Try to take a swig of Colombian aguardiente without making a face. If you’re lucky, you’ll get away with a grimace and a brow wrinkle. If you’re more sensitive to the burning sensation that accompanies a sip of sugarcane-derived 29% alcohol fire water (exact translation, by the way), you’re probably going to have a full body spasm and the urge to punch someone.
To drink something of this magnitude, you have to have a really full belly. You need a solid foundation, a landing pad, a buffer. You need to eat bandeja paisa.
Bandeja paisa translates to “a shitload of food.” Just kidding–that’s not the translation, but it should be. There’s so much food it has to be served on a platter (bandeja) because an ordinary, round plate can’t handle it all.
The bandeja paisa ($15.90) at Cafecito Bogota in Greenpoint is no exception. The gang is all there: rice, eggs, beans, beef, chorizo, avocado, sweet plantains, thin flour arepas, and the crowning jewel, the straw on the camel’s back–fried cubes of pork fat.
Each element of the dish could easily stand on its own, but thank god they’ve banded together. The pairing of items are part of what makes this such a deeply satisfying dish: thick slabs of chorizo rest on flour arepas, soaking them in orangey grease while a crisp-edged fried egg, still quivering from the pan, balances on top of a mound of perfectly articulated rice. Nearby, sweet plantains stretch along one side of the plate, nosing at the wedge of avocado that serves as the salad component of the meal. And that’s not even half of it.
Are you sweating yet? That means it’s just about time to break out the aguardiente! Cafecito Bogota kindly makes sweet, colorful cocktails that lessen the burn, but don’t mask the liquor’s anise flavor. The Bogota Sunrise cocktail ($9), heavy-bottomed with maraschino, allows all of the licoricey aguardiente to rise to the top. Mix before chugging.
Because you’ve already been eating your bandeja paisa, you don’t have to worry about the alcohol burning a gaping hole in your stomach and then through the chair you’re sitting on and then the through floor until you fall directly into a subway tunnel.
Bandeja paisa’s got your back, and, more importantly, your stomach. The fact that this platter exists is a miracle. It’s as if the smartest person in the world went up to a Colombian all-you-can-eat buffet (do those exist?) and said, “I will make the most glorious plate of food that will save me from my aguardiente hangover tomorrow.” And it worked.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 26, 2012