Located in the heart of La Candelaria just one block away from the Plaza de Bolivar, lies one of the oldest and most important gastronomic and historical establishments of Bogota. No it’s not some tacky tourist hang out spot where people just go for their usual selfie opp. There’s no takeaway postcard or souvenir. Just simple Santafereño (Bogotano) home cooking for hungry patrons who value tradition and quality. I’m talking about a cosy little eatery/restaurant called La Puerta Falsa.
Looking at it from the outside, most people would probably mistake it for one of the many classic Spanish colonial homes that line the streets of the city’s historic centre. It’s a tiny establishment, with a wooden bar on the right that seats about ten people and a small staircase which leads to an upper level that manages to squeeze in three tables. While one may think that with all the traffic that comes through the door, why not expand? My only guess is that the owners have intended to preserve its humble and intimate ambience, upholding its reputation as being a traditional family-owned Colombian eatery rather than a full blown restaurant.
The story of La Puerta Falsa stretches back almost 200 years. Its name was adopted as the church across the street had fake doors built on the outside which were used as a defence mechanism to mislead attackers to the city. As the eatery didn’t have a name at the time, locals started referring to it as La Puerta Falsa (the fake door) which officially became its name in 1816 when the current owner’s great great grandparents registered the family business. Generations upon generations of Bogotanos from every day locals to well-known writers, actors and ex-presidents have passed through the doors of this gastronomic icon in order to fill their bellies with classic Bogotano favourites such as its famous Tamales.
While the options are not many, the secret of La Puerta’s success lies in its history. We’re talking about two centuries worth of tightly kept family recipes here with traditional dishes on offer such as chocolate completo (Colombian style hot chocolate), agua de panela completa (a hot drink made of panela) and Ajiaco. While these options are all great, most people flock to La Puerta Falsa for its Tamales. These things are so goddamn delicious that they top many locals’ “best tamal in Bogota” lists. I remember the first time I tried La Puerta’s tamal and thinking goodness this is how all Colombian tamales should taste like.
The other dish that’s worth trying is the chocolate completo which comes with hot chocolate, cheese, bread and almojabana (kind of a mix between a sponge cake and cheese bread). It may sound strange to some people but Colombians often drink hot chocolate for breakfast.That’s not even the strange part. They put chunks of cheese in it too. The idea is to scoop out bits of melted cheese from the bottom while you sip on your hot beverage. Coming from a western background where coffee is about as exciting as far as breakfast beverages go, this was a real gastural (gastro and cultural) shock to me. It still doesn’t make any sense to me to have melted cheese sitting at the bottom of a hot mug of hot chocolate but I’ve somehow taken a liking to it. I guess you’ll just have to try it out for yourself.
On your way out, make sure you check out at least one of the many traditional sweets they have on display.