Before we even arrived in Bogota, friends told us to enjoy a scrumptious bowl of soup at a restaurant just off the main plaza in the historic center of the city. They claimed it would be the best we had ever tasted. I am now passing this same recommendation on to you. Eat at La Puerta Falsa. Whether you have the soup, the tamal, or a merely a hot chocolate, you won’t regret the experience.
History of the La Puerta Falsa
According to an article in El Tiempo, La Puerta Falsa sprung from a disagreement between a woman and a priest. Sounds like the makings of a very juicy story.
It used to be that when Catedral Primada de Colombia held a big celebration that the clerics would ask well-situated women in the community to assist. Some jobs came with more prestige than others.
Over 200 years ago, while making plans for the festival of the Virgen of Carmen, a certain priest failed to include one of the more prominent woman in the neighborhood, whose real name has been lost to history but was known as La Chozna. Rather than complain, this woman decided to take matters into her own hands. She decided to plan a meal for many of the people helping with the festival. However, she did not invite the priest. When he heard, he got angry and told her that if she was to feed anyone, she had to feed them all.
Rather than follow to his decree, La Chozna refused to invite him. Instead, she decided to cook this meal as close to the Cathedral as possible (and likely as close to the nose of the priest himself) so she asked her husband to buy a property right next to the church. According to the story, she opened her restaurant on July 16, 1816, the very day of the celebration of the Virgin of Carmen. She claimed that her restaurant would offer enticing food to the community while knowing that the tasty aromas emanating from her business would plague the priest everyday.
Since that time, the restaurant has provided delicious comida santafereña through seven generations of the same family.
La Puerta Falsa Moderna
La Puerta Falsa holds court in its original building, a tight two-story space that barely seats twenty. The narrow entrance allows a single person at a time to squeeze between a small restroom on the right and work counter on the left. Inside, a bar-like table is set against a mirrored wall. The day we entered, every seat was full. The mirror had has fooled into thinking that the room was twice the size.
We headed to a narrow set of wooden stairs at the very back, just past the kitchen. In a small niche in the wall, we passed a statue of Virgin Mary situated just below a large copy of the limited menu. We entered mid-lunch rush so were relieved to see two upstair places available along the wall. Our table was a mere plank of wood barely wide enough to hold a bowl of soup. We were so happy to sit down that we didn’t mind the cramped conditions. It didn’t hurt that others sitting at the tables with views of the restaurant below were heartily eating huge bowls of steaming soup.
A waiter pressed through the narrow passage way to pass us our menus and then used his time upstairs to take care of other guests while we decided what to order. There were only two soups on the menu – one was something called ajiaco and was three times as expensive as the other soup on the menu, a simple milk-based option called changua. It came with almojabana (a simple roll made of white bread), calado (a different, crispier roll made to dip in soups), cheese, and two eggs. We heard later that changua is a popular hangover food. It appeared that everyone around us was probably enjoying the ajiaco. Therefore, we ordered one ajiaco and one tamal to share between the two of us.
The ajiaco arrived a few minutes after ordering. Our mouths watered when seeing a delicious bowl of steaming potato soup served in a rustic, ceramic bowl. A mound of shredded, poached chicken topped the soup which included three different types of potatoes: pastusa, criolla, and sabanera. A small plate on the side held a few large, very salty capers, a serving of rice, a good portion of sliced avocado, and little container of thick, fresh cream. We added the capers and cream to the soup and dug in! As we explored the different flavors, we realized that the large stick in the middle held a partial ear of yellow corn. We had found food heaven!
Other Dishes at La Puerta Falsa
But we hadn’t just ordered a bowl of ajiaco. We had also requested another local favorite, a tamal. Like many tamales, this one had been steamed in a banana leaf. When opened, it wafted a rich aroma of tender meats and soft masa. After my first bite, I knew this tamal was was different. Instead of the masa being only corn, this one included rice and a legume of some kind, like a split pea. The combination was surprisingly delicious. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the filling included a mixture of potato and other vegetables well seasoned with pork belly and chicken. It is literally one of the best tamales I have ever eaten.
Moreover, the waiter told us that the tamal santafereño makes a great traditional breakfast combined with another favorite from La Puerta Falsa, the hot chocolate.
It wasn’t until 1870 that hot chocolate was added to the menu of La Puerta Falsa. Yet today, it is one of their best known offerings. We actually returned the next afternoon specifically to taste it.
In the afternoons, hot chocolate is often served with almojabana and calado (like the soup mentioned above) and a slice of fresh cheese. As recommended, we broke the salty cheese into tiny bits and dropped it into the hot chocolate. It may be one way to enjoy it but we decided we preferred the cheese in small bites alongside. When dipped in the hot liquid, some of its flavor is lost and the texture is slightly rubbery. But when eaten alongside, it was dense, salty, and made a nice contrast to the slightly bitter-sweet hot chocolate.
While we did not try any of the dessert-like treats, I have to admit that they were awfully tempting. With names like tentaciones de cocada, marquesas, panelitas, brevas and bocadillos con arequipe, I might just have to sample each and every one on my next trip!
Information For Your Trip
La Puerta Falsa is a small restaurant. Take care with your belongings as it would be easy for fellow diners to slip hands into pockets or bags.
If you go at a busy time, be prepared to sit with other people or in very close quarters at one of the small bar-like counters.
The address for La Puerta Falsa is Cl. 11 #6-50, Bogotá, Colombia.