OPA! Gyros

I first read about OPA! through Facebook. It must have been almost a year ago that the word "gyros" caught my eye on somebody's page and I thought: Greek food! I checked it out once but they were closing for the day. Still, the possibility of having a good gyro in Bogotá kept OPA! at the front of my mind for many months. Somehow it took me almost an entire year to actually make it back and finally try them.

The place is pretty small (although at least 3 times the size of their original location that I first visited) and my sister and I arrived at the height of lunchtime rush hour. Fortunately we didn't have to wait too long for a couple of stools to open up at the bar. We opted for the Megapolis Mixto - a combo of 2 pork and chicken gyros, 2 bags of homemade chips, and 2 drinks. Perfect and affordable - $20,000 for the two person combo.

The pita-like bread is fresh, supple, and has a very lightly toasted surface - just enough for it to crack a bit when folded and unveil the soft center of the bread. First on the pita comes a generous spread of their yoghurt sauce, which looked and tasted a lot like tatziki to me.

Next came the chicken and pork that is marinated and cooked on the ubiquitous, vertical rotating spit used for several kinds of kebabs, shawarma, gyros, taquitos al pastor, etc. All resulting in really tasty, slighly charred, moist and evenly cooked meats.

On top of the meat comes some pickled red onions, super fresh lettuce, tomato, and a dusting of paprika. All this goodness comes wrapped in wax paper printed to look like a Greek newspaper (very cute detail). Remembering the combination of flavors right now is making my mouth water.

The staff was friendly and very efficient which is very refreshing with the sometimes sub par service that is all too common these days. The rest of the menu including sides and appetizers looks very enticing as well but I´ll have to try them another day. All in all OPA is a great spot and as far as I can tell, the most authentic Greek gyro in Colombia or at least Bogotá. Can´t wait to get back...I´m hungry!

OPA! Gyros
Carrera 14 # 90- 03


Green Mango • Mango Biche

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to go to Girardot (altitude 289 m). This town, about 3 hours east of Bogotá, is located where the upper Magdalena and Bogotá rivers meet. It's a really popular spot to go to for the weekend, especially since you get the chance to escape the bone-chilling cold of Bogotá and get some use out of that summer clothes that's been packed away under the bed for months.

Anyways, on my getaway I sat by the pool, relaxed, soaked in the sun, got a sunburn and ate mangoes right off the trees in the backyard. This took me back to when I was a little girl and my family used to go to Girardot all the time. One of the food memories I have from those days (aside from downing cans of sweetened condensed milk in the stifling heat - not very refreshing now that I think about it) is eating green mangoes with salt. It's a strange combination but it works. For many years I thought this was a local delicacy but after doing a bit of research, I found that eating green mangoes is not a Colombian thing at all - it's really more of a tropical thing.

In many parts of the world, including Central/South America, South East Asia and India, green mangoes have been important parts of regional cuisine. In almost every case that I came across, the norm is to eat pieces of the green mango dipped in salt; salt and chilli; or salt and chilli and lime.

In Vietnam, green mango pieces are dipped into a mixture of fish sauce and sugar. In Thailand, green mango (or green papaya) salads are common. In parts of India, (place of origin of the mango and top producer in the world) several varieties of chutneys are made with green mangoes - not ripe ones like in the western world.

On this last trip to Girardot, however, I did come across one quite unusual and unique presentation of green mango - the popsicle! It was a lime flavored popsicle with tons of little bits of chopped up green mango. Delicious! They came with little packets of salt but I decided to stick with the popsicle as it was.

This got me thinking about making a lime and green mango granita at home. I am starting with a simple lime based recipe and building it up from there. Stay tuned for a yummy, refreshing summer recipe....I hope!


Surtifruver de la Sabana: A Produce Wonderland

I love produce. I love green markets, farmer's markets, kitchen gardens, CSA's and pretty much anything that has to do with fresh fruits and vegetables.

You wouldn't believe me though, if you looked in my fridge.

I admit that I'm a hypocrite in that respect because I don't often buy, cook or eat fresh produce. I have had far too many experiences with things going off in the crisper (a.k.a. the rotter). I imagine it has something to do with poor planning and a lack of effort. But anyways, I do love a nice stroll through a produce market, day dreaming about nutrition and ways to cook different veggies, and ogling at all of nature's bounty. Fortunately, in Bogota there is such a place.

Surtifruver de la Sabana (a condensed version of "Surtidora de Frutas y Verduras") is becoming a giant in this city and it's no wonder why. Imagine the produce section of your average supermarket, but instead of it only being one section out of many, it's the entire market. The last one I went to, and one of the most recently opened, has two-stories, a parking lot with a car elevator, and aisle upon aisle of every kind of fruit and veg you can imagine - and then some. Before I even stepped foot into the store I got hit by the aroma of sweet, little mangoes piled high onto a wheelbarrow....mmmmm!

I know it looks a little cold and sterile but in Bogota there really aren't too many farmer's markets, so this is a pretty good substitute. If I could make one suggestion to the people at Surtifruver it might be to warm it up a bit (think Trader Joe's, Harris Teeter or Whole Foods). In spite of this I would still say that for any foodie coming to Colombia, Sutifruver is a great place to discover some new fruits and vegetables.

Aside from offering a very wide variety of produce at great prices, Surtifruver is also committed to happy, healthy kids. They have acquired the "LazyTown" franchise for two years. The popular Icelandic (who knew!) cartoon featuring Sportacus and his "sports candy" (fruits and vegetables) helps to draw kids in and educate them on how important fruits and vegetables are.

As part of their growth plan, Sutrifruver hopes to expand not only throughout Colombia but also to Venezuela, Ecuador and Canada. Their target market, and most frequent shoppers, are women between the ages of 25 and 55 (I am not included...yet) and they sell approximately 450 tons of fruit and vegetables a day.

What is their top-selling product, you wonder?



Piqueteadero "El Chorote"

One of the great things about Bogota is that it's so easy to drive a little while and get away from the hectic city. On a two hour drive, or in some cases less, you can find yourself in the embrace of warm, balmy weather or in a cold, beautiful paramo. Depending on which direction you choose to drive and for how long, you're transported to another world with a different climate, flora, fauna, and food.

Yesterday a group of us decided to go for a short drive via La Calera. La Calera is a small town about 30 minutes out of the city but generally when you say you're going there you are just traveling by way of the road that leads there. The winding road takes you up the mountains and behind Bogota's north-eastern side and before too long you're driving through the countryside. The roadside is full of food stalls, rustic little restaurants and a few, rather odd places (I saw a sign for authentic Russian cuisine - I can't imagine that but maybe one day I'll pay them a visit.)

On this day our lunch destination was the Piqueteadero El Chorote. In Colombia a piqueteadero is a place where a rustic lunch is served and shared with a group of friends and family. It's usually located in the countryside and from what I gather, "piquete" is basically like a picnic. Although there is generally indoor seating available, the meal should be eaten outdoors to really enjoy the whole experience.

The way this kind of place works is that you get in line to pick out what you want piled onto your groups lunch platter. The grill is right behind the person that takes orders and is filled with cuts of beef, pork, chicken, chorizo, morcilla (or relleno), corn on the cob, and much more. Of course, as I think most people do, we ordered a lot more than we probably needed to. Everything looks so appetizing and the smells coming off the grill are so good that you end up ordering absurd amounts of food. "Should we get one order of beef?" someone asks. "NO! Two!" responds a hungry friend. The same kind of back-and-forth continues until we emerge with an aluminum platter brimming with meats, arepas, corn, ripe plantains, yuca....enough to feed about 10 people - not 4.

Somehow though, as you can imagine, we were able to devour most of the food we ordered. Sitting out on logs in a grassy lawn and overlooking the beautiful Andean mountains, it felt like we were so much further away from civilization. I'm not sure how but this was actually the first piqueteadero I had ever been to. I'd say from now on I am a big fan. It's not only about the food, which is delicious and enough reason to go in itself - but also the drive out of the city, the outdoors and the treat that it is to eat picnic-style, enjoying the fresh air and views with a few good friends.