Making Ajiaco in Bogota

When I travel, I love to try different food, as it is the one of the best way to learn about culture. I also really enjoy cooking, for me it’s a time to destress and just focus on that one step at a time as opposed to all the craziness that may be happening in your life. I have started taking cooking classes when I travel because it is a great opportunity to learn about history and culture right from the source, a local. I decided I wanted to do a cooking class on my solo trip in Bogota.

Although I’ve really enjoyed the cooking classes I’ve done in the past, I feel like there are usually only two types of cooking classes. One is where you have 30 people in a class and you all chop one part of a vegetable, or the other option is more intimate but wildly expensive. I was determined to find something more intimate, where I can truly enjoy the recipe, but without breaking the bank. While researching tour/ class companies, I came across Bogota Bike Tours. Don’t let their name fool you, they offer a variety of different tours besides bike tours, such as walking tours and cooking classes. I had an email exchange with Mike from Bogota Bike Tours and he informed me I can take a cooking class right in Dona Elsa’s home with her family. The cost was around $28 USD + the groceries that day so I decided to reserve my spot. He gave me the address of Dona Elsa’s home in advance which was conveniently located in La Candelaria.

I arrived at her home at 10 am and she graciously welcomed me in and I met her family who were also home. Bogota Bike Tour’s offers an interpreter to join the class since Dona Elsa speaks hardly any English. I decided I didn’t want the interpreter to join, I was going to take the opportunity to practice my Spanish. We spoke for a bit through her broken English and my broken Spanish, and she informed me we would go to the market to get the ingredients for our meal for the day, which was ajiaco. Ajiaco is a typical Colombian chicken, potato, and corn stew that you will find throughout Bogota. I learned that Bogota used to be much colder than it is now because of global warming. Since people worked all day and were in the cold mountains, they needed something to keep them warm, full, and energized which is why they made Ajiaco. 

We started by leaving her home and walking up the hill together to the butcher and where we got chicken breast. We then headed over to the next block where the market was. The open market was filled of bright, vibrant vegetables where the smell of different herbs and sweet fruit lingered. There we picked out the veggies and fresh herbs we needed. We walked back to her house and chatted through our broken words and by using google translate. I learned she has been cooking her whole life and has been teaching cooking classes in her own kitchen for many years now.

As soon as we got back, we started cooking. Dona Elsa, her granddaughter, and I started by opening the pea pods pulling the little peas from each pod. Afterwards we cut the potatoes and shredded them and placed them in the pot. Although I don’t speak Spanish, she showed me what to do each step of the way and I was able to understand everything while  cooking and learning the recipe. Thankfully, this is an easier, “one pot” recipe, so after cutting and preparing the food we just let it simmer on the stove for 20 minutes. While we were waiting I sat with her two grandchildren. Dona Elsa sat there and wrote out the recipe for me by hand. It was such a kind gesture. She doesn’t have index cards with the recipe, or laminated copies to give to “students”, it’s all in her head, and in her heart. 

Once the food was done, she served me a huge bowl on the Ajiaco we made with a side of avocado. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited, because I am not a huge stew or corn girl. But I tasted it, and suddenly couldn’t stop eating it. It is a hearty dish which your grandmother would serve, but it was also absolutely delicious. I was surprised that it was so good when we used so little ingredients and it was such a simple recipe. While I was eating, she had on VH1 which was playing old school American hip hop videos, which is not something I feel like she would watch on her own – I think she may have put it on for me. It might have been a mixture of her family being there, the fragrant food on the stove, or 90’s artists on the screen, but I felt like home there. Like I was cooking at my own grandmother’s kitchen and learning her favorite recipe. Even without speaking the same language, I felt welcomed in Dona Elsa’s kitchen, because like love, food has no boundaries, prejudice, or language. 


Finding Francesca

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