By Briana Seftel
Colombian food is as diverse as its 23 regions, from the hearty meat dishes of Antioquia to fresh seafood and coconut rice on the Caribbean coast. If you're traveling to Colombia, don't miss these typical foods and drinks that are muy delicioso.
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A Colombian meal wouldn’t be complete without an arepa. Made with masa harina and water, these corn cakes are usually griddled in a dry pan and served with a pat of butter. Eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, arepas are to Colombia what bread is to France. Arepas de queso (arepas stuffed with a mild white cheese) are also a popular snack.
Our restaurant recommendations in Colombia will help you eat, sing and dance at in Colombia in all the right places!
This hearty soup comes from Bogota, where the mountainous cold weather necessitates a warming, feel-good dish. The soup is made with chicken, three kinds of potatoes, corn, and an herb called guascas. The herb imparts a deep grassy flavor essential to an authentic bowl of ajiaco. Toppings for the soup include sliced avocado, capers, and crema (a milder sour cream).
Every Latin American country has their own version of empanadas. In Colombia, empanadas come stuffed with ground beef and potato with a crunchy corn exterior. It’s traditional to serve empanadas with aji, a spicy sauce made with cilantro, lemon, and chili.
Blessed with a varied and tropical climate in some parts, Colombia is home to a multitude of exotic fruits that you can’t find in the U.S. Head to Paloquemao Market in Bogota and you will find fruits like cherimoya, granadilla, guanabana, lulo, and zapote. Make sure you wash the fruit before eating, then dig in!
While eaten all over Colombia, this hearty and filling dish is unique to the Antioquia region (its natives are called paisas, giving the name bandeja paisa). This gut buster of a dish consists of meat, rice, platano Maduro (ripe plantains), beans, chicharron (crispy pork skin) and morcilla (blood sausage). After eating a bandeja paisa, you'll need a nap.
Another hearty soup but very different from ajiaco, sancocho is often the pride and joy of many Colombian home cooks. The flavor and content of sancocho not only differs from country to country, but also from cook to cook. Traditionally, the soup is made with yucca (cassava root), potatoes, chicken/pork/beef (sometimes a combination of all three) all simmered together for several hours.
Don’t confuse Mexican buñuelos with Colombian buñuelos. In Colombia, buñuelos are essentially fried dough balls made with a very mild soft cheese. Enjoyed with hot chocolate or coffee, it’s impossible to eat just one!
Natilla is a dessert traditionally served during Colombian Christmas gatherings. While there are many variations of this dish throughout the country, generally speaking the sweet custard pudding is made from condensed milk and flavored with cinnamon. Colombian-style natilla tends to be firmer and sliceable, though it can also be served in a creamier pudding form.
And to drink…
Colombia's claim to fame is a must-try while you're there. While most of the good stuff is exported, you can find excellent coffee shops in the major cities using high quality beans. However, most Colombians mostly order "un tinto," a simple, no frills black coffee. If you're really a coffee conossieur, visit a coffee plantation in the Zona Cafetera and even stay the night!
Guaro is short for aguardiente, an anise-flavored liquor popular all over Colombia. The strong liquor is drunk straight and often predicates a night out drinking and dancing.
In Colombia, you will find all sorts of places selling jugos naturales (natural juices) Con leche (with milk) or con agua (with water). A batido is a thicker drink similar to a smoothie and can be made with water or milk.