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When it comes to gastronomy, Colombia doesn’t always score top marks amongst its South American neighbours. However, what it does do well is on-the-go comfort food. From loaded meaty feasts to delicious artisan cheese, here are some of Colombia’s must-try street food dishes.
This is the king of all street food dishes in Colombia. The picada – meaning ‘chopped’ in Spanish – is a hearty plate filled with diced chunks of steak, chorizo, blood sausage, chicken, cow’s intestines, plantain, yuca, corn on the cob and papas criollas (Colombian new potatoes seasoned with salt and lime). If you’re lucky, the ingredients will be grilled over an open-flame parrilla (BBQ), but often the meat is fried and served on large trays. The challenge is to finish it!
Just in case you hadn’t got your fill from the picada, lechón offers another delicious meaty treat. Originating from Spain, lechón refers to a whole-roasted suckling pig, which has often been cooked over a hot charcoal pit. On the streets of Colombia, it is served in chunks or strips (a bit like pulled pork) and is delicious eaten with some aji picante (spicy sauce made of onions, chillis and cilantro) and papas criollas.
Most famously known for in Mexico, tamales are an indigenous snack eaten across Latin America. However, whilst Mexico’s tamales are wrapped in corn leaves, in Colombia they are covered with banana leaves instead. In both cases, the leaves are used to slowly steam the ingredients inside and will be removed when eaten. There are many variations of tamales in Colombia, but all consist of a maize dough filled with either meat, vegetables, fish or cheese. A hearty (and relatively healthy) snack full of energy.
This is not a dish for the faint-hearted. Chinchulín (sometimes referred to as chunchullo) is fried or grilled cow’s intestines. A hugely popular dish with the locals, it is often served twisted in small knots or chopped up into chunks with a little salt and lime. The consistency is a little bit like undercooked pasta, and the taste very similar to liver.
And now for something a little sweet. For those looking for a delicious pick-me-up on a hot day, merengón is the answer to your prayers. Similar to a pavlova, merengón consists of a fluffy meringue topped with fresh fruit (strawberry, mango and local guanabana is always a great choice) and whipped cream.
Salchipapa does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s literally a plate of chunky chips topped with pan-fried beef sausages. If you’re lucky, you might get a little slaw side salad too. This is a staple in Colombian street food – and can be an absolute lifesaver in towns where there is little else on offer.
Arepas, flour or maize dough cakes, are trusty staples of Colombian street food and come in many different variations. However, the arepa de huevo is up there with the best arepa combination. So much so, that it even has its very own festival in Luraco, where competitions are held for the best arepa de huevo in the country! The arepa dough is deep-fried, then a small incision is made where an egg will be cracked into it, sealed up again and cooked once more until golden brown. For the best egg arepas, head to Cartagena.
Butifarra, a minced pork meat sausage seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, can be found almost anywhere in Colombia. But the best place to eat it is in the small, remote village of Mompos. There, a man named Luis Enrique and his family make their very own recipe of butifarra by hand; a process that takes five hours. Their secret? Smoking the sausage over an open flame parrilla, giving it a delicious BBQ finish. Look out for the man banging a metal bowl and shouting “butifarra!” through the streets.
Casabe, a crispy flatbread made from yuca flour, can be found in almost any Latin American country. However, Colombia has put its own spin on it by serving it with the famous queso de capa: a mozzarella-like cheese made from fermented cow’s milk. However, there’s a catch: this dish too can only be found in Mompos, as it’s the only place where the key ingredient, queso de capa, is produced. You’ll see sellers in Mompos passing by on their bikes selling trays of casabe con queso de capa, as well as little bags of it served with a tree fruit called guayaba. Totally worth the journey.