Literally, el corrientazo translates to “the electric shock.” Colloquially, it translates to either “the lunch hour” or “the restaurant that serves home-cooked food during the lunch hour.” (For the sake of this entry, I will use the phrase to signify the latter, as that is how Seth and I most often speak of it at home.) The likening of such a restaurant to an electric shock is a testament to the speed at which its food is served and eaten—lightning fast.
There is at least one corrientazo on nearly every block of Chapinero. Most are largely unassuming, bearing only a small dry-erase board and a few unadorned tables and chairs. The menú del dia often reads much like the picture—with sopa (stew), crema (soup), or consomé (broth) of the day; two to four meat options; frijoles (beans) or pasta; an ensalada (salad), verdura (cooked vegetable), or torta (a vegetable cake, more or less); arroz (rice), papa salada (salted potato), and maduro (plantain); jugo (juice) o limonada (limeade); and, if it is a nicer corrientazo, a small postre (dessert). Nearly all items are optional and/or open to substitutions; for example, if you prefer your meal sans soup, you can ask for more vegetables. Seth and I like to try as many new foods as possible, so we usually order our lunches con todo (with everything).
I like to decide my menu before I even step foot in a corrientazo because as soon as I do, I am expected to place my order. (Waiters and waitresses at these establishments do not take kindly to lengthy pauses of indecision.) Not a minute after I rattle off my preferences, the server brings silverware and napkins, a bowl of soup, and a plastic cup of juice to the table. Once I have sipped maybe two spoonfuls of soup, my plateful of food arrives. Sensory overload!
The point of the corrientazo is not to politely course out its customers’ meals and to wait on them hand and foot; it is to feed as many of them as possible as much food as possible, as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. (Whew.) The least expensive corrientazo I have spotted charged COP$4,000 (US$2.00), while the most expensive cost COP$12,000 (US$6.00). An American might be alarmed at the promise of a full seafood meal for COP$10,000 (US$5.00), but Colombians embrace it. (Seth and I have, too, and we walked away satisfied and sans food poisoning.)
The corrientazo is a comforting commodity to which I have grown financially and emotionally attached. It is a calm refuge in an otherwise bustling city where I can enjoy a quiet, home-cooked lunch for less than an hour’s work.
[photo courtesy of Bogotá Positiva]