Cuisine Spotlight – Sancocho

Many cultures around the world have their own unique take on stews and soups that are both hearty and comes with a number of different ingredients. This is also the case in many Latin American countries where the stew itself is called ‘sancocho’ and is closely related to the Spanish stew known as ‘cocido.’ Along with the Spanish influence, Sancocho takes most of its’ ingredients from local foods that are popular and add flavor to the dish. Sancocho is also considered to be the national dish in a few of the Latin American countries where it is made and eaten.

Among the countries where Sancocho is a popular food dish includes the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela, etc. so you could say that it’s a staple and has become popular in many households and restaurants. Sancocho is believed to have originated from the Canary Islands where it is a dish that heavily is made of a whole-cooked fish with broth and potatoes.

The dish was brought over to Latin America when the Canarians and their descendants immigrated to parts of the new world centuries ago. As is the case with many different foods, the immigrants who move to a different part of the world often bring their favorite dishes with them. While fish was a main ingredient in the ‘original’ sancocho, there are many different types of meats and vegetables that make up variations on the popular dish depending upon which country you’re in. Sancocho is especially common to be served during lunchtime as it is quite filling and can hold a person over until dinner comes around. It’s common for Sancocho to be served in a huge pot for a family gathering or birthday party where the dish can be expanded to served dozens of people total.

In Colombia, specifically, sancocho is an extremely popular dish with a wide range of ingredients that can range from chicken to ox tail. Other meats that can be apart of sancocho include hen, pork ribs, cow ribs, fish, etc. For example, sancocho with fish is really popular on the Atlantic coast of Colombia while pork and beef is more commonly found in the interior of the country. In addition to mean, sancocho can also include large portions of plantains, yucca, potatoes, and various vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, scallions, mazorca (corn on the cob), etc.

There is simply no limit as to what can be put into sancocho and each country puts a different spin on the popular dish. In the Dominican Republic, for example, there is Sancocho de siete carnes, which is a dish made up of a mixture of different meats including chicken, beef, pork, etc. Sancocho de gallina, which is made up of free-range chicken is quite popular in Panama and is also the national dish of the country. Puerto Rico has the distinction of even adding smoked ham, pork feet with chick feats, which is known as sancocho de patitas and is quite unique in terms of its’ culinary characteristics.

The beautiful thing about sancocho is that there are so many different regional and national varieties to this dish are that the possibilities of mixing and matching different ingredients or toppings is simply endless. Any nation that has been touched by Spanish influence or colonization has adapted their own version of sancocho including even in the Philippines, which has a huge amount of meats and vegetables to offer in its own national take on the dish. Keeping to the Spanish heritage of the dish, they call it cocido as it is known in Spain.

If you decide to come to Latin America and find yourself at someone’s family gathering, hanging out with a few friends, or enjoying a birthday party, it’s likely that you’ll get a good serving of sancocho. In addition, the sancocho you get depending upon the country or the region in which the dish is being served to you will most likely be different and have some variation to it. The beauty of a popular dish like sancocho is its’ history, its’ adaptability, as well as the chance to gather with a group of people and dig in to this delicious food together.

 

Cuisine Spotlight – Bandeja Paisa

For my first post in the new ‘Cuisine Spotlight’ series, I will be focusing on my favorite dish here in Colombia, which is known as the ‘Bandeja Paisa.’ Flavorful, unique, and made up of different food groups, ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is a conglomeration of the best of Colombian cuisine, and specifically of the Antioquia region. You can tell by its’ name that this popular food dish has its’ origins with the Paisas who are the inhabitants of Department of Antioquia. If you translated ‘Bandeja Paisa’ from Spanish to English, it would roughly mean ‘Paisa Platter.’

It’s a paisa platter because there are a number of different foods that make up this huge plate of food. There is a variety and amount of flavors and tastes that you can’t find in many other dishes here. While there are a number of ‘Bandejas’ or ‘Platters’, the ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is the most well known along with its’ ingredients. The ‘Bandeja Paisa’ usually includes red beans mixed with pork, white rice, ground meat, chicharron, fried egg, plantains, chorizo, arepas, blood sausage, avocado, and criollo sauce to top it all off. You have to eat ‘Bandeja Paisa’ on an empty stomach. Otherwise, you may not be able to finish half of the dish.

‘Bandeja Paisa’ is a lunchtime dish and should be enjoyed with a nice cold glass of fruit juice. In Colombian culture, lunch rather than dinner is the main meal of the day and is to be taken seriously. I would recommend to have your ‘Bandeja Paisa’ dish with other people around whether they be friends or family because chances are good that you won’t be able to finish it all on your own. It is likely that the ‘Bandeja Paisa’ dish was made for those people who worked the fields for farming and growing crops. They also could be herding cattle and collecting food for their families.

I would like to believe that they would look forward to having ‘Bandeja Paisa’ as their main meal of the day due to the arduous physical tasks that would be asked of them to complete from sunrise to mid-day. I’m sure millions of Colombians and foreigners here like myself have thought about settling down and having ‘Bandeja Paisa’ after a long day of work regardless of which profession we tie ourselves to. Once again, it’s worth noting that the simple pleasures like a big meal after a hard day of labor can make a world of difference in brightening our outlook for the rest of the day. Having something to look forward to like biting into a chorizo or sampling some avocado can make the work less tedious and the time pass by more quickly.

‘Bandeja Paisa’ is considered to be a mestizo dish meaning that it is a unique mixture of both American and European ingredients and foods. The different indigenous peoples who have inhabited Antioquia and Colombia in general have left their influence on dishes like this one along with the Spanish colonists who adapted the ‘Bandeja Paisa’ to their own tastes and preferences. Interestingly enough, there is also some African influence along with that of British and French colonialists. The best thing about the ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is that you can adapt it to fit your dietary needs. If you don’t like having so much meat, you can switch in a salad or a vegetable. While the original food options are preferred, I’ve noticed that there are a number of variations to the ‘Bandeja Paisa’ and that Antioquians are flexible with its’ presentation.

The people of Antioquia have such a fond love for ‘Bandeja Paisa’ that they tried to get the national government in Bogota to make it the national dish of Colombia. While there has been no movement on having this become official, ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is held in high regard in terms of representing Colombian cuisine and is advertised by many restaurants and tourist agencies alike. Similar to the popular ‘Sancocho’ favored by Costenos on the Atlantic coast and the delicious ‘Ajiaco’ soup that Bogotanos covet, the Paisas of Antioquia regard ‘Bandeja Paisa’ as the national dish of Colombia even though its’ overall popularity is limited to the department itself.

While ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is not an everyday kind of food, it is a delicious and unique plate of food that is a large part of the cuisine here in Antioquia. It is an excellent choice when it comes to filling yourself up after a long day of work. It is very affordable, has all different food groups represented and it will earn respect from the locals by trying it out. My last recommendation if you are going to try to eat the whole ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is to order some lemonade, water, or fruit juice because it will help a lot with the digestion process and prevent you from getting a nasty stomachache. Buen provecho!