Ajiaco is a traditional Bogota dish. This is the one where every man compares it to his mother’s. The secret tweaks are like those chili recipes in the USA.
I do the majority of cooking in my home. However twice a year my wife delights the family and friends with her ajiaco. It is an event that everyone looks forward to and we frequently have 15 to 20 people feasting.
The main reason to make it biannual is the process is consuming. We begin shopping the day before for the ingredients. While some people use chicken bullion cubs and skinless chicken breasts, my wife says the best taste comes from starting with whole chickens. Next there are three different kinds of potatoes. Both white and red potatoes that are found in the States go into finished product. It is the special potato slightly smaller than a golf ball, grown in Colombia called criolla that makes the difference. Our list also includes mazorca (a type of larger kernel corn), guasca (a Colombian herb), rice, cilantro, heavy crème, alcaprons (capers), and aguacate (avocado but bigger than what is sold in the USA).
The next morning as my wife cleans up from breakfast I get KP duty. Yup, it is keep peeling all those potatoes. Let me tell you those criollas can really test one’s patience. My wife takes over from there with the cooking, blending and tasting until everything is just perfect.
In the meantime my duty falls to table preparation. The only true way to enjoy this Colombian dish is to serve it in black earthenware bowls with each bowl insulated in a hand woven basket. A place is made in the center of the table to hold the large earthenware serving bowl.
By 1 p.m. the smells drift throughout the house and out the door inviting all the arriving guests. It seems that just the scent passing the olfactories puts everyone in a good mood. People mingle in and out of the kitchen checking the progress and hinting for a taste.
Two large pots of the soup are poured from the stove into the big black serving bowl and it is placed on the table. Each person is served a bowl of the basic soup. Then from other bowls and containers on the table they add shredded chicken, avocado, heavy crème, rice and alcaprons to suit their tastes.
Table conversation is always lively, many dig in for second and even third helpings and no one leaves the table hungry. Clean up is a joint effort from both men and women. After some space opens in our stomachs we all enjoy a tinto (black coffee) and cake.
Ajiaco day is one of the best days of the year for everyone. Before leaving for home the single people are given containers of any left over soup to enjoy later.
For Americans who would like to get an approximation of the dish here is a site with a recipe using ingredients found in the USA. But I have to warn you, it will never taste as good as my wife’s.