Ajiaco: Chicken, corn and potato soup

In World


“We found all the people we worked with that had interesting takes on soup, what it means to them and their story,” said Valencia. “These soups define who they are, and I don’t think any dish defines people as much as soup does. They’re ambassadors for their country, and they want to represent it with their food.” 

Chin added that no other food evokes home the way soup does. “We wanted to do a book about immigrant Ireland; how to comfort yourself when away from home and trying to create home in a different place. Soup is the best way to do that.”

For Valencia, Chin and Laffan, choosing a favourite recipe from the collection was easy: they selected a recipe that simultaneously stirred up favourite memories, a love of potatoes and an invocation of comfort.

Ajiaco is a Colombian soup made with chicken, corn and three types of potato. It’s a typical dish of Bogotá but largely unknown outside of Colombia. Valencia came to know and love it while living there. Laffan and Valencia had the privilege of dining on freshly made ajiaco at the official residence of the Colombian ambassador to Ireland, HE Mrs Patricia Cortés Ortiz.

Valencia had mentioned to a friend working at the Colombian Embassy how she’d love to do something around ajiaco, “thinking she would say this food was made by the chef,” Valencia recalled. “Instead, she said this is the Ambassador’s dish and she cooks this all the time.”

For Laffan, being cooked for and served in the ambassador’s home added layers of understanding to the dish that the recipe’s words alone couldn’t express.

“To see how carefully she made the soup and explained the ingredients, how she loves to shop for hard-to-find ingredients – something so many immigrants go through to find their taste of home,” she said. “We sat down to eat with her husband, and on the table was beautiful Colombian handwoven placemats and traditional blue and white crockery. It reminded me so much of soups I make, or I’d had. Ajiaco has three different potatoes in it – in a way, it couldn’t be more Irish. This wonderful soup unites us.”

As Her Excellency made her soup, Valencia experienced a moment watching this woman of high office cooking, proud to share her soup with others. The recipe was the ambassador’s mothers, passed down to her, redolent with traditional flavours that reminded her of cooking at home in Colombia. She was able to source Colombian potatoes, and a specialist grower called Singing Frog Gardens based near Bantry in West Cork was growing guascas (an herb popular in Colombia) sending bunches up to Dublin for her.

“I thought, what a wonderful woman to see how she’s not afraid to do this, she’s owning her skill and her heritage,” said Valencia. “And then the conversations – the same conversations we all have over soup; talking about family memories, how it was cooked for them when they were growing up. Through the experience of writing SOUP, I recognise women are behind our best food memories, and we don’t give them enough credit for that.”

Soup reaches across cultures and class. It’s the food of home; the language of home, and something we can all gather around no matter where we come from or who we are.





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