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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

7 things you didn’t know about Colombian cuisine

Colombian coffee is not one thing and people in Colombia love a good family meal. Read on to find out more.

more-lifestyle Updated: Jun 29, 2018 15:37 IST
Etti Bali
Etti Bali
Hindustan Times
Masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez and Chef Juan Manuel  talk about Colombian cuisine, what makes a Colombian meal complete and specialty coffees.
Masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez and Chef Juan Manuel talk about Colombian cuisine, what makes a Colombian meal complete and specialty coffees.(Photo: Raajessh Kashyap/HT)

When it comes to food and eating habits, there are few countries ours has a shared interest with. With an emphasis on family feasts, flavourful ingredients and community cooking, Colombian cuisine has many similarities with Indian cuisine. While most people might tend to put Latin American food under one big gastronomical umbrella, each region of the continent brings with it a new flavour. In a bid to decode and acquaint ourselves with the culinary heritage of Colombia, we get in freewheeling chat with masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez and chef Juan Manuel. On their maiden visit to the country, the chefs presented a Colombian food festival in collaboration with the Embassy of Colombia at Taj Mahal hotel. “People have been really curious to know more about the cuisine and they didn’t come with an expectations because it was very new for them,” says Gutierrez. Colombian cuisine varies from coast to mountains, plains to forests. “We wanted to bring very traditional Colombian dishes and tried to get dishes from all over the country,” says Manuel, adding, “For starters, we had fritters called Carimanolas, and prawn cocktails that come from the northern coast of Colombia. They are served with fermented sour cream, called suero. From the mountainous region, we brought corn envueltos, which are corn cakes steamed inside the corn husk. They are served with hogao which is the basic sauce for all Colombian preparations. It is made with tomatoes, onion, garlic and spices and herbs like cumin and cilantro.”

Chef Juan Manuel and Masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez.
Chef Juan Manuel and Masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez. ( Photo: Raajessh Kashyap/HT )

Here’s what they had to say about their cuisine:

Mi cocina es tu cocina (my cuisine is your cuisine): One can’t help but notice the similarity with Indian cuisine. With abundant use of tomatoes, onions, garlic and cumin, we certainly have very similar ingredients.

A family that eats together: A sense of community runs common when it comes to kitchens in Colombia and India. Alejandro, says, “The dishes we brought here are those that are cooked over the weekends for the whole family. My mum used to make this cake and I used to help her. This is how most people learn cooking.”

Ingredients like Arequipe (a condensed form of buffalo milk) and guava paste are used extensively in Colombian cuisine.
Ingredients like Arequipe (a condensed form of buffalo milk) and guava paste are used extensively in Colombian cuisine. ( Photo: Raajessh Kashyap/HT )

Lunch like royalty: The most important meal of the day is lunch. It is usually a bowl of soup made with vegetables or legumes. The main course has proteins like chicken or beef and carbs like yucca and potatoes, served with salad.

Hardly a meal without rice: If there is one thing without which a Colombian meal is incomplete, it is rice. “We eat everything with rice. Many people don’t feel they have had lunch without a huge amount of rice. And potatoes,” says Alejandro.

Vegetarianism is a new concept: There are not a lot vegetarians in Colombia. Being vegetarian is a very modern thing mainly because people are becoming health conscious. “Traditional Colombians wouldn’t feel they have eaten if they don’t have any meat with their meals,” says Alejandro.

Masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez plating a dish.
Masterchef Alejandro Gutierrez plating a dish. ( Photo: Raajessh Kashyap/HT )

Some like (not) hot: Colombian food is very plain and mild. It is flavourful but doesn’t make use of a lot of spices. It is not hot like Mexican food. And to ensure that the flavours are recreated, they brought along ingredients from Colombia. “We brought 30 kilos of ingredients like farina, tucupi, guava paste and corn flour,” says Manuel.

Colombian coffee: This one commands a masterclass of its own. But, the chefs simplify it into some broad categories. “Most people see Colombian coffee as one thing. Each region in Colombia produces different coffee. We brought coffee from three major regions. These are all specialty coffees,” says Alejandro. There’s coffee from the south-western region of Narino, with farms around an active volcano. Then they had coffee from Huila, which is a mountain region which was mostly inaccessible up till 10 years ago. They brought two coffees from the same farm in Quindio. All these coffees were single-origin coffees. “We want Colombia to be known for coffee as France is known for wine,” says Manuel.

Interact with Etti Bali at @TheBalinian