Bogota, the capital of Colombia and a sprawling mega-city of almost 10 million inhabitants, is home to a grand total of approximately 150 Greek people.
However, most have become successful entrepreneurs in the food industry, adding a Greek touch to the rich gastronomic tradition of this Latin American country.
The restaurant called “Salonika” is a small piece of Greece in the heart of South America. Owner Giorgos Sitaras, from Thessaloniki and a passionate fan of the city’s football club Aris, says that his restaurant is not just about eating gyros and souvlaki.
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“It’s not just a place to eat. We have created a Greek corner in the city,” he says proudly, as he points to the walls with photographs of Thessaloniki, the Greek islands and his beloved Aris football club.
“Colombians are fond of Greeks. They know a lot about Greek culture, history and the the Greek islands,” Sitaras explains.
Theodoro Lykos, the owner of the restaurant “Teo,” met his Colombian wife while studying in the US and decided to follow her back to Bogota, where he established his successful business. “The Greeks that have emigrated here have a good time,” he says.
“I started Teo restaurant in the 1990s. Since then, Greek food has become trendy in Bogota,” he adds.
Panagiotis Voidonikolas, owner of the restaurant called “Opa,” was actually born and raised in Bogota. “Colombians are a happy people. They enjoy dancing, singing and having a drink,” he tells the Greek Reporter.
He is still proud of his roots. “I am really glad that I speak Greek, I have a Greek passport and still family back home,” the restaurateur says.
His wife, Terena Barajas – Voidonikola, a life coach, was born in Athens and raised in Bogota. “Both cities feel ‘home,’ but at the same time ‘abroad,’ in a way,” she tells us.
She explains that her name was given in the traditional Greek way, and is a combination of her two grandmothers names. “Rena was my Greek grandmother’s name and Teresa was my Colombian grandmother’s name. My dad put the two together.”
“Bogota has nice parks, wilderness nearby. It’s a great city to enjoy… Great restaurants and good shopping,” she says.
The city is located in the center of Colombia, on a high plateau known as the Bogota savanna, located in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes. It is the third-highest capital in South America, and the world, after Quito and La Paz, at an average of 2,640 meters (8,660 feet) above sea level.
Panagiota Voidonikola, the sister of “Opa” owner Panagiotis, has a Greek father and a Colombian mother. She formerly worked as a civil servant but is now a full-time housewife caring for three children.
“Some say that Bogota is dangerous, but I’ve lived all my life here and it’s not like that,” she protests.
“Any Greek that comes to Bogota should call us. We will reciprocate the philoxenia (hospitality) that we come across in Greece,” she says graciously.