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A Feast in the Andes
Is a New Latina Gastronomy Coming of Age in Colombia?
by Andre Gayot
Cooking Demonstration Colombia Provoca
Festival attendees watch local chefs prepare a large paella dish

The purest, finest Spanish language is said to be pronounced in Colombia. Now the Colombians would love to garner the same kudos for their food. And they yearn to join the list of countries noted for their gastronomic interest and savvy. For this respectable purpose, they deploy “mucho” attention and efforts to draw our attention to the quality of their products and the savoir faire of their chefs. Sure, Colombia is already known for its excellent coffee, but a tasty java is not all there’s to savor in this country.

May we confess that, in our neck of the woods, we are somewhat ignorant about this nation? Aren’t we surprised to hear that with 45 million denizens, it is the third largest South American nation population-wise? Indeed, they can reasonably brag that they have a large agricultural production with an array of interesting products such as cocoa, which is probably among the best in the world. Colombians are working to pass that message to the rest of the planet. One way they have found to do this is by holding an annual "fiesta" under the defiant name of "Colombia Provoca." This is in fact a gentle provocation, as each year in the last week of August, farmers, food producers, chefs, cooks of any description, students, apprentices and foodies descend on the city of Medellin for "Colombia Provoca"–a food festival meant to promote all food things Colombian and by the same token seduce the senses of the participants.

Festival Attendees
Thousands of local and international visitors attend the Colombia Provoca fiesta in the city of Medellin every year

Over 250 exhibitors attend the event, which highlights an abundance of local products: tender meats, fish and crustaceans from the Caribbean and lots of fruits and vegetables. Attendees are taught to make the best use of it. They have the opportunity to take cooking classes, learn about the development of gastronomy in the country and, of course, savor a variety of food.

The grand fiesta that is Colombia Provoca takes place in the booming city’s botanical garden, providing a lush natural backdrop for people to indulge in the gastronomic delights over the course of three days. It’s also an opportunity for the city of Medellin to demonstrate its vitality and display to the rest of the world the richness of its produce and traditions that it has inherited over generations.

Colombians are very open to the rest of the globe, beginning with their neighbors. In 2007, Peru was the guest of honor chosen to display its savoir-faire. Argentina and Chile are largely represented by their wines, for Colombia does not produce any, save for the exception of a single winery.

Colombia Provoca even mobilizes the academic energies to preserve the national traditions. It, rightly so, highlights the Cocina Parental—the family preparations of food, devoid of pretension. These are meals based on family recipes gathered from grandmothers, aunts and even local witch doctors (known as “yerbateras”). The meals are created with loving care for family members. With due labor, the earth provides the nurturing of food as a just reward for man’s hard work. Together they share and enjoy the bounties of a domesticated nature. No one would go against that.

More than a feast, Colombia Provoca is an opportunity to pleasantly discover a people through its eating culture.

(Coming soon: our guides to Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena).

For more information, visit

(Updated: 07/02/08 HC)

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