Klaas De Meulder moved to Colombia eight years ago from his native Belgium. Now at the helm of Co | Compana in the city of Bogota, he shares his adopted land's ingredients with locals and tourists alike. Here he fills us in on what to look for in South American cuisine.
Papa encompasses nearly 200 different types of potatoes. It may not come to mind as the archetypal ingredient of Colombian cuisine, but it dominates as the major plant in the country’s gastronomic landscape.
Though native to South America, papa is now used around the world. Today, however, the culinary community is trying to rescue and utilize local ingredients. With its flavor, texture, color and shape differing across regions, papa is extremely versatile; the potential is still being discovered.
Yuca, also known as cassava, was a staple food for the pre-Colombian indigenous people. It remains an essential ingredient—at times it’s been described as “bread of the tropics.”
In many ways, the yuca is similar to a potato, but it’s much more fibrous. As with a number of other root vegetables, it must be boiled due to traces of toxins when raw. Some chefs find working with yuca intimidating, but it’s impressively adaptable. It’s served in many different ways across Latin America–depending on type and region.
Yet another root vegetable that is likened to a potato? Actually, depending on where you are in South America, arracacha is described differently: Sometimes it’s like a carrot, other times it’s similar to celery, and other times it resembles a potato. And just for good measure, it’s also sometimes thought to be a mix of all three!
In Colombia, arracacha is served either raw or cooked to unveil the full span of flavors contained in the root.
Cubio, native to the northern Andes, is often cultivated as an ornamental plant due to its decorative bi-colored flowers. In an analogous bit of history, potatoes were originally introduced to Europe as flowers, then as food.
Acting as a visually enticing element, the cubio and its beautiful roots are not only used in entrees and soup but also play a role in the desserts of the Colombian kitchen.
ñame (Spanish for “yam”) is widely used across Latin cuisine. Well-loved as a comfort food, it’s also prized for being highly nutritious. Rich in vitamins and carbohydrates, ñame aids in combating fatigue, stress and anxiety.
Words:Asia Wysoczyńska / PlaceboForte
Photography:Grzegorz Badzio / PlaceboForte