Eat This Now: Bandeja Paisa from UniMarket

The massive Colombian dish is one of the bestsellers on UniMarket’s weekday menu.

Photograph courtesy of UniMarket.

UniMarket‘s south Calgary location offers an array of traditional dishes from Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia that regularly draw line-ups and lunch crowds to the all-in-one Latin American grocery store, bakery and cafeteria-style eatery.

One of the bestsellers on its weekday menu is the massive Colombian dish Bandeja Paisa ($16). Bandeja literally translates to “platter” and Paisa refers to the peoples from the northwest region of Colombia. The main ingredients of UniMarket’s Bandeja Paisa are rice, beans, fried plantain, an arepa, a sunny-side egg, chicharrón (pork belly), chorizo sausage and your choice of meat with fresh avocado on the side.

“It’s a wonderfully complex dish loaded with so many flavours that encompass so much tradition,” says Camila Casallas, the Colombian chef at UniMarket. “All the ingredients of the Bandeja Paisa are the food that most Latinos eat daily.”

Casallas is a graduate of the Mariano Moreno Culinary Institute with more than seven years in the food and restaurant industry in Colombia. She says the dish has become a staple in Colombian cuisine found in all corners of the country, streets and local eateries.

“Bandeja Paisa is the main dish in Colombia,” she says. “Every restaurant has one but it’s not like a unique recipe or standard dish, it’s a construction — everyone can do different things but it must have rice, beans and the avocado.”

Arguably, the star of the show is the beans. As Casallas puts it, “If you don’t have beans, you don’t have a Bandeja Paisa.” At UniMarket, red beans are cooked in hogao, a type of sofrito which is the foundation for a lot of Colombian cooking. “It’s a Creole sauce we make with tomatoes, two types of onions, white and green, and we put cumin and salt in it,” she says. “Sometimes we add brown sugar or cane sugar and that’s why you taste the hint of sweetness.”

The chorizo sausage is made from scratch and the chicharrón are thick slices of pork belly slow-cooked in an aromatic broth, placed in the fridge to cool, then deep-fried until crunchy. The fried plantains are made from ripe and sweet plantains and the white rice is cooked with butter. As for the arepa, Casallas says the fried patty is made of pure white corn that’s mashed and molded, then grilled for two minutes on each side to crisp up. Topping things off is the fried sunny-side egg, which is meant to be eaten where the yolk is mixed into the rice.

Traditionally, the meat on a Bandeja Paisa is grilled steak, but at UniMarket, you can choose from chicken, beef and pork or veggies. Order the carne asada if you want the most authentic version of this dish.

The hearty portion size of the Bandeja Paisa is meant for one person, but it’s so big that you could easily share the dish. Casallas says the dish is an amalgamation of all the great traditions, techniques and flavours that unite Latin American food.

“I really think that this dish is an amazing symbol of Colombian cuisine and most of Latin American gastronomic culture,” says Casallas. “For me, having this dish in UniMarket is the best way to tell people interesting stories about who we are as Latinos.”

128 50 Ave S.E., 403-255-4479, unimarket.ca

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