Even after spending an entire trip dedicated to the culinary delights of Paris, there’s no food destination that I have enjoyed more in recent memory than Colombia. Everything in Colombia is effortlessly good. It’s homemade comfort food at its best, whether it’s from a fancy resort restaurant or a sweaty hole-in-the-wall with a live-in cat. The foods in Colombia that are must-try range from fried breakfast specialties to delicious decadent desserts.
Arepas are basically the best thing on God’s green earth, and though they’re also common in other Latin American countries like Venezuela, nothing beats Colombian-style arepas. They’re fried or grilled cornmeal pancakes that are served in different ways including sweet and savory varieties. Arepas are common street food and can work as a snack or as part of a traditional Colombian breakfast. I’m partial to the arepa con huevo, which is cooked with a fried egg inside. But the yummy corn taste is good all its own, so a plain arepa with butter is also a great choice.
The one pictured is from Narcobollo in Barranquilla, which famously changed its name after cops raided the place in search of drugs and found nothing but flour.
Though you might not be in the mood for a soup when it’s a thousand degrees out, a warm and comforting bowl of ajiaco is a pretty popular Colombian dish. Ajiaco is a hearty chicken and potato soup that comes with corn on the cob and herbs to give it a nice local flavor.
Another common Colombian soup is sancocho, which is differs not only among Latin American countries but also within regions of Colombia. Sancocho could be made with beef, chicken, or fish. Sancocho has a little bit of everything, including yuca, plantains, corn, and some protein depending on where you’re ordering it.
If you want to try a more adventurous stew, you can order mondongo, which is made with tripe, pork, and chorizo along with some of the other soup staples such as yuca and potatoes. It’ll be so hearty and delicious, you probably won’t even notice you’re eating a cow’s stomach lining.
Patacones are twice-fried green plantains served with salt. Colombian patacones are smashed thinner than fried plantains from other Latin American countries, making them great for topping with meat or other food. Almost every local Colombian meal comes with patacones as a side, and you’ll never want to turn it down.
Arroz con coco
The other staple side dish is arroz con coco or coconut rice, especially on the coast. Colombian arroz con coco is a little salty and a little sweet and includes little bits of fried grated coconut for maximum flavor. It’s a great accompaniment to some of the rich meats and fried foods you’ll probably enjoy with your meal.
Colombians spice up boring scrambled eggs by adding tomatoes, red pepper, and onion to the dish. It’s one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Colombia and can be eaten with an arepa or a slice of avocado.
This is technically Middle Eastern, but Colombians have perfected their own version of the ground meat and wheat balls (kibbeh). They were brought to Colombia by Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinian immigrants, and have become a Colombian dish all their own. Rather than lamb and pine nuts, Colombian quibbes’ are typically made from beef and other local ingredients and served with hot sauce for dipping.
Carimanolas are good enough reason to return to Colombia at least once a year. These yuca fritters are stuffed with either ground beef or cheese and fried. The torpedo shaped fritters are part of great breakfast or lunch or can be eaten as a snack. You better believe these babies came back from Colombia with me in a to-go box.
Pan de Bono
Pan de bono is Colombia’s cheese bread. It’s made with yuca flour and traditional white cheese that makes these small bread rolls extra salty and delicious. This is another great Colombian specialty that is good enough to fly home with you.
Arequipe (not to be confused with quibbe) is caramelized sweetened condensed milk. It’s known in other Spanish-speaking countries as dulce de leche. It’s popular topping for ice cream, cakes, and other desserts. One of the best forms of arequipe is the sand-dollar shaped conservitas which are covered in powdered sugar. These soft treats are made entirely of arequipe and they melt in your mouth.
If you’re visiting coastal Colombia, you’ll be remiss if you don’t enjoy some of the area’s seafood. You’ll find Colombian ceviche made from shrimp or fish. Whole fried fish such as snapper is a popular entrée that’s perfect for eating by the beach. It will probably be served with patacones or arroz con coco (or both!) like everything else.
If you were to be in Colombia for one day, you could try a variety of Colombian dishes by ordering a bandeja paisa, which is a platter of delicious Colombian foods all in one super filling dish. A bandeja paisa typically includes rice, egg, pork belly, sausage, avocado, fried plantain, an arepa, red beans, and carne molida, which is beef ground so fine that it’s almost a powder.
If you like Dutch stroopwafel, you will love the thin wafer obleas. The sweet Cololmbian specialty is made of two thin wafers filled with a sweet spread like chocolate, jam, or – you guessed it – arequipe.
All these foods make Colombia a top-tier destination for amazing food. If you don’t get to try everything the first time, you can save some of the dishes for another trip!