While Colombia is growing as a popular travel destination in general, it’s becoming especially popular among the foodies of the world. Diversity seems to be the name of the game for Colombia when it comes to pretty much everything – it has the most diversity among bird and orchid species, it has diverse ecosystems and landscapes, and the people even speak different languages throughout (although Spanish is the language most commonly used). It’s only fitting that the food culture is diverse as well. That means that some of the foods loved in one part of the country may be out of the question for those in other parts of the country to eat. Keep that in mind as we dive into the cuisine that makes this country so famous.
Known for being Colombia’s national dish, bandeja paisa is considered the most popular (and most Colombian) dish in the country. It is a platter more than it is a “dish.” That is, it can sometimes be eaten on even more than one plate, because it consists of so much food!
This platter typically starts with a bed of white rice, a side of pinto beans, and a serving of powdered beef (this is basically flank steak that has been cooked and then thrown into a food processor). Next comes a LOT of protein: fried pork belly, chorizo, and a fried egg. And then the finishing touches: fried plantain, Hogao (a Colombian Creole sauce), lime, and half an avocado to pull it all together.
While this is a heavy dish, it’s a favorite and a meat-lover’s dream! You will note, however, that it can be made in different ways throughout the country.
Ajiaco is a soup that you might find in many parts of Colombia. It’s also common in Cuba and Peru. In Bogota, the dish is made with chicken, three varieties of potato, and the Galinsoga parviflora herb, known more commonly as guasca, which is said to give the soup its distinct flavor.neta
Tamales in Colombia come in many different variations, but they are all served in banana leaves. The filling usually consists of meats such as chicken, pork belly, or pork ribs, with egg, carrots, peas, potatoes and/or rice. You might be surprised to learn that in Colombia, these are traditionally eaten for breakfast and served with a side of arepa (a pancake-like side dish made with corn that comes alongside many traditional meals). Try it for breakfast with coffee or hot chocolate if you really want to experience traditional Colombian cuisine.
This is another dish that can be found in different variations all over the country and consists of a lot of meat. Usually served with arepas alongside it, this dish is basically a large grilled meat dish that consists of chicken or beef and fried cow intestines. Colombia is especially known for loving its meat.
Empanadas are a popular food throughout Latin America, and another dish you’ve probably had or at least heard of before. Empanadas are stuffed pastries that can be either sweet or savory, depending on where you’re getting them. In Colombia, the chorizo-filled empanadas of Medellin are highly popular, while in other areas you can find spinach and cheese-filled varieties. The difference between empanadas in Colombia and empanadas in other parts of Latin America is that in Colombia they are fried rather than baked.
Best Restaurants for Traditional Colombian Cuisine:
- La Cevicheria, Cartagena
Although we didn’t discuss ceviche above, it’s still worth noting that this restaurant in Cartagena is a must-visit. Just ask Anthony Bourdain who loves their ceviche!
- Fulanitos, Bogotá
This restaurant specializes in foods traditional to the western coast of Colombia, along the Pacific. This is where you’ll find your traditional soups, stews, and luladas – drinks made of a local fruit.
- La Bodega de Abasto, Bogotá
Also in Bogota, this restaurant specializes in local foods only. The menu offers a healthy variety of arepa dishes and the food is so fresh, you can’t go wrong.
- La Gloria de Gloria, Medellin
For a traditional bandeja paisa, go to Medellin’s La Gloria de Gloria. You’ll pay around $30 USD for this meal, but it is well worth it. It comes with all the traditional parts you’d expect of a well-rounded bandeja paisa.
- Cocora Fusion, Cali
This restaurant in Cali has been granted a certificate of excellence through Trip Advisor for having the best local Colombian food in the area, and it even has some Western staples for those who wish to stick to what they know.