My favorite country in Latin America, Colombia, is the most bio-diverse place on earth, complete with incredible music, culture and delicious—and mostly organic—food. Factor in the gorgeous, friendly locals, and it’s easy to see why the country ranks as the happiest on earth year after year in global polls.
Colombia is also home to the best quality bud south of the border, which might contribute to the happiness index as well! In fact, the country used to be the U.S.’s biggest supplier of uplifting sativa strains back in the 1960s and ’70s, before Mexico took over and coca leaf became Colombia’s new illicit cash crop.
Colombia has several prime, long-established growing areas, including the Sierra Nevada region in the north, the heavily indigenous Huila and Cauca departments in the south and the salsa music-addicted city of Cali near the Pacific Coast.
Bud has always been cheap, readily available and high quality here, with old school heirlooms like Colombian Gold and Punto Rojo going for just a couple dollars a gram in any major city despite Colombia being the main target of the ineffective “War on Drugs” for decades. But with the recent legalization of marijuana for medicinal use, weed is returning to the mainstream with a vengeance. The combination of an abundance of product with open-minded attitudes has sparked a culinary cannabis movement that is growing exponentially bigger day by day. Since I am a brownie-scarfing edible aficionado (it’s both the most enjoyable and most medicinal way to consume) this is just another reason to fall even deeper in love with Colombia.
I recently attended the Carnaval Cannibico marijuana festival in Bogota, the country’s mountain capital of over 10 million people. Completely taking over Parque Nacional, the city’s lush Manhattan-style central park, the event drew thousands of marijuana lovers out for the weekend, many of them camping in the park overnight.
Centered on a live music stage hosting continuous reggae and hip hop artists, the festival also featured nearly a hundred independent vendors hawking everything from the country’s first real cannabis culture magazine to T-shirt printers, seed exchanges and custom pipe and bong makers.
Of course, edibles made up a huge portion of the vending scene, so I tried as many as possible, including a slice of a never-ending brownie that fed hundreds and a cannabis-infused vodka shot made by the innovative company Alquimia, who also do high quality olive oil extractions. I was quickly walking on sunshine despite the chilly, cloudy Bogota weather.
In this euphoric state, I stopped to talk to Maxine, also known as Maxi Weed, who had a marvelous spread of edibles to peruse. Cookies, chocolate-covered pot candies, an assortment of cakes and even arroz con leche—all of it ganja infused—lay before me.
“I can cook just about anything,” Maxi told me. “Most of my customers place special orders, and I cook for their special occasions. I really like to concentrate on the presentation, although no matter what I make, it’s going to be as effective as a medicine as it is pretty.”
I bought a bag of her tea cookies, munching on them as I wandered around the carnival and can attest to her claims. They were pretty potent!
The Carnaval Cannibico, now in its seventh year, showcased what is quite a new phenomenon in Bogota. According to several of the people I talked to, this year’s festival was more than double, maybe even triple, the size of the previous year—a good barometer of the explosive nature of the edible scene in South America’s third largest city.
Located in the mural-covered La Candelaria district, the hip and hostel packed historic center of Bogota, the store sells a selection of edibles from top local producers in the back room, much like a dispensary would in the states. A menu on the wall lists the prices, and an upstairs room where you can enjoy a juice or a beer while the edibles do their thing draws a strong following among both locals and visitors.
“Before it was all happening in secret,” Ina said. “But now it’s like a wave that is too big to stop.”
In truth, you can’t walk more than a block in La Candelaria without hearing someone yell “happy brownie” or “galletas” (cookies) at this point. Street vending is an integral part of life in Latin America, and marijuana edibles are the newest trend in town.
While some vendors were obviously trying to keep things at least partially discreet, others had quite open displays on the street, like Nayda Carolina Rojas Forero, also known as the “Happy Chef.” She regularly sets up shop right in the Chorro de Quevedo, the oldest plaza in the city and a popular hangout for street musicians and college kids drinking chicha, a traditional Andean fermented corn beverage.
“I have been cooking with cannabis for over a decade,” Nadya explained to me as I picked through her selection of ganja brownies, cupcakes, marmalades and thick rich arequipes (a spreadable caramel-like sweet). “ I consider myself an expert cannabis chef that specializes in healthy edibles.”
With her own marijuana garden on the outskirts of Bogota where she grows only organic heirloom strains, Nadya is dedicated to creating products with optimum medicinal effects. She cooks the herb in organic olive and coconut oils to extract the properties and then uses it to bake or infuse her edibles.
“I do everything from cannabis-based Nutella to birthday cakes,” Nadya said. “And I also like to do topical products that are good for pain relief and skin problems like pomades and ointments.”
Her chocolate cupcakes were rich and creamy, and they sent me into a pleasant semi-psychedelic space for the rest of the afternoon.
After several weeks of trying different edibles in Bogota on an almost daily basis (I know, I know, life sucks), it became evident that not everybody selling product had the cooking extraction process down quite right. On several occasions, I bought a cookie or a chocolate in the street that had little or no psychoactive effect, even if it obviously contained herb and tasted like good quality bud.
For those visiting Bogota, I recommend anything from the Ina Jah shop in La Candelaria or the Cannibicool Culinary Collective, which makes high quality edibles at great prices.
The best edible I tried was the brownie made by El Gato Callejero, also known as The Street Cat. These were not only delicious, with topping choices like Oreo cream and Snickers, but they were also powerfully potent and consistently so. In Jah carries them, and the Gato himself will also make them to order and deliver them to you anywhere in the city.
With the culinary cannabis movement still in its infancy in Colombia, more varieties of both edibles and medicinal extracts are surely on their way. Since Colombia is now positioning itself to be a major player in the global medicinal marijuana market, soon you may not even need to visit the country to sample its fine wares, as Colombian edibles and extracts may be exported to a dispensary near you.