Colombia’s Top 20 Traditional Foods & Dishes
You’ve booked your Colombian vacation! You figured out where you’ll visit, what hotel you’ll be staying at. Your must-see sites. Your must-buy souvenirs. What’s left? Figuring out what you just HAVE to eat while you’re there! You may think you can just figure that out while you’re there. We’re here to tell you that’s not it at all! With such a rich culture and so many dishes to choose from, you don’t want to get lost in the choices. That’s where we’ve got you covered. Here is our list of the top 20 ‘Traditional Foods of Colombia’ that you must try when you visit.
We’re starting out with a bang with this list. While this dish originated in Spain and can be found in other countries in Latin America, it’s still a famous must-eat when you hit Colombia. It’s a sort of turn-over, but with a twist. This savory dish is a fried bread “pocket” that is, usually, filled with beef, vegetables (peas, corn, or tomatoes traditionally) and cheese. Are you a fan of shepherd’s pies? Then you’ll probably like this. While the traditional kind obviously isn’t vegetarian or vegan friendly, in the bigger cities you may be able to find options that will fit a wider array of diets without sacrificing any of the traditional taste that makes this one food you definitely don’t want to miss out on. Grab a couple and enjoy this first of many foods that will make your Colombian trip a vacation for your taste buds as well.
2) Arroz de Lisa-Traditional Foods in Colombia
Planning to visit the Colombian coast? Then you have to try Arroz de Lisa. This rice based dish is made with mullet fish that is often fished where the country’s rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean. Even if you’re going to stay inland during your vacation, don’t worry. The fish is usually dried, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding it elsewhere in the country. Go for the full experience by making sure you have it with a bollo bun and an avocado salad. If you like fish and rice, we can basically guarantee that once you try this, you’ll be tempted to order it every day for as long as you’re in Colombia. Don’t fill up on it too much though, there are still more delicious dishes waiting for you to try on this list.
3) Chocolate Completo
Got a sweet tooth? Can’t get through your morning without something a little sugary? Looking to indulge a little while on your vacation? Then make sure to try chocolate completo for one, or all, of your breakfasts while you’re in Colombia. It’s hot chocolate topped with a sturdy, usually salted, cheese that won’t melt from the heat. Does that sound like a strange combination? We don’t blame you for thinking that, but it’s absolutely worth getting past the confusion to try it. It’s a mix of sweet and salty and the flavor combination is one you wouldn’t think to try normally. It’s your vacation, it’s time to be a little adventurous, and we think breakfast is the perfect time to start! Follow the locals’ lead and use some bread and butter to scoop up the leftovers when you’ve finished drinking the hot chocolate. We promise you won’t want to waste a single bit of this meal.
4) Bandeja Paisa-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Go for a smörgåsbord with this dish (bandeja literally means “platter” in Spanish). There are a few different ways you can prepare this meal, but, in general, if you go for this for one of your vacation meals, be prepared for a lot of food. You’ll be in for pork, beans, rice, beef, plantains, fried eggs, black pudding, onions, avocado, and lemon. We told you it would be a lot of food! It’s a mouth watering combination though, isn’t it? While you may want to consider sharing this meal, and you may not want this to be an every meal thing with the amount of food you’ll be consuming, if you’re an omnivore, it’s definitely something you should try at least once. You definitely won’t regret it once you do.
5) Melcocha Colombiana
A typical street food treat, melcocha colombiana is a must if you’re someone who can’t get through a day without having something sugary to break up all the savory foods you’ll be trying while in Colombia. It’s a meringue that, at first glance, looks a lot like ice cream, it’s often even served in a cone! Don’t let that sway what you’re expecting, though. It’s soft and fluffy, like the consistency of a marshmallow, and just as sticky. If you don’t do well with too much sugar, you may want to share this, because that’s the main ingredient in this treat, but if you’ve got a massive sweet craving, this is the thing for you. You’ll be wishing you could have this back home. We bet that you’ll be heading back for seconds as soon as you and your travel companions have finished your first serving.
6) Ajiaco-Traditional Foods in Colombia
This soup can be found in a few countries in Latin America, but it’s especially popular in the Colombian capital Bogotá. It’s hearty and perfect if you want something that is going to give you all the fuel you need to get through a long day of exploring without feeling heavy and weighed down by a big meal. It’s typically made with chicken, potatoes, corn, and herbs as its base. You can also find varieties that add cream or avocado to give the soup an extra something and make it a little heavier and even heartier. This isn’t your grandmother’s chicken soup (Or maybe it is, if your grandmother is Colombian!), it’s so much better! One bowl of this will make you feel all warm and fuzzy. You won’t be able to get enough. Try the authentic version and see if you can recreate it at home!
7) Arepa de Queso-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Looking for a little snack to break up one of your vacation days? Then make sure to find someplace to try arepas de queso. Whether you’ve had the traditional Venezuelan variety or not, you definitely won’t be sorry for ordering it. This version’s dough is made with cheese mixed in. Think that’s all the queso you’ll get? Wrong! Even more cheese is added to this savory snack right before it’s served, leaving you with melting cheesy goodness that will make your mouth water just thinking about it. Is that too much cheese for you? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to find some places that serve just the cheesy dough on its own. Honestly? We can’t decide which version we like better. So, why not try both?
If you’re in the market for a traditional snack that will hit the spot if you want something a little sweet and very fried? Try patacones. Made with green plantains that have been fried not once, but twice, these crunchy snacks are perfect if you’re a chip lover. You can eat them plain, but we recommend going the extra mile and getting them topped with beef or hogao sauce which is made with onions and tomatoes. While not the most on the go friendly snack, going the traditional route is well worth the mess. Typically an appetizer or a side dish, you’ll be able to find this dish at most traditional restaurants in Colombia. Someplace with napkins, we warned you, eating them can get messy! Get a bunch and share them with your friends, or eat them all yourself. We won’t judge, it’s your vacation!
9) Bollo-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Remember when we mentioned bollo earlier in this list? Well, we thought it was worth mentioning again in its own entry. Described as a bun, it’s more like bread on steroids. There are different variations made with corn or even potatoes and cooked in corn leaves. A great breakfast option, you’ll find locals munching on this with cheese on the side. It also accompanies a number of other popular Colombian dishes. Don’t worry about looking like a local if you want to try the bun by itself. You’ll be able to find vendors selling it at most street markets for a quick, on the go snack that is sure to hit the spot. You can even stop into a supermarket to grab a few before heading back to your room for the night.
10) Torta Negra
Thought we were done serving up sweet options on this list? Think again! Torta negra is a traditional Colombian cake that is traditionally prepared using a mix of chopped up dried fruits, spices, wine, rum, and a mix of different nuts. That’s quite the mix, right? Not only that, but no two traditional family recipes are the same. It’s the sort of recipe that gets a little tweaked here and there so everyone has their own unique combination of ingredients. That means you have a valid excuse to order this about a thousand times while on your trip, you have to figure out which one is your favorite, after all! While it’s typically a Christmas dish, you may be able to find it year round in some of the larger cities. If not, just make sure you head to Colombia in December to get your fill!
11) Flan de Coco-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Do you like coconut? Are you a fan of flan (or, if you’ve never had it, are you a fan of pudding or other pudding-type treats?)? Are you looking for something fresh and sweet to hit the spot after a long day out and about? Then let us tell you about flan de coco. This traditional Colombian dessert doesn’t go light on the coconut, if the name wasn’t a giant hint as to that. Not only is flaked coconut added into the dessert mix, it’s usually served with an extra dusting of coconut that gives the mix of soft texture and sweet, caramelized taste an extra kick that really makes this a show stopper and worthy of a spot on our list. If you’re even a casual coconut fan, you’ve got to try this.
12) Mango con Miel y Limón
Another sweet installment to our list, this treat is for you if you like mango and you like a sweet and tart flavor combination. What makes this mango treat different from the other dozens of mango-based snacks and desserts you’ll find all over Colombia? The mango is just under-ripe in this one, so it’s not quite as sweet. It’s shredded and topped with honey and lime, making it a messy, but deliciously tangy treat that is both refreshing and indulgent. Eat it on the go, but make sure to have napkins with you if you don’t have a fork or toothpick to enjoy it with, or you’ll be stuck with sticky fingers all day. It would be worth it though! You won’t find this in your hometown, unless you’re lucky enough to call Colombia home, that is.
13) Cholado-Traditional Foods of Colombia
It gets hot in Colombia. That’s not exactly front page news. So you’ll need something to help take the edge off and help keep you cool. We recommend you opt for a cholado. It’s like part smoothie, part milkshake, part fruit salad. A sweet, light, refreshing, and, let’s not forget, absolutely delicious dessert. It’s made with crushed ice, condensed mix, and a mix of chopped up seasonal fruit (bananas, strawberries, etc.). Have it topped with a wafer cookie or two and maybe some whipped cream for a truly tasty treat that will have your taste buds thanking you. You have to have it at least once, but we don’t know if you’ll be able to resist ordering it over and over again. How could you not when it’s so rare to be able to have something so fresh and indulgent anywhere else?
14) Arroz con Coco
If you don’t like mixing sweet and savory, this dish isn’t for you. Everyone else? You have to try arroz con coco while you’re in Colombia. This is usually a side dish for fish, but it’s good enough to go out of your way to try it on its own as well. In fact, when ordered by itself, to make the dish even sweeter, you can get this white rice, sugar, and coconut milk combination mixed with raisins. The flavor combination may seem a little strange at first, even if you’re someone who enjoys a good salted covered pretzel from time to time, but it’ll grow on you, we promise! It’s so simple, yet this little appetizer packs a huge punch. It’s an exotic treat that you’ll remember about your treat long after you’ve returned to your day to day life.
15) Calentado-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Okay, hear us out with this one. Calentado is a traditional Colombian breakfast made of…leftovers. Stay with us here, it’s better than it sounds! This meal goes back to Colombia’s history when the vast population lived in poverty and wasting food wasn’t an option. Some of the typical elements of this dish are reheated rice, eggs, pasta, beans, and meat. Those are all good flavors, right? Mix them together and you get something simple but special that will give you the fuel you need for a long and exciting day during your trip. This dish will make you feel like a true local. This is the breakfast to try if you want an authentic Colombian experience. Who knows! You might like it so much that you start to make it a staple breakfast in your regular life to bring a little bit of Colombia with you after your vacation is over.
Lechona is the meal for you to try if you’re looking for something traditional yet homey. Made from pork that has been roasted for an extended period of time until it’s nice and tender, it’s then stuffed with onions, peas, potatoes, herbs, and spices for a flavorful dish that will hit the spot if you’re looking for something filling. You shouldn’t have any problems finding a restaurant to order this at so you can taste its flavor combination for yourself, especially if you stick to the country’s larger cities where you’ll have plenty of eatery options to choose from. Lechona isn’t a fancy, five star dining sort of dish, but traditional usually doesn’t mean fancy. You want an authentic experience, right? If you didn’t, why would you even be looking at this list?
17) Buffalo Meat-Traditional Foods of Colombia
This one is a little bit of a different entry. It’s not a specific dish so much as an ingredient, but it’s traditional and a little out of the box, we just had to add it to the list. It’s got to top every carnivore or omnivore’s list of things to eat in Colombia. Buffalo meat is a traditional option that you can find in many Colombian restaurants. In recent years, the market for buffalo meat has increased again with many restaurants and street food vendors starting to incorporate it into their meal options. It’s not too uncommon to find buffalo meat burgers, stews, and more. It may take some getting used to, the texture and taste are a little different if you’re used to beef and pork, but once you acquire the taste, you’ll be happy you tried it on your trip!
Picada, also called picada colombiana, is another one of those traditional dishes that everyone makes a little differently. The main staples you’ll usually find when you eat it, though, are plantains, meat (pork, steak, chicken, or a mix of any or all of the three), potatoes, and yuca. Like a few of the other entries on this list, when you order this, you’re in for getting served a lot of food. Definitely don’t order this early in the day before a lot of walking and consider sharing this with someone else so you’re not overwhelmed by all the flavors and all the food. If you’re more of a fish lover, go for the picada del mar. It’s the same dish, but swap out the meat for different fish, for a lighter, leaner option, or if you’re staying closer to the coast.
19) Cazuela de Mariscos-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Speaking of fish dishes, if you’re a seafood lover, or if you’re looking to eat something a little different, and you’re staying near the Colombian coast, definitely make sure you try cazuela de mariscos. This is a fish stew made with coconut milk and vegetables. It’s like a creamy, Caribbean version of a chowder that is like comfort in liquid form. It may sound like something to enjoy on a cold day, but don’t worry, it hits the spot even when it’s hot out. It’s a traditional, fast meal that you’ll want to try to make at home. We recommend first going for the authentic version, you won’t be sorry. It’s worth a trip to the Colombian Caribbean just to try this. Order it for yourself, or get extra to share and you’ll be a hit with your travel party.
20) Colombian Chicharron-Traditional Foods of Colombia
Our final entry on this list is Colombian chicharron. This dish is a component of many other traditional Colombian dishes. It consists of crispy, fried pork belly, and that’s basically it! It’s a dish that is so loved that you can find it served at any meal of the day, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You’ll even find it as a snack option! Have it with beans and rice or eat it on its own, it doesn’t matter, as long as you make sure to try it out when you’re in Colombia. It’s one of the most traditional foods you can have while you’re enjoying your Colombian vacation, and it’s one that will have you eating like one of the locals in no time at all. Make sure to try it at least once, but getting it a few times is better!
How did you like our list? Have you decided what you’re going to try first? We bet you won’t be able to pick just one, after all!
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