“What’s your favorite food?” someone from the Vanderbilt athletic department asks me, as they jot down some personal information for an interview.
“Potatoes,” I respond, unwavering in my response. I smile, thinking back to the last potato I had eaten, and start to wonder whether I could make a quick stop to Wendy’s before swim practice to put down a baked potato with bacon and cheese….
Ever since I can remember, potatoes have been my favorite food. There is something about the heartiness, the warmth, the texture of a potato, that makes me feel alive, anytime I have a bite of one. I love them in all shapes, sizes, colors, and forms. I would eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are so many ways you can eat a potato, I don’t think I could ever be sick of them.
I was pleased to find out that in Colombia, potatoes make up a big portion of the diet and is more or less the principle “vegetable” you will find to eat. You can find them in a whole-made lunch plate, boiled with a little salt, roasted with some oregano, as french fries, the options are endless. Colombia also has a type of potato that we don’t have in the US, well, or at least I have been unable to find it – the papa criolla or yellow potato.
These yellow potatoes are small and soft inside. They are good boiled, fried, cut up into strips, and the best, in my opinion – in soup. The most traditional soup in Bogota is called Ajiaco and is principally made using this potato.
The first time I had the soup, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The thickness was not too light, not too heavy. The flavors were balanced and sparked my taste buds. And really, it was as if there were potatoes, on top of potatoes, on top of potatoes…I wanted to savor every bite!
The base of the Ajiaco soup is made by cutting the yellow potatoes into little tiny pieces, which are dissolved in water. Then, there is chicken, corn, other white potato pieces, capers, avocado, and cream. It sounds like an odd combination, especially with the capers, but it is one of the most amazing mixtures of things I have ever eaten in my life.
I was lucky enough to have a weekend where Santiago’s mom taught me how to make it. You can see below the number of ingredients that are required. The hardest part about making the soup, was time it took to peal and cut the potatoes (about 2 hours…), and getting the ratio of water to potatoes just right for the base of the soup. Overall, it takes about 4 hours to prepare and cook, which does not include the quick run to the grocery store the morning of cooking, because lurking there is still a fear that you don’t have enough potatoes.
After Santiago’s mom taught me how to make it once, I was able to make it on my own (with some help from Santiago) for her and Santiago’s dad. To my surprise, I had good luck with it! We ended up making a big pot full, enough to feed a village; however, Santiago and I managed to eat it all in the 3 days that followed.
I smile knowing that I have found people with a similar heart here in Colombia, these potato lovers. And I am grateful to have a family here who taught me how to make it and that now that I can share this wonderful soup with them.