The best Colombian dishes are:
Arguably the most popular Colombian dish is Sancocho, which is a soup made with multiple types of meats (mostly beef and pork) along with banana, cassava, potatoes, carrot and a handful of herbs. For those who are completely unfamiliar with the Colombian gastronomy, it is good to know that soups play an essential role in the daily diet and in this article about the best Colombian dishes the country has to offer, many other soups will be recommended. While I personally think there are slightly more exciting soups to be found, Sancocho is a meal that Colombians simply love to eat, also during special family gatherings such as during Christmas and other festivities. Colombian soups are served with rice and avocado, making it a complete meal.
Sancocho, the most popular dish in Colombia
Arepas are cornflour round bread and are a major part of the Colombian gastronomy. It’s eaten as a side dish or served as a stand-alone meal. Throughout Colombia, there are many versions of arepas to be found. In Medellin, the arepa is pretty tasteless as no salt or sugar is added while in Cartagena, the arepas are deep-fried with egg and cheese in them. But even though the Arepa in Medellin does not have much taste at first, they do make them tasty by adding cheese, butter or other simple ingredients. When visiting Colombia, you will eat arepas no matter what as it’s such a popular and important part of the Colombian cuisine. My personal favourite arepas are the ones that are completely stuffed with delicious things, such as pulled pork, salchicha, chicharron and beans. But an arepa with melted butter in the morning with a cup of Colombian coffee will also do the trick. When visiting Medellin, have a look at our article about the best arepas in Medellin to see what kind of creations the city has to offer.
Arepa de Chocolo
3. Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja Paisa is the most popular Colombian dish among foreigners and therefore the most famous Colombian dish in general. This huge platter full of meats, rice, eggs and rice originates from the Antioquia region and is, therefore, a speciality for the city of Medellin. Like in other gastronomies, typical food often comes from a certain period where either the people did not have much to eat and had to be creative - or - when people had to eat heavily as they had to work all day in the fields and needed that energy to keep up. For Bandeja Paisa, the latter applies here. It’s a typical dish that was eaten by men who needed to work all day and rest assured, this Paisa platter contains enough calories to keep going for the day. A Bandeja Paisa is served with Chorizo, Morcilla (blood sausage), Chicharron (pork belly), Carne Molida (ground beef), red beans, white rice, fried egg, avocado and patacones, which is basically a Colombian version of a Full English breakfast, but larger and with much more calories. When visiting Medellin, make sure to read our article about the best Bandeja Paisa in Medellin to taste the best version of the city’s speciality.
A version of Bandeja Paisa with extra beef.
A classic version of Bandeja Paisa
One of my personal favourite Colombian dishes is a Picada, a plate full of different grilled meats, accompanied by roasted potatoes, arepas and many more. This platter is usually shared with a group and you eat this when you are out with friends or when you have something to celebrate, although there are plenty of restaurants to be found that serve Picada. Usually, the plate is filled with different types of sausages, such as chorizo and Morcilla as well as Chicharron, grilled chicken and pork. But there is plenty of variation to be found. Eating Picada is more like a social activity, you hang out with friends, enjoy a cold beer and eat together this feast of a meal.
Picada is for me personally, one of the best Colombian dishes!
Ajiaco is another popular Colombian soup but is typically from Bogota. The potato-based chicken soup is served with two rather unusual ingredients: capers and cream. Based on your own preference, you can add these ingredients to your soup and the Ajiaco changed completely in flavour. The soup itself is a complete meal as it is loaded with shredded chicken and chunks of soft potato. While I was sceptical at first when hearing about the soup, it became one of my favourite Colombian dishes in general. It’s so satisfying to eat! One of the most famous restaurants in Bogota, namely La False Puerta, serves a traditional version of this soup, which we highly recommend to check out yourself.
6. Cazuela de Mariscos
The Colombian gastronomy can be divided into six (food) regions and Cazuela de Mariscos comes from the Caribbean region. This one-pot seafood stew is completely different from the food you eat in the mainlands of Colombia. The food from this region is much lighter. Cazuela de Mariscos is a seafood casserole that is served with typical coastal coconut rice and patacones. The rice is typical of this region and much lighter than plain white rice. Patacones are deep-fries baked banana “cookies” that give a tasty and crunchy dimension to the food. Cazuela de Mariscos is sometimes gratinated with cheese, which makes it much heavier. You can find Cazuela de Mariscos in cities like Bogota and Medellin as well as at typical coastal restaurants.
Cazuela de Mariscos with cheese gratin.
Perhaps you heard about this dish when you visited the Philippines? Lechona was introduced by the Spaniards in both the Philippines as Colombia and other South American countries. Lechona is a whole pig that is spit-roasted slowly over charcoal for hours. A Lechona in Colombia is stuffed with rice, peas and spices and this stuffing originated from Tolima, Colombia. Lechona is typically eaten during festivities, especially with larger gatherings as one pig can easily be portioned to at least fifty people. For many tourists, eating Lechona is on their bucket list as it’s quite an impressive meal and experience.
Empanadas don’t need an introduction as you Empanadas are a dish you can easily find thought the world. But what most people don’t know is that Empanadas are an important part of the Colombian gastronomy and the ideal street food that you will find everywhere throughout the country. These savoury, fried bites are deliciously stuffed and with a bit of luck, your (street food) vendor offers are a wide variety of sauces and a spicy aji to excite your taste buds even more. Whenever you are hungry and in for a quick bite, an Empanada will do the trick to kill that hunger. For more inspiration, check out our article about the best Empanadas in Medellin.
Within the Colombian gastronomy, there are many types of grilled meats and sausages to be found, which meat-lovers like me, simply can’t get enough of. Morcilla is one of my personal favourites and is a blood sausage stuffed with rice and herbs. While at first, this typical Colombian dish slightly scared me, it quickly become one of my favourite snacks. There is a popular restaurant named Leños y Carbon which has branches in cities like Bogota and Medellin that serve amazing Morcilla accompanied by tasty arepas. It is one of the better eateries you as a tourist can visit as the quality, hygiene and price are all great. But Morcilla can be eaten at many Colombian restaurants and we highly recommend you to try it out yourself.
Morcilla with arepas
Tamal is the oldest Colombian dish we recommend you to try. Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 B.C. and nowadays, almost every South American country has its own version of Tamal. Inside the wrapped banana leaves you can find a dough, which is made of masa, accompanied by meat and vegetables. A tamal is steamed, meaning that the meat is incredibly soft and tender. You can find a variety of different versions throughout the country, but arguably the most famous Tamales can be found in Bogota. The so-called Bogotano Tamal is made with longaniza (pork sausage) and chickpeas. One of the most famous places to get Tamales in Bogota is the previously recommended La False Puerta.
Patacones are deep-fried baked banana crisps and play an important role in the Colombian cuisine to add texture and savoriness. On the Caribbean coast, it’s used with many dishes as most dishes there are much lighter than in the rest of Colombia. When you order Patacones as a stand-alone dish, like a starter, you usually have two choices: Patacones con Hogao, which is a tomato and onion dip. Or the patacones are served with cream cheese called Suero. The combination of fried green banana with Suero is amazing and is often eaten as a snack during the day. Similar to Arepas, you can find restaurants that create next-level patacones with all sorts of delicious toppings!
Patacones with suero
Next-level Patacones with shredded chicken, cheese and cream sauce.
Mondongo is one of the signature Colombian dishes of Medellin. It’s a flavorful soup made with beef tripe, which is an ingredient not everyone is fond but we encourage everyone to try it out as it’s definitely a tasty soup. There is a restaurant in Medellin that’s called Mondongo’s and is visited by Colombian and international celebrities on a frequent basis. A visit to this somewhat legendary restaurant should be on every foodie’s bucket list. There is also another famous restaurant in Medellin that serves phenomenal Mondongo, namely Mondogo y Ajiaco, which is mostly known among Colombians themselves and has a much more authentic vibe. Both restaurants are listed in our article about the best Mondongo in Medellin. The soup is yet another typical food from the Antioquia region, which is also listed in our article about what to eat in Medellin.
13. Pescado Frito
Pescado Frito is the second Colombian coastal dish that we recommend. As said, the coastal region offer much lighter Colombian dishes and the Pescado Frito is the perfect example. It’s a deep-fried white fish served with typical coastal coconut rice and patacones. It is one of the few seafood dishes the gastronomy has to offer as the majority of Colombian food is made with (red) meat. The fish is nicely carved in a specific way that you can easily eat the fish with your bare hands, the Colombian way. Don’t even try to eat it with a knife and fork as people will stare at you. You can find Pescado Frito in coastal restaurants in cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cali as well as the coastal regions.
14. Ceviche de Chicharron
Although Ceviche is a typical Peruvian dish, in the Colombian gastronomy, they’ve adopted the Ceviche and added one of their own specialities to it: Chicharron. Chicharron is deep-fried pork belly and is widely used in the Antioquia cuisine, although you can find it here and there in other parts of the country as well. Deep-fried pork belly covered in sourness and cream might not be the first combination you come up with, but we promise you it is delicious. You can find Ceviche de Chicharron typically in Medellin. Check our article about the best Chicharron in Medellin for more recommendations.
Ceviche de Chicharron
15. Frijoles Antioqueños/Cazuela de Frijoles
Cazuela de Frijoles is yet another typical Colombian dish from the Antioquian region, and like the others, you can expect beans, chicharron, baked banana, avocado and sometimes a bit of chorizo as well. Frijoles translated means beans, and this bowl's main ingredient is beans, which makes it a heavy meal. Frijoles Antioqueños are beans with typical Paisa spices and you find this in several meals. What makes Cazuela de Frijoles so special? The added ingredients that are on top of the beans give it all sorts of extra flavours and textures and ultimately, it is a perfect balance between savoury and sweet. Like basically every Colombian dish from this region, make sure that you are hungry as the portions are huge.
Cazuela de Frijoles, made with Frijoles Antioqueños
16. Carne de la Llanera
Above a wood fire, the meat is placed in a specific way so that it can slowly cook until it’s perfectly tender. The combination of succulent, good-quality beef with the smokiness of the wood fire is what makes it so incredibly tasty. This specific way of barbecuing the meat comes from Los Llanos, which is east of the Andes and includes parts of Venezuela as well. This area is full of cattle and you can imagine how they perfected their barbecue skills with so much beef in this area. The Carne de la Llanera is usually eaten with arepas and potatoes, but flavour-wise, it’s all about that super tender meat.
Cazuela de Frijoles, made with Frijoles Antioqueños
The meat is placed in a way so it's slow roasted.
Typically a treat that you eat during Christmas in Colombia, you can find plenty of shops that sell these perfectly round balls all year long. A Buñuelo is a fried dough fritter that’s popular in many South American countries. The Colombian version is made with cheese. Crispy on the outside, nicely soft and almost spongy on the inside, these deep-fried balls are super tasty and savoury thanks to the use of typical Colombian cheese called Queso Costeño (which also taste amazing on Patacones). During the Christmas period, which starts on the 7th of December, it’s common to combine Buñuelo with Natilla, a typical Colombian dessert.
18. Sopa de Lentejas
Beans and lentils play an important role in the Colombian cuisine. Not only are they both enormously nutritious, but they are also tasty too. Sopa de Lentejas is a rich soup made with lentils, pork and Colombian sausage. While chorizo is commonly used, I prefer the variations with salchicha or salchichón. Flavour-wise, this savoury soup reminds me of Dutch pea soup, but is slightly lighter. As with all Colombian soups, it is served with rice, avocado and an arepa. At eateries such as Hacienda, a popular restaurant in Medellin with six branches, the soup is served with fried banana, which gives it a delicious sweet tone. Sopa de Lentejas is, together with Ajiaco, my favourites Colombian soup.
Fries with generous toppings that include chicharron, grilled sausages, pulled pork or simply melted cheddar cheese, who doesn’t say yes to that! Salchipapa is a typical Colombian (fast)food that every now and then simply craves for, especially after a night of partying. Salchipapa is actually the combination of the word papa (fries) and salchicha (sausage), but you can call all fries with ridiculous toppings salchipapa. Potatoes play a major role in the Colombian cuisine and fries are served everywhere. Why not order fries with all this deliciousness?
20. Calentado Paisa
Calentado is what fried rice is to many Asian countries. Left-overs are stir-fried the next day with rice and in Colombia, it’s served with a fried egg, arepa and avocado. So what kind of leftovers are used in a Calentado Paisa? Paisa is referred to the Antoquian region, so it’s usually the beans from the Bandeja Paisa or the lentils from the Sopa de Lentejas. Compared to Bandeja Paisa, a Calentado Paisa is much lighter, but the portions are always generous and you will be stuffed after the meal. It is super satisfying to eat and perfect for breakfast or lunch. As said, Calentado Paisa is a typical dish from the Antioquia region, which includes Medellin and as it's a popular tourist destination, the perfect place to eat this savoury meal.
21. Arroz Con Pollo
Arroz con Pollo is simply translated as rice and chicken. This traditional dish can be found in many South American countries, with each country with its own variant. Although some claim it’s similar to Paella, there are some big differences, including the lack of saffron and the type of rice. But the Colombian version of Arroz con Pollo is an incredibly satisfying dish. A bowl contains lean chicken and a combination of herbs and vegetables. The rice is cooked in chicken stock, which gives it a nice flavour. To finish all this, you top the rice off with some tomato salsa. There is also another popular variant, which is Arroz con Chorizo, which is much heartier and saltier, although the chorizo can have a dominant taste. This classic Colombian dish can be found everywhere in the country and it’s actually a common dish to make at home.
22. Posta Cartagenera
Posta Cartagenera, or Posta Negra, is a typical dish from the coastal region and as the name suggests, from Cartagena to be precise. It’s tender cooked beef covered in a dark sauce that is slightly sweet thanks to the use of panela, a typical sweet from Colombia. The sauce is what makes this Colombian dish so delicious and you can compare it a little bit with Belgian stews. You usually eat Posta Cartagenera with that typical coastal coconut rice when you’re on the coast, while in other parts, plain white rice is served. To add more texture and crunch to the meal, patacones are served as well. Posta Cartagenera is a typical Colombian dish but the stew has similarities to the Western cuisine, making it an excellent dish to try out for those who try to keep new flavours familiar.
Trucha is a signature dish in the coffee-district town of Salento. For many tourists, a visit to Salento is in their plans as aside from the coffee, it offers the Cocora Valley, home to the largest palm trees. Trucha is a type of trout, a family of the salmon, so the meat is also slightly orange and pink-ish. We recommend you to try two different versions: Trucha Frita, which is deep-fried Trucha and Trucha Gratinada, which is served with creamy sauce au gratin. A cool touch is that the patacones in Salento are enormous. Check out our article about what to eat in Salento for more food recommendations. To conclude: Salento offers three things you should not miss: excellent coffee, beautiful mountain views including Cocora Valley and of course Trucha.
Trucha, with cream sauce and au gratin.
25. Arroz Con Leche
While there are plenty of tasty Colombian desserts to recommend, we try to stick to savoury meals in this article. There is one typical dessert, however, that we want you to try during your travel and that is Arroz Con Leche. Basically, it’s a Colombian rice pudding, but as dairy plays a major role in Colombia thanks to the livestock sector, you can expect high-quality dairy (and meat). Arroz Con Leche is super refreshing and when served ice-cold, something refreshing during the warm days. For more desserts, check out our article about what to eat in Colombia.
Arroz con Leche
- What to eat in Colombia
- What to eat in Medellin
- Best Colombian restaurants in Medellin
- Best restaurants in Medellin
There you have it, the best Colombian dishes, according to us. Looking for more delicious food in cities like Medellin and Bogota? Check out our free food recommendation app that let you find the best food during your travel in Colombia. The app is completely free and helps you decide what to eat by recommending the best Colombian dishes and other specialities of (local) restaurants. Especially when you have no (or not enough) knowledge of the local cuisine, the app is a handy tool.
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