One of the biggest criticisms of Bogota is it’s lack of tranquillity. From the heavily congested sidewalks to the old buses and Transmilenio speeding through this concrete jungle pumping out clouds of smoke, it’s kind of hard to find a peace of mind in the nation’s capital. Thankfully, you don’t have to trek too far to get some greenery in this neck of the woods. Just a twenty minute bus ride up the mountains takes you to La Calera, a small municipal known for its proximity to Bogota as well as its wide range of Piqueteaderos (Colombian barbecue joints). While I dig the peace and quiet of the countryside, the picada (Colombian barbecue) is what really gets my ass on that bus.
What distinguishes the picada from western-style barbecues is that the meat isn’t always necessarily the main event. There are far too many players on your plate to pick a favourite and in this article I’m going to break down all the little goodies you can expect from a typical picada but before we get to that, try not to trip saliva all over your keyboard by looking at this:
Picada literally means bitten but the more accurate translation for this Colombian fare would be bite size food, or finger food except Colombians aren’t deep frying frozen spring rolls. They’re cooking up real food. The concept of the picada is to order a bunch of meat and sides, chop them up into bite size portions and throw it all on a huge tray for everyone to pick apart. You’d be hard pressed to find a more relaxing and enjoyable Sunday activity than getting a group of friends and family together around a platter of picada on a sunny day. Although most Piqueteaderos offer the same things of varying quality, the thai saying of “same same but different” applies. With that in mind, here’s what you’ll find in a typical basket of picada:
Papa criolla – These little yellow potatoes can be found everywhere and are arguably the most common side in a picada. Think of them as Colombian fries. They are lightly fried in oil with a bit of salt and are delicious with guacamole and aji. The inside has a really starchy and potatoey texture which is why they are used to thicken Ajiaco, a traditional potato soup from the Andes region.
Grilled beef/pork/chicken – Let’s be real. Without meat, there is no barbecue and Colombian picada is no different. Most piqueteaderos grill their meat old school by chucking a giant slab over charcoal or wood flame. Just watching the grill masters do their work is really quite an experience in itself.
Platano maduro (sweet plantain) – Any form of sweet plantain is pretty damn good but when they’re grilled, they come out all sweet and creamy like grilled marshmallows. Like the papa criolla, this is a given when eating picada.
Guacamole – Colombian guacamole generally come with tomato and onion but picada guacamole is normally just mashed up avocado and a bit of salt. Very important for your picada. Tip: use your papa criolla and dip away.
Chunchullo – Fried intestines. There’s really no way of glorifying this local delicacy except to encourage you to forget the word intestine and take my word that it’s absolutely delicious. I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the things I get excited about the most when I go for a picada.
Morcilla/Rellena – Colombian blood sausages. Apart from the rice and blood, rellena are also commonly stuffed with peas as well to give it extra flavour.
Longaniza – These pork sausages originate from a little town in the Boyacá called Sutamarchán and are so freakin’ good that they have garnered national fame. To complete your assortment of meats in your picada tray, you must throw in few longanizas.
Arepa – I’ve spoken before about arepas and their importance in Colombian cuisine. Piqueteaderos usually have their own recipe and so far, none have been disappointing. Sometimes they’re so good that I think it’s worth the trip out just to the arepas. Common arepas include arepas con queso and arepas de chocolo.
Envuelto – Parcels of corn that come wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection. Envueltos remind me of sweet corn fritters that I grew up eating. You might see envueltos sold in tiendas and supermarkets but they are rubbish. Piqueteaderos seem to do the best envueltos so unless you have access to a Colombian grandmother, just go there.