For most of us, traveling means chowing down on local eats. While many of us live in cities that play host to a culinary scene with international flavors, there's just no comparison to exploring food in its country of origin. For me, one of those memorable in-country experiences took place in Colombia.
Colombia is a country known for its many meat dishes. The ‘national dish’ is, arguably, the Bandeja Paisa, a mix of meats that is so oversized it doesn’t fit on a plate, and is served on a tray! Including such carnivorous fare as chorizo, grilled steak, pork rind, and fried egg, this dish is hardly vegetarian friendly, and those preferring veggies might find themselves eating a good deal of arepas, a flat corn meal-based street treat, often grilled after being filled with cheese.
However, during a visit to quaint, white-washed Villa de Leyva, a preserved colonial village and Colombian National Monument just under three hours northeast of Bogotá, I was introduced to a lighter, and perhaps lesser-known, vegetarian-friendly Colombian dish called changua. This breakfast soup, which hails from the central Andes of Colombia, is made of a milk, onion, and egg combo. Handed down generation to generation, each family has a slightly different recipe.
“I don't eat it every day, just sometimes,” explained my new friend and travel companion, Sonia Herrera of Bogotá about this Colombian comfort food. “For me, it’s a good soup if I feel sick (flu or stomach problems). The ingredients are perfect to [make you] feel better, especially if you don't [have an] appetite.”
In charming Villa de Leyva, I stayed at the friendly and cozy Hostal Rana. Laura and Luis, a laid back and jovial British and Colombian couple, opened this homey guesthouse about two years ago. A simple house with a few rooms available for rent, on arrival I found out that the Hostal was offering something called “The Breakfast Club.” When I inquired, it was explained as an easy-going, morning cooking class for interested guests. And although Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald would not be at this breakfast club, for less than four bucks, I couldn’t pass it up.
Our teacher for the morning was sweet Antonio, the owner’s father and resident chef. After donning his chef’s hat, he feigned modesty, and proceeded to school us in one of the region’s most popular soups: changua. We did a little dicing and a little dancing, all the while laughing at Antonio’s jokes. The prep was muy fácil; the hardest part was being able to gently add the eggs to the boiling soup without breaking the yolks!
Filling and flavorful, changua was one of the tastiest foods I had while in Colombia. For me, it was the cilantro and garlic that put the soup over the top, though I’m sure every palate will find a different taste that they enjoy. The most essential ingredient, however, was the one that took changua from good to delicioso. Added by Antonio, (though every chef can deliver their own special blend), it was simple and readily available: a little bit of love.