It seems every other week a restaurant opens in Bogotá, which tries to out do the ones that are all the rave. And even though you might, on a spur of a moment, decide to hit the town for drinks and a meal, reservations are being taken up to weeks in advance. If you do plan ahead, arrive early enough to be seated, you’ll probably end up next to the bar, cramped into a tiny space, and forced to overhear every word of the oil executive seated besides you.
To claim that Bogotá has become a gastronomy capital, is somewhat of an understatement. In fact, there is so much choice out there, from Indian to American, organic to fast, that to explore this city as a “foodie,” would take months and a well-stocked wallet. Of course, the price for dining out ranges from the inexpensive to the astronomical, but between the “low end” business lunch to the Michelin-star tapas bar, there really isn’t that much in the middle. Although you can get away with less than $10,000 pesos per plate at one of the city’s many “corrientazos,” expect to pay at least five times this amount, for fine gastronomy.
Bogotá has succumbed to a standardization of cost and prices, which not only puts it on par with other South American cities, such as Rio and Montevideo, but even, topping in cost-per-plate, great gastro cities in North America, such as Toronto, Houston – and I unpretentiously would assert: New York.
Colombia has witnessed an unprecedented influx of foreign visitors during the last decade, and many are no longer just passing through, but as we know, deciding to start a new life for themselves on these shores. It’s all very understandable, as the country does offer a lot of stability when it comes to the weather, it’s a place where your investments are relatively safe with banks, and there are plenty of ideas out there to start one’s own business. For those of us who have made the leap to live in Colombia, we know all too well, that the “quality of life” outshines the “cost of living.” And even though there are obstacles to be faced with any relocation, its more about the image of the nation, than the realities on the ground. Despite decades of PR offensives and positive international press, for many Colombia remains a country in the past, indelibly-linked to drug trafficking and a longstanding guerrilla insurgency. Old stereotypes are hard to shake-off and despite an enormous effort by the Colombian government to fix the many wrongs of a tinted global perception, it’s still common- place to hear when traveling overseas the words “cocaine” and Colombia in the same sentence.
Colombia has its share of issues on the internal agenda, from displacement in the countryside to unequal distribution of land amongst those who have worked to fill this nation’s food basket. The issue of food autonomy is paramount for the well-being of the nation, even though we may not be thinking of this every time we pull up a seat in one of Bogotá’s fashionable restaurants. But some of the city’s best chefs are very committed to the fact that what turns up on a plate was grown and harvested with the farmer in mind, or the fish that was taken from the ocean, was caught using traditional methods.
Colombia is a land blessed with untapped hydro resources. So, there really is no excuse that much of the country was subjected to a serious drought at the start of the summer and which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of animals, and forced many farmers in La Guajira department to rely on food hand-outs from the national government. The scenes of bottled water being delivered to arid townships at the foot of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range were surreal, and ironic, given the fact that just two years earlier, flooding due to heavy rains swept away large areas of arable land.
At the heart of the peace talks is the issue of land and what use it should be given. While intensive farming is one option for large landowners in the eastern plains, there must be a concerted ef- fort to protect endangered micro agriculture, that of small tenant farmers whose fields and homes are emblematic of this nation’s varied landscape.
If we are going to pay more for food, then at least, we should appreciate how difficult it was to take out of the ground, or the distances it had to travel to get to our restaurant of choice. As foreigners we can really do our part in protecting Colombia’s food portfolio, by supporting restaurants which support the campesino. I’m willing to pay that little extra for a meal which protects our rivers and forests. Are you?