I have spent a great deal of time traveling around Colombia and would consider myself something of an expert on the food there, though the food of Colombia’s Pacific coast is a big hole for me. The region is rather remote, undeveloped and home to no major cities unless you count the port of Buenaventura. As Colombia opens up to the world, once isolated regions are being discovered. Much like the country’s Caribbean coast, there’s a heavy African influence in the cuisine, a trait rare on South America’s Pacific coast, with the exception of segments of Ecuador and Peru. I’m thankful that I was able to connect with Rey Guerrero, a chef living in Bogota that specializes in Colombia’s Pacific cuisine at his restaurant Rey Guerrero Pescaderia Gourmet.
How did you become so interested in the typical foods of the Colombian Pacific?
I was born in Cali, my mother is from Buenaventura, the premier Pacific seaport and the premier at the national level with 80% of the products imported to the country entering there. All of my family is from Buenaventura, so all of my holidays were spent in port. From there the love of cooking was awakening, but it was in Cali when I was 10 or 12 years and watched my mother cook delicious dishes that the Pacific was reinforced in me. I even remember a phrase I told her one day when I was about 15. “Someday I’ll cook, all of the family will try what I make, and then they’ll eat at my restaurant.” From there I began to navigate between my mother’s kitchen and my love for fútbol.
Later and now living in Bogota and after working at different jobs, I began to develop my experience as a cook in several of the most renowned restaurants in the city, from a basic cook and eventually on kitchen lines and then a chef. After 14 years, with experience that only comes with age and learning how the food of the Pacific food reflects my African ancestry, I interpret and rescue the dishes known only in cities of the region (Buanaventura, Choco, Timbiqui, etc) so the world can know in a gourmet way the authentic and typical flavors of the Colombian Pacific. To serve piangua (typical clams), la carne de jaiba (crab), and muchilla (a regional shrimp) on a plate with elegance is my challenge.
How did the food of the Colombian Pacific develop?
Like most world cuisines, the Colombian is influenced by the cultures that came to our country in the time of the conquest in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The Indians who occupied much of Colombia, were invaded by the Spanish, which resulted in different combinations of cuisine, then the Africans who were kidnapped from their lands and brought to this continent as slaves to work in the mines and fields, also brought their culture and different cooking skills that gave rise to the different flavors that have become typical in the different regions of Colombia. Later came the French and the English whose gastronomy was then applied to all kinds of dishes and ingredients.
What are the different products associated with Colombia’s Pacific Coast?
The Pacific coast has a wide variety of fish and shellfish such as shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, piangua, toyo, turtles, and snails, as well as other ingredients like coconut milk, the cilantro cimarron, and garlic that make for extremely exquisite dishes, including sweets from molasses, coconut candies, rice pudding, etc. All these ingredients add the African joy and colors in their preparations which give the cuisine of the Pacific coast a different taste and a unique flavor.
How is the food of Colombia’s Pacific Coast different from the Caribbean Coast?
The Atlantic coast is also knwon for its seafood, and also uses coconut, fruits, cheeses, drinks such as el peto made with beaten white corn, milk, cinnamon and brown sugar. Dishes like enyucado, carimañolas, el mote de queso, coconut rice, papa rellena, el bollo limpio, egg arepas, goat stew, etc. This cuisine is also exquisite, but with its own flavors and colors.
Typical ingredients of Colombia’s Pacific Coast:
El Borojó: A small fruit native to Colombia’s Chocó province and Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Province
El Chontaduro: A palm fruit native to South and Central America. In Peru it is called pijuayo and Brazil it is called pupunha.
La Piangua: A small clam that lives in the mangroves along Colombia’s Pacific coast.
El Mero: Grouper
La Carne de Jaiba: Land crab
Las Almejas: Clams
Los Langostinos: Shrimp
La Carne de Tortuga: Turtle meat
La Leche de Coco: Coconut milk
Las Cocadas: Coconut sweets
El Caracol: Sea snails
El Cilantro Cimarron: A regional variety of cilantro
Typical Dish: Arroz Tumbacatre, a regional variation of arroz con mariscos (seafood rice).
To experience’s Rey Guerrero’s cooking in person, visit his restaurant Rey Guerrero Pescaderia Gourmet in Bogota:
Calle 77 #14-20, El Lago; www.reychef.com
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.