Colombia’s been on my mind lately. Rigoberto Uran, the country’s most famous living cyclist, finished second in last year’s year’s Tour de France. Bogota has one of the most extensive bike lane systems in the world; the municipality shuts down 70 miles of its streets every Sunday and opens them to cyclists. And as an inveterate altitude junkie, I’ve spent more time than I care to admit dreaming of rolling through verdant hills surrounding Bogota, my lungs burning in the oxygen-deprived environs.
If I go, I’ll need lots of coffee. And lots of food. As luck would have it, here in New York, I live right by the Hell’s Kitchen outpost of Empanada Mama, Socrates Nanas’ Colombian-influenced chain. Here, I can test drive a dish that might be a staple of my tentative journey: calentado, the South American country’s famous breakfast.
Calentado is simple. The traditional purpose is to reuse leftover ingredients from the night before. In this case, that means placing a cooked egg over reheated rice and beans, sometimes with an arepa on the side. It almost sounds too basic to write about; Empanada Mama, after all, is better known for its plethora of meat pies, the best ones of which, I’ll argue are served in a sweet shell of corn flour and filled with ground meat.
But seriously. This breakfast. Something magical happens when a soft scrambled egg, studded with tomatoes and scallions, falls into the nooks and crannies of soft beans and rice. The creation drips with tangy red and green salsas. The preferred utensil is a fork here, though a starchy white arepa serves as a fine conveyance mechanism for the polychromatic breakfast stew. A split link of grilled beef sausage provides succulent protein nourishment.
And while I suppose I’ll drink a cup or two of Colombia’s caffeinated finest should I make it to the mountains this July, here in Hell’s Kitchen I wash down all the fats with a guava milkshake. The Real McCoy’s “Run Away” (1995) plays while a guy wearing headphones next to me orders a frozen margarita. I should note that it’s 3 p.m.; Empanada Mama serves its breakfasts options, which include avocado toast (ugh) and cornmeal pancakes, 24/7.
Perhaps I’ll try the pancakes next time. But for now, I’m rating the calentado a BUY. The entire breakfast, with the sausage and shake supplements, cost $19.