For me, traveling and food go together like peanut butter and honey. It just makes sense. In one bite, we can discover a culture. We bond with its people.
My family shares the same sentiment. So when they came to visit a couple of weeks ago, I took them to my favorite place for a Saturday morning in Bogota: La Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao. Although not present in many of the guide books, nor listed as a top thing to do online, this bustling, chaotic flower and food market was the first thing to make me fall in love with the city.
My mother squealed with delight upon seeing all the exotic fruits and vegetables. She wanted to know the name of something that looked like a spiky, yellow grenade (pitaya), bite-sized fruits resembling orange-colored cherry tomatoes (uchuvas), and large, thorny green ovals with a white, fleshy interior (guanabana). She breathed in the sweet scent of ripe, tropical fruit. She was in food (or should I say fruit) heaven.
For breakfast, we sat on stools next to locals and had fresh fruit salads. Traditionally served with a bit of condensed milk and a mountain of shredded cheese, we decided to skip the toppings and enjoy the natural sweetness of mango and papaya. We also shared a hot, cheese-filled arepa, straight from the griddle.
After we were good and full, we continued to explore the market. We left the fruit section and entered vegetables. My father and I made frequent stops to make sure my mother was in sight. If she wasn’t, all we had to do was follow the flash from her camera.
We probably spent three hours toiling through the maze of Paloquemao—through alleyways of mops and brooms and warehouse courtyards filled with cheap, ripe produce. A detour one way led us to butchers wearing blood-stained aprons, standing in front of pigs hanging from hooks and homemade sausages. Another way to fishmongers hawking trucha (river trout) and bags of shrimp.
When we finally made it through the plaza, and my mother’s memory card had met its limit, we came to a parking lot full of flowers. Women were seated under umbrellas, pruning roses and arranging them in cardboard boxes. Men were loading trucks with birds-of-paradise and wild lilies for sale on streets and at supermarkets. I eyed a bouquet of hydrangeas. The deep, blue petals matched the low-hanging sky over Bogota. I wanted them for my apartment, but I knew better. My parents and I had much more exploring to do.