TEXT: Mr. Alejandro Posada Baena
In Japan, and around the world, the image of Colombia is inevitably linked to the aroma and good taste of quality coffee. Colombians feel proud of the fact that the country is associated by millions of people with the ritual of drinking coffee. But what about our food?
Gastronomy is a way of cultural expression where eating is combined with a particular way of interacting with biological needs. Culinary practices are developed by local communities and creative individuals, and further enriched by economic exchanges and the knowledge received through these interactions. Because gastronomy enables cultural exchange at a personal level, being open to experience the traditions of other countries enriches our lives.
Colombian food culture is the result of various gastronomic influences: Indigenous, African and Spanish. Located in the northwest of the South American continent, facing the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and with a large extension of the Amazon, Colombian cuisine is heavily influenced by the richness of the country’s biodiversity.
In recent years the popularity of Colombian gastronomy has seen a significant spread around the world, as a number of Colombian chefs and restaurants entered the top lists of world gastronomy.
In recent years the popularity of Colombian gastronomy has seen a significant spread around the world, as a number of Colombian chefs and restaurants entered the top lists of world gastronomy. Historically, however, despite Columbian cuisine’s wealth of products, the Japanese had limited exposure to these flavors. This situation can be explained by a set of obstacles such as: the geographical distance between both countries; the challenges of transporting fresh ingredients for certain dishes; the small number of Japanese who visit Colombia; and the fact that there is no Colombian restaurant yet in Japan.
To overcome this situation, the Embassy of Colombia in Japan has implemented a dynamic Gastro-diplomacy promotion program, making it an important pillar of country promotion for 2015. Gastro-diplomacy has proven to be a suitable door to Colombian culture, fostering the interest of the Japanese people in our country, its geographical features and nutritional legacy. In particular, by tasting Colombian traditional dishes, Japanese people have come into contact with Colombia’s biodiversity, and the enormous range of products that result from the unique multi-thermic landscape.
For example, in the cooking lessons offered by the Embassy, participants are introduced to Colombian history; learning a variety of traditional and contemporary recipes, attendees experience first-hand the subtlety of Columbian flavors. Moreover, by doing so they get insights into the interaction of European, South American and African gastronomic traditions and on how it is expressed in Colombian cuisine.
The most representative Gastro-diplomacy event organized by the Embassy of Colombia in 2015 was the Colombian Gastronomic Week. For an entire week in August, at the Ambassador’s Residence, a series of lunches and dinners were prepared by two of the best-known Columbia chefs: Mrs. Antonuela Ariza and Mr. Eduardo Martinez, who came to Japan especially to cook for the Japanese commensals. With a long trajectory of working with local communities across Colombia, Mrs. Ariza and Mr. Martinez have learned preparations of dishes that were in danger of disappearing because of the massive use of new technologies and the advent of fast food. As part of their culinary project, they have undertaken the task of extensively researching little-known Colombian products, their nutritional properties and suitable preparations.
Among the products Mrs. Ariza and Mr. Martinez presented the subtle Bogotá tea, discovered by the first European explorers in Latin America, and a wide range of products from the Colombian Amazon such as camu-camu, tucupí and copoasú. During the 2015 Colombian Gastronomic Week, Mrs. Arisa and Mr. Martinez showcased the results of their gastronomic experiments to Japanese chefs, food connoisseurs and gourmet curators, who together, with representatives from the Japanese media were happy to familiarize themselves with Colombia’s products, biodiversity and culinary traditions.
The other two Gastrodiplomatic events, organized in 2015, are worth mentioning. First, the collaboration between Korean Chef Tae Hwan Ryu, and the Embassy Chef Mr. Lessier Guerrero. The Chefs prepared a meal featuring a diverse range of Colombian organic products, such as organic Palm Tree Oil and organic banana, brought to Japan by Daabon Organic Japan. Finally, a Coffee Food-Pairing experience was presented as a part of the Colombian National Day in the Ambassador´s Residence. Coffee from various regions in Colombia was served with different kinds of food, to enhance and showcase the subtlety and delicacy of its flavor. Public and private events were equally acclaimed by the Japanese public and contributed to an increased interest in Colombia.