“The inspiration for the restaurant was my dad," says John Gomez, who runs La Tienda in Melbourne's Windsor. "Before he passed away, he was a visionary and wanted to educate people in Australia about our culture. He didn’t get a chance to do that, so we wanted to do something on his behalf while mum is still with us."
After a trial in the city last year in a location where they couldn’t play music and decorate, La Tienda opened in Windsor earlier this year. This time, they’re bringing the ambience: Colombian music is on the playlist and soccer jerseys, records and mementos are adorning the walls.
La Tienda is a family affair. “Our upbringing was very close. When my parents migrated, they didn’t know anybody and they didn’t know the language. They had $100 in their pockets and had no employment to come to. Those things kept us close,” says Gomez.
John is the restaurant owner, his sister Melissa is the manager and the menu is based off recipes from their mother, Gilma. “Mum has always been an amazing cook. She’s well respected in the community. She used to cook for people and people would buy food from her,” he says.
Beans often appear in Colombian cuisine, especially in soups and stews. “In Colombia, [it's normal] to have a mix of savoury and sweet on the same plate. It’s an acquired taste, but once you get to try it, it’s really nice,” he adds.
The bandeja paisa ($28) comes on a tray with red beans, rice, chorizo, chicharrón (crispy pork belly), plantain, avocado, minced beef, fried egg and arepa (cornmeal patty). “Traditionally, the people who were cultivating the land, it was their daily meal and it made them last through the whole day,” he says.
For a dose of comfort, order the ajiaco ($24), a chicken stew with three different types of potatoes. Or you could get the cazuela de frijoles ($22), a bean stew traditionally served with plantain, hogao (a tomato and green onion seasoning sauce), corn, avocado, chicharrón and chorizo. There’s also a vegetarian version ($18).
“The inspiration for the restaurant was my dad ... He didn’t get a chance to do that, so we wanted to do something on his behalf while mum is still with us."
The arepa with the lot ($16) is impressive. It’s topped with pulled beef, chicken, pork belly, avocado and melted cheese.
On the street-food side, the empanadas ($7), filled with potato and minced beef, are not to be missed. Instead of wheat dough, which is common in other South American countries, they are made with cornmeal dough, which makes them extra crunchy. Lucky for you, the hot sauce that comes with them, aji, can be bought by the jar to take home.
Desserts, like the plantain with cheese and guava paste, embrace the mix of savoury and sweet. But what really hits it out of the ballpark is the Colombian hot chocolate with mozzarella cheese. “You put the whole slice of cheese or chop it off in pieces in the hot chocolate. As you drink it, you scoop some cheese at the same time,” explains Gomez. You’ll start wondering why all hot chocolate doesn’t come with cheese.
If you have any questions, Melissa, John or their staff, most of them Colombians, will be happy to help. “It goes back to connecting people to our culture: Australians, Colombians who’ve been here for 30, 40 years like us, and newcomers.”
268 High Street, Windsor
Wed – Fri 5:30 pm – 10 pm
Sat – Sun midday – 10pm
This is Colombia’s version of a rich fruit cake. Dense with prunes, raisins and figs, generously spiked with both rum and port, and cleverly flavoured with aromatic spices, it is hard to stop at one piece. Traditionally dulce quemado (sweet burnt brown sugar), either homemade or bought, is used to sweeten this cake, but molasses makes a perfectly acceptable substitute as I've done in this recipe.
There is an astounding array of arepas (corn cakes) available across South America, from the Colombian versions, which are thinner and wider, cooked on a griddle and topped with a range of ingredients, to this Venezuelan version. It consists of thicker arepas, which are halved and then layered with fillings, in a similar way to a sandwich.
Arepas are delicious corn griddle cakes popular in Colombia and Venezuela. Arepas are prepared with masarepa, a special pre-cooked corn flour. This anise version make a wonderful breakfast served with hot chocolate.
Despite the tropical weather, in many parts of Colombia soups remain a popular part of the food culture. This recipe for richly flavoured vegetarian soup is quick to prepare and freezes well. Feel free to omit the pureeing stage if you prefer a chunkier soup.