In this article, we cover the following aspects related to Colombian food. By clicking on each title, you can navigate straight to that particular paragraph, in case you’re searching for something particular related to the Colombian cuisine.
- A. What is Colombian food?
- B. Colombian food regions.
- C. Popular Colombian food.
- D. Typical Colombian breakfast.
- E. Typical Colombian lunch.
- F. Typical Colombian dinner.
- G. Typical Colombian desserts.
- H. Colombian food for special occasions.
- I. FAQ’s related to Colombian food.
A. What is Colombian food?
Colombian food is a diverse mixture of grains, soups, grilled meats and one pot-meals from its six regions, indigenous groups as well the history of European colonialism and an Afro-Caribbean influence. It offers a wide range of fruits and vegetables thanks to the country’s biodiversity.
How can you see that back on your plate? Arepas, Empanadas and bread are commonly eaten in Colombia, as well as potatoes and rice. They are eaten together with grilled meat, especially pork and beef and along with a good variety of sausages. More importantly, Sopas (soups) play a vital role in the daily lives of Colombians as well as one-pot dishes such as Cazuelas.
While the majority of Colombians mainly eat meats such as pork, beef and goat, the coastal regions are lucky enough to eat fresh seafood on a daily basis. Typical coastal food is much lighter than the, in general, heavy meals of the Colombian gastronomy.
Like any other country in the world, the Colombian Cuisine is influenced by its neighbours’ cuisines, especially near the current borders. Dishes such as Ceviche and even ones that include guinea pig! In other words, Colombian food is hugely diverse.
Typical Colombian food!
B. Colombian food regions
Colombia can be divided into regions of Colombia are the Caribbean, Pacific, Orinoco, Amazon, Andean and Insular. Each region has its own climate and biodiversity which you can see directly on your plate of Colombian food. It’s important to understand that these regions exist in order to know what typical Colombian food you should try when travelling in certain areas. Some regions are more popular than others due to the fact that some parts of Colombia are still very isolated. In the next paragraph, you can see the most popular Colombian dishes and from which region they are coming from.
C. Popular Colombian food
In our article about What To Eat In Colombia, we dove very deep into the Colombian Cuisine, especially what kind of dishes this amazing country has to offer. We won’t go that deep again. Instead, we list what we believe is the most popular Colombian food. Typical Colombian dishes that you must try when you visit the country.
The 10 most popular Colombian food are:
You cannot picture the Colombian gastronomy without Arepas. An arepa is a round-shaped, cornflour “bread” that can be eaten as an individual dish or as a side dish. Each Colombian food region has its own way of making arepas. In Cartagena, for example, they stuff the arepas with egg and often meat and deep-fry the arepa until golden crisp, while in the Antioquia region (that includes Medellin), the arepas are fried or grilled but without any flavour enhancers such as salt and sugar. Arepas are such an important part of your daily meal that you will eat plenty (of different versions) of them during your travel. Not only as side dishes, but you can also find Arepas completely stuffed with local deliciousnesses. To give you an idea of what to expect when it comes to Arepas, have a look at our article about the best arepas in Medellin.
Arepas, typically served as a side dish.
Arepas can also be served as individual dishes/snacks.
Famous arepa from Cartagena
Arepas can also be served with next-level fillings!
Soups are an important part of the Colombian cuisine. There are soups typically for breakfast and some for lunch. Each region has their own famous soup, although there are a handful of soups that you can find basically everywhere. To make things less complicated, here is an overview of the most popular Colombian soups:
Sancocho is the most important soup in the Colombian cuisine. It’s a typical soup for lunch and is always eaten during family gatherings. The soup is typically made with banana, potato, cassava, tomato, scallion, cilantro and mazorca and served with corn, avocado and rice, although Sanchocho can vary a little between the Colombian food regions. The Caribbean region makes Sancocho with fish while the Pacific region makes the soup with coconut milk. Tasting this typical Colombian soup is a must during your travel!
This chicken and potato soup is more a complete meal than just a bowl of soup. Ajiacos is a typical soup from Colombia’s capital, Bogota. The soup is served with cream, capers and cilantro to make the soup even better to your taste. Typically, most soups in Colombia are served with banana, avocado and rice, which makes the meal even completer. Ajiacos is one of my personal favourite soups in the Colombian gastronomy. Flavour-wise it’s flawless and because of the potatoes and creaminess, it’s a very satisfying and comforting food.
Ajiaco, flavoured with cream, capers and cilantro.
You add the cream to the Ajiaco to your taste.
c. Caldo de Costilla
This popular Colombian soup is also part of a fun anecdote. Caldo de Costilla is commonly known as the cure for hangovers. There are bars and clubs in Colombia that are open until the early morning and serve this typical soup to its customers in the hope they will feel better and stay longer. This elixir did not have any success on us, but we do like the taste of Cold de Costilla. It’s mainly eaten during breakfast and has a pretty straightforward flavour as it’s made from beef broth together with potatoes, garlic, onion and cilantro. You can’t go wrong with this soup.
Mondongo is a typical soup from Medellin and the Antioquia region and of all the soups, it’s one of the most flavorful. What I mean by that is: in the Colombian cuisine, not many strong herbs or spices are used. That does not mean dishes don’t have flavour! Mondongo is usually flavoured with cumin, garlic, onion and Colombian sausages, although recipes are not as strict as in other countries. These flavours are much stronger than other soups and perhaps that’s why Mondongo is so popular. Before you start eating this typical Colombian soup, one must know that it’s made with beef tripe, which is not always as appetizing for foreigners. If you don’t mind eating cow’s stomach, then Mondongo is a real treat. When visiting Medellin, you must visit one of the places listed in our article about the best Mondongo in Medellin.
There are many more soups to be found in Colombia. Check out our article about the best Colombian soups for more inspiration.
Mondongo, a flavourful Colombian soup made with beef tripe.
Most famous Mondongo in Colombia at Mondongo's Medellin.
e. Sopa de Arroz
Sopa de Arroz is a rice soup and is a popular Colombian soup that will fill your stomach quite easily. The savoury soup got its flavour mostly from the chicken stock, although the added vegetables and cilantro finish the soup nicely. The soup is usually served with chicken thighs or drumsticks, but we encountered one that even got a chicken wing on top of it. This is a kind of soup that can’t go wrong flavour-wise, an all-time favourite for many!
f. Sopa de Lentejas
It's no secret that 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 soup made with lentils. The trick that makes it so delicious is the use of salty sausages in it. To combination of the lentils with the sausage is pleasantly delicious as it's almost a complete meal in a bowl. Like all Colombian soups, it's served with rice, avocado and sometimes even with platana (baked banana). Sopa de Lentejas is one of my personal favourite Colombian foods as it reminds me of a lighter version of typical Dutch pea soup.
For most of us, Empanadas don’t need an introduction. It’s a common dish that can be found in many South American countries as well as in Spain and Portugal. Empanadas in Colombia are slightly different. While the majority of the Empanadas are deep-fried with a potato-based dough, there are some versions that are made with cornflour and prepared in the oven. Throughout the country, you can find all sorts of savoury fillings that they put inside the Empanada. When you eat this greasy snack at a specialized shop, the most fun part is choosing the sauces. If you’re lucky, the vendor has quite the range of flavorful sauces, but standardly, they serve Empanadas with guacamole and Aji. Aji is a spicy and sour dip and can bring spiciness to Colombian dishes which usually are not spicy at all. To give you a good idea of what to expect when it comes to Empanadas, check out our article about the best empanadas in Medellin.
Empanadas can be found everywhere in Colombia.
The ideal snack: large empanadas that are richly filled.
4. Bandeja Paisa
Literally translated Plate of Paisa, this typical Colombian food originated from the Antioquia area including places like Medellin. It’s arguably the best known Colombian dish among foreigners. This huge platter full of meat, beans, rice and fried egg used to be the workers’ meal before going outside all day. In every country, there is a type of food that’s typical for hard-working (wo)men, but Bandeja Paisa is one of the heaviest meals we’ve seen. It reminds us of a Full English Breakfast, except greasier and far more calories. Don’t get us wrong, Bandeja Paisa is a super tasty meal. Just make sure you come with an empty stomach. A typical plate contains Chorizo, Morcilla (blood sausage), Chicharron (pork belly), Carne Molida (ground beef), red beans, white rice, fried egg, avocado and patacones (fried banana), but there are different versions to be found in many Colombian restaurants in Medellin. Make sure to read our article about the best Bandeja Paisa in Medellin.
Bandeja Paisa with extra beef.
A typical Bandeja Paisa.
5. Cazuela de Mariscos
Colombian food is - aside from the arepas, soups and empanadas - known for its one-pot meals. One of these one-pot meals are Cazuelas, which come in many forms. A hugely popular one is Cazuela de Mariscos, which is a typical dish from the coastal regions. It’s a seafood casserole (stew). The best part about these regions is that food is usually served with coconut rice along with freshly fried Patacones (fried banana) that are covered in cream (Suero). The stew is finished with coconut milk, which makes it nicely creamy. Picture yourself at the beach with this creamy, savoury seafood stew accompanied by an ice-cold beer. That’s what Cazuela de Mariscos is all about!
Cazuela de Mariscos, a real seafood feast!
Picada is one of my personal favourite Colombian dishes. It’s a plate full of grilled meats together with potatoes, corn and arepas, although every Picada can vary a bit. Aside from the smokey taste, what I like the most is when you eat Picada. For most people, you eat Picada on a special occasion, when you have a party for example, when you are with friends and family or play a game of Tejo. It’s social food, it’s food that you share with each other when you are having a good time. Depending on which region you are in, a Picada is usually served with: pork ribs, different sausages such as Chorizo, Morcilla and Salchichon, Chicharron (pork belly), roasted potatoes, arepas and corn. You can find Colombian restaurants that serve Picada as well, even platters for one or two persons.
Picada, a food-sharing feast!
7. Pescado Frito
The Colombian gastronomy is pretty heavy as you might have noticed. The food in restaurants is often (deep)-fried, come in large portions, usually with lots of meat and the roasted potatoes and arepas are pretty filling too. Luckily there is the Caribbean region, which has a few light Colombian dishes. Pescado Frito is simply fried fish. The fried fish is served with that typical coconut rice and crispy patacones. The fish is carved in a way that you can easily eat the fish with your hands, which is the Colombian way. Don’t even think of using your knife and fork as you might draw the attention of other customers.
Typical coastal Colombian food - fried fish with coconut rice and patacones.
Tamal is a steamed dough with meat and vegetables made from maza (corn) that is wrapped in banana leaves, 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. Tamal is the oldest Colombian dish we recommend you to try. It originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 B.C. and nowadays, almost every South American country has its own version of Tamal.
Typical Colombian food: Tamales
9. (Ceviche de) Chicharron
Although Ceviche is a typical Peruvian dish, in Colombia they made their own versions as well, including Ceviche de Chicharron. A fresh and sour salsa is poured over crispy deep-fried pork, which is called Chicharron. You can find Chicharron everywhere in the country, but it’s mainly eaten in the Antioquia region, including Medellin. Chicharron is an important ingredient in many Colombian dishes. If this version of ceviche sounds too heavy for you, in the coastal regions, they serve Ceviche de Camarones, which is made with cooked prawns and served with crackers.
Tip: Check out our article about the best Chicharron in Medellin if you want to know more about the huge popular Colombian food Chicharron.
Ceviche de Chicharron
Chicharron (deep-fried pork belly)
Ceviche de Camarones (with typical crackers).
For many tourists, eating a traditional Lechona is something that is on their bucket list. Lechona is a whole roasted suckling pig that is usually being eaten during special occasions but can find Lechona restaurants all over the country. Introduced by the Spaniards, Lechona can be found in many countries, including the Philippines. The Colombian version is crispy and succulent pork served stuffed with rice, peas and spices which is roasted for over ten hours. The skin of the pork should be super crispy. All of this is usually served with arepas and potatoes. On special occasions, make sure to save some room for dessert!
These are the 10 most popular Colombian foods. In our article about What to eat in Colombia, we dive much deeper into the Colombian gastronomy and recommend you over forty different dishes you should try.
D. Typical Colombian breakfast
Calentado is a popular Colombian breakfast option that’s made with leftovers, a dish basically every cuisine in the world has. In Colombia, it’s common to use leftover beans or lentils along with rice, meat, eggs and arepa. One of my favourite Calentados is the Calentado Paisa, which is made with beans, chicharron, banana and rice served with a fried egg and avocado. It is so comforting to eat and has plenty of calories to keep going all day.
b. Arepa with eggs - Arepa con Huevo and Huevos Pericos
It is no surprise that arepas are also eaten for breakfast in Colombia. A simple arepa with cheese such as the Arepa Chocolo and Arepa con Quesito can do the trick but one of the best Colombian breakfasts with arepa is the scrambled eggs (Huevos Pericos). It’s a common combination that’s served at hotels and for many tourists, the ideal breakfast as it has similarities to the Western cuisine. The scrambled eggs are made with chopped scallion, finely sliced tomatoes and sometimes cilantro. The eggs are served with an arepa with crumbled white cheese.
In Cartagena, there is another type of arepa with eggs, namely a deep-fried arepa with cheese inside the arepa. That one is called Arepa de Huevo. You can eat it for breakfast but it’s also common to eat it just as a snack.
c. Caldo de Costilla
Soups play a vital role in the Colombian gastronomy and the typical breakfast soup is called Caldo de Costilla. It’s a pretty straightforward soup made from beef broth together with potatoes, garlic, onion and cilantro. It originated from the Andean region and is commonly known as the cure for hangovers, although we’ve never had any success. But here is the fun part: there are bars and clubs that are open until the early morning that serve this typical soup to their customers in the hope they will feel better and stay longer. Apart from this anecdote, the soup is definitely tasty and you should give it a try as breakfast together with an arepa.
Changua is a typical breakfast from Bogota and it’s a combination of milk broth with eggs. Right before serving, an egg is added to the boiling hot milk broth and the last garnish is added. The Changua is often served with cheese and a piece of almojabanas, a typical Colombian bread. As it’s served inside the broth, the cheese and bread get softened. Similar to the Caldo de Costilla, it is said that the Changua cures the hangover, so it’s often eaten as a late-night snack after a long night of drinking aguardiente.
As mentioned earlier in this article, tamal is a steamed dough with meat and vegetables made from maza (corn) that is wrapped in banana leaves. It originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 B.C., which makes it the oldest Colombian dish and nowadays, almost every South American country has its own version of Tamal. This comforting meal is ideal for breakfast as it’s a combination of meat and dough (and a bit of vegetable). Especially in Bogota, it’s a common meal, but with a bit of search, you can find tamales in every major city.
I. FAQ about Colombian Food
Is Colombian food spicy?
Colombian food is not spicy at all. Colombians are sensitive to spicy things, so their food doesn’t contain any chillies. There are ways to make Colombian food spicy, such as adding Aji (a spicy and sour sauce) but in general, Colombian dishes are not spicy.
You can spice things up with Aji, such as your Empanadas.
Is Colombian food healthy?
Colombian food in restaurants and from street food vendors are often greasy and contains ingredients that often are (deep-)fried. Colombian food that you eat at home is much healthier due to the use of vegetables. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world with an abundance of vegetables and fruits and you will notice that people buy them a lot at (super)markets.
Is Colombian food vegetarian friendly?
No, Colombian food is definitely not vegetarian friendly. Protein mainly comes from cattle including milk and cheeses. In cities like Bogota and Medellin, you see an uprise in vegetarian restaurants, but it’s still just the beginner's phase to call it a real vegetarian food scene. Alternative, vegetarian-friendly protein sources are not that common and Colombians seem to love their steaks, sausages and grilled meats.
What are typical Colombian spices?
Typical Colombian spices are Guasca, Garlic, Cumin, Ashiote, Triguisar and Sazon Goya. But tomato de salsa and Maggi cubes are used on a daily basis as well to make typical Colombian foods. In general, you don’t really follow a strict recipe to make Colombian food, with a few exceptions here and there (e.g. Ajiaco must be made with Guasca, otherwise it’s just a chicken soup).
There you have it, everything you should know about Colombian food. Looking for more delicious food in Colombia in places like Medellin, Bogota and other Colombian cities? Check out our 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 dishes and other specialities of (local) restaurants. Especially when you have no (or not enough) knowledge of the local cuisine, the app is an excellent tool.
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