It’s hard to say whether Colombian-American foodie Diana Holguin has a longer history with gastronomy or the city of Bogotá. After a childhood split between Colombia and the U.S. and studies that took her to England and Australia, she returned to Bogotá in 2007 and started the Bogotá Eats and Drinks blog highlighting the best places to eat in Bogotá. Diana’s status as one of the city’s few knowledgeable English-language food bloggers quickly earned her a devoted following, and her blog’s success led her to create Bogotá Food Tours in 2011.
In mid-2013 Diana packed up her Bogotá apartment and moved to the tropical city of Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless the tours, which feature visits to one of Bogotá’s oldest restaurants and a mouthwatering fruit market in the popular Chapinero neighborhood, are still going strong. Diana took some time to chat about her experience as an international foodie, her inspiration to begin the blog and tours, why she has hope for the Bogotá food scene and her favorite Colombian food.
Q: How did you first get involved in the culinary world?
A: I first got involved with food because of my parents and my grandmother. They were all very into cooking and had huge cookbook collections. My grandmother always told me I had good, delicate hands for working with pastries. After deciding I didn’t want a typical 4-year university degree, I went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in London, then returned to the US to work as a baker and pastry cook. My first real job was in the pastry kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami under Chef Jordi Panisello and Chef Michelle Bernstein, which was a great experience. Then I went to get a business degree in Australia, but it turns out I’m really not a business kind of girl, so I got a Masters in Gastronomy, which involved more research and writing about all different issues pertaining to food. It turns out I like that kind of thing maybe even more than actually cooking…but not eating!
Q: How did you end up living in Bogotá?
A: My entire family is from Bogotá. We were living in the US when I was born and I grew up in between Miami and Bogotá. I left in 1994 when the situation was at its worst and returned six years ago. Living in Bogotá has had its ups and downs but now that I’m in Brazil for a while I can appreciate how great it is.
Q: What was your inspiration to start the blog?
A: When I got to Bogotá I wanted to keep working in kitchens, but the pay was so bad and I was so new to the “scene” that I decided to do something else. I started teaching English and translating, but I still wanted to do something relating to food, so I decided to start a blog from my apartment, writing about the best places to eat in Bogotá. I never thought anyone other than my family would read it, but I guess a lot of other people did. I just wrote when I felt the inspiration. Of course, when I saw that more people were following, I felt like I had to write. I think it was successful because I wasn’t writing about anything I didn’t like, just places that I enjoyed and saying things honestly. Given that tourism is really picking up in Bogotá and Colombia in general, I think people were looking for a personal account of what’s good to eat when venturing out of their apartment in Bogotá. Also, on the Facebook page I try to share information about events, mostly foodie events, in and around Bogotá.
Q: How did you decide to start the food tours?
A: I decided to start the tours about 2 years ago. I thought it would be interesting to show people a few good places to eat and really communicate with people who were interested in knowing more about Colombian food. There are a lot of interesting restaurants in Chapinero — we can go from one of the city’s oldest restaurants to some that do a really good fusion of contemporary cuisine using local ingredients.
I think the tours have been a success mainly because it’s fun and interesting — if you like food, of course! It’s very casual…we walk around, eat and talk about food. All the tour-goers have always been really nice, and it’s a nice way for them to get to know about Bogotá in a really comfortable setting. One of the biggest challenges has always been trying to get the restaurants to understand what the tour entails. Most of them want to feed us a lot, but I have to tell them, nicely, that we can’t eat a lot in one place because we are going to be eating all afternoon. I think it kind of goes against that desire to want to feed and satisfy your guests.
Q: What are the best aspects of the Bogotá food scene?
A: Right now, I think there are two really positive aspects. First, there are a lot of young entrepreneurs opening cool places and breaking the mold of restaurants in Bogotá. It makes room for freedom to be more creative – people are starting to expect more from restaurants. The other aspect is this move toward appreciating local foods and cooking techniques, this feeling of wanting to embrace our food and of course our farmers and culinary heritage. I was in Peru recently and there is no reason we can’t develop a complex and impressive cuisine like them. In fact, I think we already have, it’s just been overshadowed by this feeling that things from outside are better. But we’re getting closer to making that shift.
Q: What’s your favorite Colombian food?
A: It’s impossible to pick my favorite Colombian food! I’ll narrow it down to three: arepa con queso (traditional breakfast item made of cornmeal and filled with cheese), ajiaco (Bogotá’s famous chicken and potato soup) and ají (a spicy condiment most commonly eaten with empanadas).
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