Written by Beatriz
Interested in the struggle of Colombian campesinos and their relationships to land, Margarita arrived to Bloomington from Bogotá, Colombia, 4 years ago to earn a PhD degree in Latin American history. Listening to oral history both through archival work, and recent interviews, Margarita is fascinated by counter story-telling - the telling of stories that are not usually heard. At first, coming to Bloomington, she felt she didn't belong in this town as a Colombian woman, her story didn’t fit and wasn’t understood.
The ways she was used to relationships being felt and constructed, as well the tastes, smells and the whole ritual of food making and eating, were missing from her US experience.
The moments of eating in Colombia, as she said, are full of laughter, of communal sharing through all steps and experience of eating. For her, Sundays are one of the most difficult days away from home, where she longs to eat together with family, cook with her mom, and take a good nap in the afternoon after lunch. In her little one-bedroom house in Bloomington, cooking on Sundays became a way to connect, not only through making food from Colombia but in taking a moment to call her mom, and ask for advice on how to add some ingredients and the right times they should be incorporated. Moving to a foreign place, Margarita questioned herself:
“If I can’t go home, how can I get back to those smells and tastes?”
To do so, she also learned new things about herself:
“I needed to be creative about where to find ingredients, and how to best mimic dishes my mom would do at home”.
Her process became the weaving together of knowledge from family but also crafting her own skills, to grocery shopping possibilities in Bloomington. Ajiaco is a dish not only from Colombia, but specifically from Bogotá, where it is usually cold, similar to the Fall weather in Bloomington. A soup like Ajiaco is warm and cozy, having a very specific flavor from a very essential ingredient: the herb Guasca. According to Margarita “you can only find it here dried, not fresh like we use in Colombia. Usually you can get it from international markets in Indianapolis or Cincinnati”. However, not only Guasca is missing, for Ajiaco you also need three different types of potatoes, which you can also only find in Colombia. Every time Margarita cooks Ajiaco, usually on Sundays, she calls her mom for company and instructions. However, to adapt the Bloomington version of the recipe she contacts her Colombian friends in town:
“I learn new techniques from them, like cooking the Guasca beforehand in hot water and then adding to the soup. That way, the flavour gets much more accentuated, and was something I didn’t do before talking to fellow Colombians in Bloomington”.
Most of all, she realized how we can take for granted many flavors, and the beautifulness of the different ideas of how getting closer to those that can transport us home.
Comfort Food Inspiration:
Bogotá's Traditional Meal for a rainy day
Ajiaco with Corn Rice
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Three types of potato (Sabanera, Pastusa, and Criolla). If you're outside of Colombia, you can use red potato and yellow potato)
Guascas (If you're outside of Colombia, you can get dried Guascas from international markets).
(Seasoning to taste)
Boil the sliced chicken breast in a pot with water.
Peel potatoes and cut them into round slices. In a large pot, add them to the boiling chicken.
Add the corn and the peas.
Dice the onions and the cilantro. Add them to the soup.
Add salt and pepper.
Stir until the soup gets some thickness.
Add fresh Guascas. If using dried Guascas, boil them in a small pan separatly before adding to the soup.
Serve soup with a side of rice and avocado. You can also add a teaspoon of whipped cream and capers.
Serve and enjoy!