. Colombian Cuisine. Captured.

I was confused by this sign. So were the rest of us. It was closed so peering in the window was the best we could do. Appeared to be Colombia's version of the Chinese take-out joint. But the "Italian" and the "Comida Tipica Colombiana" were definitely strange adjectives here.

Street art was EVERYWHERE in Bogota's central district. Much of it was a reminder of the recent past, the drug wars, and the rebels from the west and south.

Drink, Drink, and more Drink. Not bad marketing.

Cathedral at Place Santander near the Museo de Oro.

 Strange part of the day. Recognizing that the street was closed off for pedestrians and that there were multiple karaoke machines set up. Some were excellent. Some were tragic. This little dude? He was just fun. And the four gringos totally spooked him in mid-act. Sorry pal!!!

A band playing for a huge crowd along Carrera 7 on a Bogota Sunday.

That's not a knife...wait. Yes it is. And it's slicing through that guava like butter. Street carts selling FRESH squeezed juice and fruit, along with grilled corn and meat on a stick were everywhere!

 Coming To America, anyone? No, we didn't stop to try.

We went in. Free on Sundays. Natch.

First piece you see. Hand-hammered.

Birds, snakes, frogs, and bats. All symbols. Shamans turned into birds to take significant spiritual journeys.

Get down on it.

Teleferica up to Montserrate. High up to Montserrate.

The view from the top. Over 10k. Out of shape, much? Yeah, I am.

KarlJohn and DrChillyD up top.

KarlJohn and TheQuietOne up top on Montserrate.

Beers after the hike and cable car ride. It WAS o'clock y'all. The Colombians make great pilsner-style beers.

Dinner was Asian fusion in a stylish part of town around a park. Parque 93 if you're interested. Food was good and company was excellent, but not worth an upload now. 

Gotta run, it's "Street Food Monday" here in Bogota for Karl and I, and we're excited!!!