You must be realising by now that I am a huge food fan. Everywhere I visit I am trying to take as many cooking classes and food tours as possible, from a tapas tour in Barcelona to a cooking class in Mexico City, and learning how to make chocolate in Belize, I am always on the lookout for food related activities! When I was trying to decide what to do in Bogota, there weren’t many options for a cooking class or food tour in Bogota. Then I found 5Bogota, and it seemed to be exactly what I wanted; a market tour and a cooking class with a Bogota local, meaning I could explore the market, learn to cook Colombian food and meet some locals all in one! Their aim is to help visitors to explore Bogota through the 5 senses, and support local development. It sounded fabulous!
From the outset, Diana from 5Bogota was quick to reply to my enquiry, and also invited me to the launch of their new book Bogota 5 Senses. Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the book launch, but we agreed to meet the following Monday at 10am by the market. She sent me a photo of the meeting point, and a photo of her too so I would recognise her.
The Bogota Farmers’ Market Tour with 5Bogota
That morning, I took a taxi from my hostel in La Candelaria to the Mercado 7 de Agosto in the Chapinero district of Bogota. I walked around the market to be sure I found the right meeting spot, and waited for Diana. She arrived just before 10am, and smiled and waved as she came towards me. I was the only person on the tour that day, so we got straight too it and headed inside.
This market, she explained, is definitely for locals, and not usually frequented by tourists. The most popular farmers’ market in Bogota is Paloquemao, which is bigger, but is also busier, and the stall owners are starting to get annoyed by tourists coming to just take pictures without buying anything. Here, Diana always buys something from the stalls she visits, so I took my photographs without feeling guilty. This is true in other famous markets around the world, as visitors we forget that people in markets are just doing their thing – buying and selling – and tourists coming to take pictures does nothing to help their business.
Markets can be overwhelming though – I always get nervous about what to buy, where is going to have the best produce, and if the prices are really what I should be paying, or if they vendors add a hefty ‘gringo tax’ to their usual prices. Not here though. Diana has been coming here for years, and as a native Bogotana she weaves through the stalls, inviting me to try coffee, steamed corn snacks, and various fruits that I’ve never heard of before!
When we have bought everything we need for the meal, we hop in a taxi and head to Diana’s home, on the other side of Chapinero. Diana’s apartment is bright and airy, apparently not that common for Bogota, where apartments tend to be on the small side. I like it immediately, it feels homely, but not cluttered, with cool touches everywhere, and a large street art style mural in the corner. This didn’t feel like a typical cooking class, it felt like I was going to have dinner at a friend’s place. And that is what I really liked about the food tour and cooking class with 5Bogota, it was informal and friendly.
Colombian Cooking Class with 5Bogota
Diana handed me an apron and explained the Colombian dishes we were going to make in today’s cooking lesson. First on the list was “hogao”, a typical Colombian salsa made with fried tomatoes, garlic and onion. As I set about chopping the onion & tomato, Diana got to work on the guacamole, the next dish on the menu. As we worked, we chatted about travel, Bogota, Colombia and how 5Bogota got started.
Diana perhaps isn’t the typical Colombian, although one of the main things she wants to share is that how outsiders imagine a ‘typical Colombian’ to be, more often than not, is completely wrong – especially in a large city like Bogota. Through 5Bogota she wants to dispel myths about Colombians, and share what her and other hosts’ lives are like, as normal Colombians living normal lives. She is saddened when Colombia is still looked upon as the drug capital of the world, and when tourists come to hear glorified tales of Pablo Escobar and take ‘special’ cocaine tours. Yes, that is part of Colombia’s history, a dark and difficult past that most Colombians wish to forget. But with TV shows like Narcos once again bringing Escobar to life, it is hard for Colombia to move on, and share the many other wonderful things that this country should be known for. So, little by little, one Bogota food tour at a time, Diana hopes to show visitors what Colombia is really like. A fun, friendly and colourful place, with delicious food!
We put the onion, tomatoes and garlic to fry gently, and sat down to eat the guacamole with some tiny criollo potatoes. I adore guacamole, and the avocado was fresh and delicious. A cool touch was the placemats on the table – designed in the form of old bus routes signs that used to be tacked in the bus windows as they trundled around the city. The criollo potatoes were just boiled in salted water, and made an interesting change to the nacho chips I got used to in Mexico. Simple and delicious was a theme that would continue throughout the meal.
We returned to the kitchen where Diana gave me a bowl to mix the arepa flour with water, to make the classic arepa. Or rather, one of the classic arepas that Colombia has, with every region making its own version. Arepas, it turns out, are very easy to make once you have the right corn flour. This version is simply flour and water, mixed into a dough and kneaded together the get the right consistency. Then we rolled the dough into two balls, and flattened them in our hands, gradually shaping them into two round circles around a centimetre thick. Arepas don’t need oil to cook, we put them in a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes on each side, and served them spread with cream cheese.
Patacones are twice fried, flattened plantains. Diana peeled the plantain & put it to fry in oil deep enough to cover it completely. After a few minutes frying on each side she lifted them out to cool, and drain the excess oil on kitchen paper. Lulada is a drink made from lulo fruit, sugar and water, like a lemonade but with lulos instead of lemons. She peeled the lulos and I chopped the flesh into a jug. We added a few spoonfuls of panela (unrefined sugar from sugar cane) and I stirred vigorously to dissolve the sugar. We added ice and water, and had a refreshing drink.
The patacones were now cool enough to flatten. The best way to get a flat patacon is to stand on it (protected by clingfilm & sandwiched between two chopping boards). I squished the patacones with my foot and we returned them to the oil for the second frying.
Earlier, Diana had poached some chicken in herbs and paprika, which I shredded and added to the onion and tomato hogao. With a little water to stop it drying out, we were close to finishing cooking. When everything was ready we sat in at the dining table, and tucked in. None of the dishes were very complicated to make, but it was all delicious. Diana explained the best way to eat the patacones was to pile on guacamole, hogao and grated cheese. Who am I to disagree?
Over lunch, we chatted some more, and Diana talked about the book she had just published with some friends, Bogota Through the 5 Senses. More than a simple Bogota Guide book, it includes sections on several areas of the city which people should visit, and aims to show Bogota from a different perspective, with recommendations from a local, and a long -term expat living in Bogota. You can find more information on the ‘non-guide’ to Bogota here.
I tried to finish all the food, I really did, but was finally beaten. Thoroughly stuffed, and thoroughly satisfied I caught a taxi back to the Candelaria for an afternoon siesta.
Final Thoughts about 5Bogota
Diana was a great host and guide, and felt more like a friend than a paid guide. Some people may find it a little too informal, if they were expecting a professional cooking class with the hygiene standards of a top restaurant, but I loved it. For me, there is nothing better than being welcomed into a local’s home as their guest.
The food was simple, and delicious, but more like ‘snack’ food than what I would consider a typical meal. However, I was stuffed by the end, and although something sweet could have finished the meal off quite nicely, I really didn’t have room for anything else. Often, Diana also teaches her guests how to make empanadas, fried Colombian pastries stuffed with the hogao mixture, which may feel more like a proper meal.
The meeting point was quite a long way from the Candelaria area in the historic centre where I was staying. This was great because I got to visit an area I wouldn’t normally have done, but it took around 20-25 minutes to get there by cab, so take that into account when you are planning your visit.
Overall, I loved spending time with Diana, and learned more about how diverse Colombia, and Bogota, is. For those wanting to visit Bogota and get a real experience with a local, without the bells and whistles of a big tour company, then the farmers’ market and cooking class with 5Bogota is for you. If you want a perfectly manicured, ’typical’ Colombian experience then this may not be for you. Remember that ‘typical’ Colombian can mean many things, and take a moment to wonder if that tour you booked is helping to change your perspective of Colombia, or if it is just reinforcing the stereotypes you already have.
Where to Stay in Bogota
I stayed in the Candelaria, right in the thick of the action. There are a lot of hostels around this area, and although it was a little noisy at night, there were always plenty of people on the streets so I wasn’t worried about walking to nearby restaurants on my own. I highly recommend Casa Bellavista Hostel; the staff were friendly, their dog was the biggest softie every, and it had a nice vibe with breakfast included.
Have you had a cooking class in Bogota? Share your experiences in the comments below.
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Thank you to 5Bogota who invited me to take part in their tour and class. My experience was complimentary, but as always, all opinions are my own. Feel free to check out other 5Bogota reviews on Tripadvisor.
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