The best way to embrace the tastes of Colombia is to book a flight to Bogotá and set off on a culinary adventure around the country.
Packed with rich flavours, hearty ingredients and unusual taste combinations, Colombian food is as diverse as it is dazzling. Although it’s yet to really shine on the international stage like the cuisines of some its near neighbours like Brazil and Argentina, the food scene in Colombia is exciting and unique.
The best way to embrace the tastes of Colombia is to book a flight to Bogotá and set off on a culinary adventure around the country. The friendly locals are proud of their local dishes and will happily assist hungry tourists navigating their way through the options, of which there are many.
But it always pays to do some forward planning, so here is a list of 10 dishes you should sample:
01 – BANDEJA PAISA
The jewel in the crown of Colombian cuisine, this is the much-loved national dish, and an absolute must try. Bandeja Paisa is basically a selection of local flavours, a taste of Colombia on a plate, and generally features rice, avocado, plantain, beans and a LOT of meat including sausages (both chorizo and morcilla, or blood sausage), chicharrón (fried pork rind) and minced beef. It’s nourishing and delicious – but be warned, you need to bring a good appetite to the table.
02 – EMPANADAS
On the snack end of the spectrum, the delicious South American pastries known as empanadas are particularly good in Colombia for one simple reason: they’re deep fried. Think flaky pockets of pastry filled with a range of fillings depending on the region, including various meats, potatoes, rice, vegetables, crispy fries, different kinds of peppers and even peanut sauce. They are often served with a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of the spiced relish known as ají, making it the perfect quick bite, provided you can stop at one…
03 – FRITANGA
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and in a carnivorous mood (vegetarians, look away) then fritanga is the way to go. A great big plate of various types of grilled and fried meats all mixed together, it often features a variety of offal and is terrific for sharing. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a true Colombian experience and best enjoyed with toothpicks (to pick up the juicy morsels) and an icy cold local beer.
04 – SANCOCHO
For something a little lighter but just as full of meaty goodness, try a bowl of sancocho. This soup is full of treasures, usually chicken but often other meats as well, plus corn on the cob, plantain and beans. Like many Colombian dishes, it varies depending on who is making it, so you can enjoy different versions around the country, all served with rice, avocado and ají dipping sauce on the side.
05 – AJIACO
An alternative and equally excellent local soup is ajiaco, which is particularly popular in the central region of Colombia. Made with three types of potatoes from the Cundiboyacense Plateau, it also features chicken, cream and capers, as well as a special daisy-like grassy herb known as guascas that is found in the mountains and is high in minerals, giving the soup a distinct and delicious flavour.
06 – AREPAS
Another excellent snack option, often enjoyed for breakfast, are the cornmeal pancakes known as arepas. Frequently served on the side at meals, they can also be picked up at street stalls throughout the country where they are split open and filled with a tasty mix of cheese, meat and fried eggs.
07 – PATACONES
Colombia has a wide and glorious array of bananas and the locals are incredibly creative in their uses, making them an essential item to try when you’re travelling around the country. A popular way to eat them is as patacones, which are green plantains flattened and twice fried then served as little patties topped with anything from beans to meat or the tomato-based relish called hogao. Bananas are also often transformed into cayeye (a breakfast dish made from mashed guineos, a type of green banana), as well as little fried plantain balls known as marranitas when stuffed with pork and aborrajao when filled with cheese.
08 – LECHONA
For a feast, try ordering the fabulous lechona, a luscious pork roast filled with rice, onion and vegetables. The slow cooked meat and spectacular crackling, combined with the deeply flavoured rice, offers an epic dining experience usually reserved for special occasions and feast days, and best shared with a large group.
09 – FRUIT CANDIES
Sweet treats are an important part of Colombian cuisine and there are plenty of sugary delights from which to choose. Due to the vast array of fruit available in Colombia (supposedly enough to enjoy a different one every day of the year) it’s not a surprise that they feature highly in desserts and are particularly popular when made into “candies”, which are a reduction of candied fruit and sugar. The best flavours include papaya, breva, blackberry, cape gooseberry, coconut, rhubarb and guava – and working out your favourite one is the best part.
10 – OBLEAS
This street stall staple is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth: thin brown wafers (a bit like flat ice-cream cones) are sandwiched together with gooey fillings including arequipe (the local version of caramel), jam and chocolate. The flavours and toppings are laid out at each stall so you can mix and match to create your very own tailor-made Colombian dessert.