17 November 2019 / Jonny Sweet / Bogota

Follow in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain in Colombia

Over the course of an illustrious career which spanned multiple different TV series, more than 20 seasons and in excess of 300 episodes, chef, writer and explorer Anthony Bourdain visited lots of countries… but there weren’t too many to which he returned to film a second feature. Colombia, with its colourful architecture, unreservedly friendly people and mouth-watering cuisine, represents one of the few locations that grabbed his attention so much that he came back for a second helping.

Speaking during his first visit to the country in 2008, filming the 12th episode of season four of No Reservations, Bourdain said “it’s almost ludicrous that this place exists and that everybody doesn’t want to live here.” Instantly charmed by the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena and Antioquia capital Medellín, Bourdain would return to Colombian shores five years later to film the third episode of the first season of Parts Unknown, this time taking in the national capital Bogotá and party town Cali in his culinary and cultural adventures.

For anyone looking to recreate the journey of the great man by literally following in his footsteps, the route that he took over the two hour-long episodes lends itself well to a north-to-south trajectory through Colombia’s highlights. Here’s a rundown of the places that Anthony Bourdain’s Colombiansojourn took him to, as well as some of the dishes and restaurants that he partook of along the way. Pack your appetite, your sense of adventure and your lust for life and you can’t fail to have a life-changing experience.

Cartagena

In Anthony Bourdain’s Cartagena episode, the sense of pleasant surprise he feels at experiencing a city so different from his preconceptions is tangible to the reader. As Bourdain walks through the winding alleyways of the walled Old Town and interacts with rambunctious, warmly open locals, he laments the dangerous image of the country that many foreigners entertain and wishes more people would come to dispel such erroneous notions. It’s a theme that he’ll return to again and again throughout the course of filming the two episodes.

His first stop in the northern stronghold is La Cevichería, a seafood restaurant specialising in fruits of the sea. Bourdain opens his Colombian culinary account with a ceviche from which the restaurant takes its name. Historically the national dish of Peru, the ceviche here has a distinctly local twist placed upon it which makes it resemble a soup more than a salad. That’s accompanied by octopus with a corozo sauce made from the exotic fruit for a fresh, slightly sweet zing. He also samples some langoustines topped with Cuban sauce – a nod to Cartagena’s Caribbean location.

Next, Bourdain convinces La Cevichería’s owner and chef Jorge to take him on a guided tour of el Mercado de Bazurto, the city’s largest market. Located outside of the city’s walls, Bazurto is not normally frequented by foreigners and provides a unique insight into the melting pot that is coastal Colombian life, with pretty much everything you could possibly dream of up for sale. It’s also a testament to the market’s vast and vibrant nature that despite coming here three times a week, Jorge still routinely gets himself lost. After several unplanned detours, the pair finally end up at their destination, Cecilia’s, where they feast on a smorgasbord of seafood, chicken, fish, rice, turtle meat and turtle eggs. However, Bourdain later discovers that at least part of his dinner is actually endangered, so you might want to leave turtle off the menu when undertaking your own tour.

After sampling some of the best titbits that Cartagena has to offer, Jorge and Anthony jet off across the water in a 20-minute boat ride to visit Tierra Bomba, a small island community built on fishing. The name refers to the unpleasant smell given off by the day’s catches, but the fare on offer during Bourdain’s visit is anything but unpalatable. Eating at the only restaurant on the island (which has surely been joined by a few more in the intervening 10-plus years), the northernmost section of Anthony Bourdain’s Cartagena episode comes to a close with a banquet comprised of lobster, red snapper, fried plantain and coconut rice.  Delicious.

Antioquia

The next stop in Bourdain’s itinerary is Antioquia, whose capital is Medellín, a thriving city around 400 miles south of Cartagena. Such a long journey surely requires a stop for sustenance, and Bourdain finds one at a roadside stall in San Antonio de Pereira on the southeast outskirts of the city. The small, dusty town is famous for one thing – its chunchurria. Simply put, these crunchy snacks are pig’s intestines, chopped up into bitesize pieces and deep-fried, before being served alongside icy cold beers. The stalls also specialise in other unusual porcine delicacies, such as ears, heart and liver.

After that much-needed pause for replenishment, Bourdain swings by another restaurant on the southern fringes of Medellín. This time, it’s the family-run Queareparaenamorarte, a mouthful of a moniker which roughly translates as “What do I need to do to make you love me?”. Unfortunately, the restaurant has since closed its doors, but the traditional dishes which Anthony consumed and crowed over can still be tried in many different parts of Antioquia. To recreate his menu, kick things off with a shot or two of the local firewater (aguardiente), a white rum-like alcohol guaranteed to command your attention. Then order up a starter of sopa de cura vereda, a rice soup served with ground meat, shredded plantain, avocado and fried egg, among other additions, all of which are to be unceremoniously plonked into the broth. 

Next, try a sobrebarriga, which is a piece of flank steak braised, grilled and then topped with a sauce made from smoked sweet chilis and beer. Finally, don’t miss out on the tamale, a favourite all across Colombia. This differs at every serving, but the traditional method of preparation here features placing a piece of freshly-caught fish in between two piece of fried plantain (that has been premixed with milk and coconut), topping it off with sautéed shrimp and a passionfruit sauce, before parcelling up the whole thing in a plantain leaf and poaching. The peculiar method of cooking takes its inspiration from African roots, lending the whole experience a truly authentic edge.

Medellín

After these preliminaries, it’s finally onto Medellín itself. Here, Bourdain learns of the Colombian saying: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Taking the first part of that dictum to heart, Bourdain orders up a calentaoat the Plaza Minorista market, a hearty breakfast that’s certainly regal in its dimensions – traditionally, it would be eaten by farm workers to fill them up before they set off for a taxing day in the fields. With no such excuses under his belt, Bourdain tucks into an overflowing plate of leftovers (calentao comes from calentado, which means reheated), including rice, beans, eggs, plantain, arepa with cheese and meat (either pork, chicken or chicharron). 

It’s a surprise that the famous chef can even walk after putting away all those calories, but not only does he manage to dislodge himself from his chair, he even finds room for a possibly even more substantial lunch at Bras Arepas in Envigado, the neighbourhood in which infamous drug baron Pablo Escobar formerly resided. This time it’s the regional favourite – which has even become something of the national dish for the whole country – bandeja paisa. Similar in proportions to the calentao, the bandeja paisais comprised of rice, beans, salad, egg, pork, arepas, chorizo and chicharron. As Bourdain’s companion remarks, this is the kind of dish that’s best saved for the weekend so as to enjoy a three-hour siesta after wolfing it down.

If your time in Colombia is short, however, you won’t want to miss out on the cultural highlights that Medellín offers. As well as an incredible culinary scene, the metropolis is also built upon a dark history – some of it very recent. Indeed, in only 1993, the city was dubbed “the most dangerous city on Earth” by Time magazine, but today it’s possible to take a cable-car to Santo Domingo, once its most hazardous neighbourhood where Escobar’s soldiers were trained and gang wars were regularly fought. Here, Bourdain attends a rooftop barbecue held by rap group La Clika. 

Unless you enjoy friends in (both literal and metaphorical) high places, it’s unlikely you’ll receive a similar invitation, but you can still sample the gastronomic wares he does here, too. After some pre-dinner appetisers of morcilla(blood sausage), beer and plenty of aguardiente, it’s onto the main event: sancocho. This wholesome stew is made of three kinds of potato, carrot, yucca, plantain, corn, herbs, the spinal cord of a pig and the whole body of a sacrificial chicken – as well as three shots of rum for the soul. It’s good for what ails you! So concludes theAnthony Bourdain Cartagena episode – but there’s plenty more to be explored in the southern half of this beautiful country.

Bogotá

Anthony Bourdain’s Colombian saga continues in 2013, as he revisits the country for the third episode of his new series, Parts Unknown. The trip opens on parts that really were, until recently, unknown by the vast majority of Colombians, never mind food tourists. He finds himself in Miraflores, a small town in the Guaviare region in the midst of the Amazon rainforest, which was held by FARC insurgents for many years. Due to the lush vegetation on all sides and the volatile political situation, the town’s only economic prosperity was delivered through the coca plant and the drug trade it fuelled. Thankfully, the troubles have subsided, but the legacy of this scarred past has left Miraflores a town without industry or economy today.

If there’s one man who’s never been afraid to confront the darker aspects of a country’s past, but at the same time avoid overstepping the mark into insensitivity, it was Anthony Bourdain. Bogotá– the next stop on his Colombian odyssey, is the perfect place for him to follow up on his time in the Amazonas and talk politics with renowned novelist, essayist and journalist Héctor Abad. The pair meet up at La Puerta Falsa, the city’s most famous eatery, to break bread and discuss how the past has impacted the present – and what will become of the country in the future. Of course, as well as grappling with such weighty issues, there’s also the more humdrum (but no less pressing) issue of hunger. 

Bourdain and Abad keep it at bay by sampling a homemade tamale, made here with chicken and pork belly meat mixed together, alongside rice, vegetables and masa, a dough made from corn. Again, the whole package is wrapped up inside plantain leaves and stewed for hours on end to achieve its inimitable taste, which Abad confesses is not quite as good as the ones his mother made when he was young. Are they ever? The other famous dish onLa Puerta Falsa’s menu is hot chocolate served with cheese, which patrons are encouraged to dunk into the hot beverage whole. Sound odd? It might be to a European palate, but Bogotanos swear by it.

An Anthony Bourdain Bogotá trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local market, so it’s a good idea to make time for the expansive Paloquemao on your itinerary. Again, this sprawling bazaar sells almost every kind of ware imaginable, and Bourdain’s companion on this outing is celebrated musician-turned-chef Tomas Rueda. With at least three restaurantsto his name, Rueda is something of a local celebrity in Bogotá, and after a light breakfast of caldo de costilla (a traditional beef soup with salted potatoes and scallions), Bourdain wastes no time in helping the chef to pick up some fresh produce for a meal at Tabula, one of his ventures in La Macarena.

The upmarket locale is divided into two simple but stylish rooms, one for larger meals and another for smaller plates and sharing platters. If you want to relive the Anthony Bourdain in Bogotá experience to its maximum, you’ll want to reserve a seat in the former. Bourdain’s selection includes a homemade ravioli stuffed with cheese and chorizo and drenched in a tomato sauce and accompanied by a crab salad. But that’s just for starters: the main event is a slow-cooked beef short rib, served with mashed corn. It’s a hale and filling feast that’s sure to set you up for a full day of sightseeing in the Colombian capital.

Cali

After filling his boots and sating his appetite in Bogotá, Anthony Bourdain’s Colombian adventure continues further south. This time, he ventures to the Valle del Cauca department capital Cali, renowned for being the home of salsa dancing and a vibrant hotspot for Colombian nightlife. However, it’s another favourite pastime that caught Bourdain’s attention here as he embraces the local culture with his trademark enthusiasm: tejo.

Not widely known outside of Latin America,tejois a traditional sport that enjoys huge popularity all across Colombia, especially in its southern regions. The game consists of affixing small pouches of gunpowder to a metal target filled with clay, then launching metal discs at it from a distance of almost 20m away. The objective is to strike the pouches with the disc, which will explode on impact and signal a direct hit. Points are awarded for how closely the shot lands to the centre of the target. Oh, and another crucial aspect of the game is that it’s invariably played while consuming vast quantities of Colombian lager. What could be more fun? “Not much”, in the words of Bourdain himself.

After satisfying your body’s twin cravings for exercise and alcohol, you might want to soak up some of that beer with a calorie or two. Bourdain’s choice is another seafood restaurant, this time named Sevicheria Guapi in the centre of the city. To replicate Bourdain’s meal, opt for cooked shrimp in a tomato, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce marinade, accompanied by red snapper, mollusc, rice, steamed shrimp and green tomatoes. Such gorgeous gastronomic combinations are sure to satisfy any palate – especially one that’s been whetted by lashings of beer and several rounds of tejo.

Making the most of your Colombian adventure

Amidst all the rigours of travelling and tourism, sometimes it’s far preferable to be a sheep than a shepherd. If there’s one man you can rely on to dish out exemplary advice, especially when it comes to culinary recommendations, it’s Anthony Bourdain. Colombia is a foodie’s playground for all kinds of cuisine, from exotic fruits and succulent meats, to nourishing stews and over 3,000 (yes, 3,000!) types of potato. Roll up your sleeves, tuck your napkin into your collar and get ready for a Colombian taste sensation, Anthony Bourdain style.

To ensure you don’t miss out on any of the highlights recommended by the man himself, here’s a rundown of exactly the places frequented and the addresses where you can find them:

La Cevichería Calle 39 #7-14, Cartagena

Market of Bazurto Carrera 29, Cartagena

Tierra Bomba Isla Tierra Bomba, Colombia

San Antonio de Pereira San Antonio de Pereira, Antioquia

Market of Plaza Minorista Calle 55 # 57-60, Medellín

Brasarepa Calle 46 Sur # 42-75, Envigado, Medellín

La Puerta Falsa Calle 11, Bogotá

Market of Paloquemao Calle 19-25, Bogotá

Tabula Calle 11 29 Bis #5-90, Bogotá

Sevicheria Guapi Carrera 24 # 13-18, Cali

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