The first step to kickstarting a Colombian dinner party is setting the scene. Like many South American countries, color plays a huge role in everyday life in Colombia, especially when there’s a big celebration. Splash your dining room with Colombia’s iconic reds, yellows and blues with cheerful bunting, flowers, napkins, glasses or tablecloths. To achieve Colombia’s Caribbean feel, use tropical fruit or leaves as a vibrant centerpiece.
You’ve transformed your house into a Colombian paradise, but something vital is still missing: music. Colombia’s streets, no matter what time of day, are constantly thumping with the sounds of accordions, guitars and tambores (drums) – and that’s without a major parade, festival or street party going on. The country’s most recognizable sound is cumbia, Colombia’s very own version of salsa. To take your guests straight to Cartagena, find a cumbia playlist on Spotify or Youtube and let the contagious rhythm take effect.
Aguardiente or fire water is Colombia’s favorite (and strongest) spirit. While you’ll find hardcore Antioqueños (Colombians from the Antioquia region) knocking it back neat, a safer way to drink it is shaken into a cocktail. Aguardiente makes a mean mojito and orange sour, but can also work with lots of different flavors – so feel free to get creative. To soak up the alcohol, serve your cocktails with a few bowls of salted plantain chips, Colombia’s most popular savory snack.
Colombia has a big street food culture. In fact, many of its most recognizable flavors were created on two-wheeled carts, not in Michelin-star restaurants. To give your guests a little taste of everyday Colombia, put on a tapas-style starter so everyone can try something new. You’ll be spoiled for choice here, but empanadas (a fried or baked pasty filled with chicken or minced meat), arepas (corn cakes that can be served with cheese, meats, eggs and spicy salsas), and papa rellena (meat, onion, and egg-stuffed potato which is then deep-fried) should definitely be at the top of your list.
Arguably home to Colombia’s best food scene, the Caribbean coast offers some of the country’s most beautiful flavors. The most famous ingredients here are fish, plantains and tropical fruits. Take your guests to dreamy white sands and blue seas with a dish of lightly seasoned and fried or baked red snapper (or another white fish that you can get hold of) served with fried plantains, a small side salad and – the pièce de résistance – coconut rice.
Most commonly eaten as a Christmas Day snack (but now found on almost every street corner every day of the week), buñuelos are fried dough balls filled with cheese. The dish may sound a little odd as a dessert, but cheese is a popular accompaniment to a bitter after-dinner coffee in Colombia. If nothing else, it’s sure to turn heads.
A cup of strong Colombian coffee (and maybe a couple of aguardiente shots) later, your guests might just be ready for one final surprise. You don’t need to splash out on a salsa teacher to throw a dancing party at home – although this would get you serious brownie points. There are plenty of easy-to-follow online salsa lessons that you can simply hook up to your TV. Push back some couches, and you’re ready to boogie the night away in your living room.