For many South Floridians, Colombian cuisine is synonymous with many of the area's late-night fast-food-style eateries, restaurants peddling a plethora of tiny, crunchy empanadas or those overstuffed shredded chicken- or beef-topped burgers. Then there's the ultimate perro caliente, a Colombian hot dog decorated with a rainbow of sauces, quail eggs, and crushed potato chips.
That's too bad, really, because Colombian cuisine goes well beyond the bar bites — especially when it comes to soup. Across the South American country are regions specializing in one variety or another, with literally dozens to choose from. Served with a side dish of rice, beans, avocado, and a jar of ají picante (hot sauce), these soups, like the country's most popular, the sopa de mondongo, a hearty meat and vegetable mix, are often the focal point of any meal, eaten for both lunch and dinner.
There's cuchuco de cebada, a stew-like combination of corn, wheat or barley and vegetables like peas, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, pork, and herbs; frijoles antioqueños, a mix of beans, green plantains, aliños, carrots, and pork hocks; and sopa de lentejas, lentils in a hearty liquid flavored with chorizo sausage.
Mondongo is a national favorite hailing from the Andean region of the country and one of several different soups you'll be able to find homemade at most traditional Colombian restaurants, including El Atico in Boynton Beach. The small eatery off Boynton Beach Boulevard is known for making a number of the country's specialty soups, many so time-consuming and labor-intensive, they're released on designated days only.
There's a Saturday special made using gallina (or hens), and come Sunday you can order the ajiaco (a rich, cilantro-flecked chicken soup) or sancocho de pescado (a creamy fish stew).
But the real favorite here is the mondongo, traditional Colombian tripe and chorizo soup, a hearty broth thickened by slow-cooked diced pork and tripe with vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and root vegetables like potato, cassava, or yuca.
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At El Atico, the mondongo is served daily, with an opaque broth, so rich from boiled down bones and meat that it will condense into a gelatinous block in your refrigerator should you find yourself taking any home for leftovers. It's served in a hot stone bowl that's so scorching, it needs to be brought out on a wooden tray. The steaming contents are rife with vegetables including peas, potato, carrot, yuca, cassava, and a heap of fresh-chopped cilantro.
There's also plenty of of tripe, which softens into gummy, chewy bites. But the real treat is the pork, thick slabs of meat that fall to the bottom of the bowl, pieces held together by ribbons of broth-soaked fat. One bowl and we guarantee you'll never look at tripe soup the same way again.
El Atico Colombian Restaurant is located at 1313 W. Boynton Beach Blvd., Boynton Beach. Call 561-733-1313.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.