As a lot of people say, one of the best ways to see a culture is through visiting a local market and trying the foods that the locals eat on a regular basis. But that can be very difficult. Especially in countries without an advanced tourism markets and/or those where you don’t speak the language, like me in Bogota, Colombia.
Bogota’s biggest and most important market is Paloquemao Market, located right in the center of Bogota in the Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao. The market is large and from afar and looks more like a big factory than a market. It is also extremely busy, with very few tourists.
While busy, anyone can visit Paloquemao Market. To get get there, any taxi driver should know directions and the name comes up in Uber. The market is free and is at its best in the morning. You should note, English is extremely limited (almost non-existent) and the Paloquemao Market is actually a very real, working market. Read – there isn’t a lot of time for tourists. So if you go, make sure that you at least look like you know what you are doing. Those who speak Spanish will fare better.
We decided that our Spanish (or lack thereof) would not allow us to visit on our own and instead we joined the Bogota Food Safari with Loon, an Australian living in Bogota who speaks excellent English and Spanish. This tour runs in mornings and afternoons and cost $55 USD a person and includes all samples. In total, I thought the tour was a tiny bit pricey, but having a local take you around the market and plan everything for you holds a lot of value.
For flower enthusiasts, Colombia is one of the world’s biggest flower producers, and the industry is especially big around Bogota. The outside area of the Paloquemao Market is a flower market in the early morning and is so crazy! We visited just before Valentine’s Day, so the roses were out in abundance! This was pretty interesting to see.
After walking around the flower market, we stopped for breakfast at stand 81678, which was filled with lots of locals.
For breakfast, Dan and I split a cheese arepa and a catfish soup. Yes, catfish soup. Thank god I was not hungover. The catfish was actually very tasty and not fishy at all. It was served in a midly spicy broth with vegetables. However, the arepa was the star of the show for me. It tasted like a southern biscuit and was loaded with cheese! The spicy salsa on the table was also really good.
After our catfish breakfast, we entered the covered part of the market and moved into the fruit area to sample some Colombian fruits. The fruits were very interesting, and quite light after our large breakfast. I thought stops like this held the most value on the tour. Loon had a relationship with the owner and was able to purchase just two or three of particular fruits for us to try.
Next we strolled through endless fruit and vegetable stands. Loon was very good about answering any questions that we had and provided a running commentary about the market and Colombian food as we walked through the market. The vegetable section was really interesting, as they were the same vegetables as we were used to, but they are smaller and fatter. I dubbed them Botero vegetables.
We also saw someone purchasing a live chicken…
After our stroll, we stopped for an empanada and a pastel yucca from, again, a very local stall called Cafe Samani. My favorite part of the meal was the salsa.
After this, Dan’s favorite part of the day, lechona tolimense. Lechona is pork cooked in rice and thee stuffed back into a pig for cooking. It is very popular and is most often served on Sundays and special occasions. We split a plate and had it with some hot sauce!
After the pig, we sampled Colombia’s famous fruit juices. You can try fruit juice anywhere in Bogota and you absolutely must try at least one while you are in Colombia!
After finishing up at the Paloquemao Market, we took a bus to La Candelaria and enjoyed dessert and coffee.
And that summed up our day at the Paloquemao Market. The Food Safari was particularly enjoyable since we do not speak Spanish. If you are adventurous or on a budget, you can definitely visit the market yourself. It was totally safe. Happy eating!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Paloquemao Market – Cl. 19 # 25-04, Bogota, Colombia. Free to visit. Open Monday – Satruday 4:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Sunday and holidays 5:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Bogota Food Safari – Email Loon at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a tour of the Paloquemao Market. He usually runs them daily at 9:00 and 1:00. He was very responsive to my emails. Cost: $120,000 COP/person, includes all tastings. Bring a bottle of water.