Colombian food isn’t the most famous national cuisine there is, but this South American country, with its Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, Amazon rainforest, Andean mountains and great plains, is also home to a wealth of delicious and diverse traditional meals and ingredients. Here are 17 delicious dishes to get you excited about taking a trip to Colombia.
The classic Bogota dish, ajiaco is a hearty soup of potatoes, chicken, cream and capers, served with a side of rice, corn and avocado. It’s the perfect dish for a cloudy day in the capital and is best sampled at La Puerta Falsa, Bogota’s oldest restaurant.
A traditional dish from Tolima department – but available throughout the Colombian Andes – lechona is pork mixed with lentils and rice, and served with crackling and an arepa. It’s cooked and served from a whole stuffed pig: perhaps not one for squeamish travellers.
A bandeja paisa is a truly epic meal: a giant plate of meat, rice, chorizo, beans, fried eggs, avocado and an arepa on the side! It’s the typical dish of the Paisa region around Antioquia and Medellin, and is best enjoyed in a restaurant in Colombia’s second city.
Another classic Colombian soup, the sancocho is so much more than a simple dish, it’s an event! Families gather, usually on Sundays (and often down by the river or the beach), for a hearty sancocho, which can be made from meat or fish, but is usually prepared with fresh gallina (a free-range hen).
Red Snapper with Patacones and Coconut Rice
There’s no better dish to enjoy on the Colombian Caribbean coast than fried red snapper served with a delicious side of patacones – double-fried plantain – and some delectable coconut rice. It’s the Caribbean on a plate.
A calentao is perhaps the ultimate lazy person’s breakfast: a giant mixture of leftover goodies, heated up and served in a big bowl. Beans, eggs, rice, meat and just about anything else can go into a calentao, and it’s as filling and comforting as it sounds.
The humble arepa – essentially a corn cake – is a Colombian national staple, and can be enjoyed in many different forms, from dripping with freshly melted cheese to deep-fried and stuffed with eggs. There’s no food more Colombian than a fresh arepa.
Caldo de Costilla
Colombians often claim that a fresh caldo de costilla (a rib broth with potatoes and coriander) is the ultimate hangover cure, and they may well be right: the combination of the salty broth, hearty potatoes and fresh meat seems to melt a hangover away, and as cures go, it’s a delicious one.
Changua is yet another tasty Colombian soup, but this one is a more acquired taste than a simple ajiaco or sanchoco: it’s made of milk and stale bread, and also contains an egg. It sounds awful to most people, but one taste and they are usually hooked.
The region of Santander is often celebrated for its traditional food, and nothing is more Santander than freshly roasted cabrito (baby goat), served with arroz de pepitoria (a rice dish made with the innards and blood of the goat). Don’t let the description put you off; this dish is so much more delicious than it sounds.
These deep-fried little dough balls flavoured with cheese can be found on just about every street corner and in every bakery in Colombia, and are a particular favourite around Christmas time; December in Colombia isn’t complete without fresh buñuelos.
Another dish traditionally from Tolima, but served all over the country, the humble tamal is of simple origins, but the tasty flavours elevate it beyond that: meat, corn, carrots, potatoes and more are all steamed up in a banana leaf and served piping hot. The tamal is a staple of Colombian rural cooking.
Hot Chocolate and Cheese
This is definitely one of the odder flavour combos that Colombians have to offer (and they have some odd ones, for sure) – a mug of hot chocolate and some cheese is a Bogota classic. Shred up the cheese, dunk it in the hot chocolate, let it get gooey, and enjoy.
Obleas and Arequipe
Colombians love their desserts, and the oblea is one of the classics. It’s basically a giant round wafer served with a healthy dollop of whatever you fancy (fruit, cream or sweets), but it’s best with a smear of arequipe, which is a lovely caramel-like condensed milk. Mick Jagger had one when visited Bogota, so you’ll be in great company.
Cazuela de Mariscos
Have you ever looked at a menu of tasty meals and been unable to decide what to order? Octopus, shrimp, fish: what to choose? The cazuela de mariscos is a giant seafood stew popular on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and it’s what to order when you can’t decide, as it’s packed with all of the above, and served with coconut rice and patacones.
Colombian fruit is fresh, delicious, diverse and amazing, much like the country it comes from, and any mixture of the unique Colombian fruits available in the markets will be a truly mouthwatering dish.
Translating literally as ‘big-bottomed ants’, hormigas culonas are a snack typical of the mountainous Santander region of Colombia. The ants are deep-fried and their fat bottoms are eaten as a snack – it looks and sounds truly odd, but the taste is wonderful and the novelty factor alone makes them worth a few thousand pesos.
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