Food in Colombia was, to be completely honest, a little bit more boring than we expected. Many dishes are similar to other former Spanish colonies. That means that standard lunch meals include rice and chicken, rice and fried pork, rice and plantains, and in some areas beans and other vegetables. Usually meals are also accompanied by arepas, which are round fried polenta coins. Chicharron (fried pork belly) was also popular in Colombia. It seems universal in ex-Spanish colonies. It has been following us ever since we went to the Phillippines.
So despite Colombia’s territory including a large part of rainforest, there is surprisingly little variety in Colombian food. With the country’s abundance in fruits and veggies this is a bit of a shame… Maybe because neither of us is a great fan of meat dishes we were more disappointed than expected and were instead craving all the fresh fruits and healthy vegetables that the zropics have to offer. Maybe we just ordered all the wrong dishes on the menu. (We did quite a lot of research, so I don’t think so.)
However, not everything everywhere is meat, rice and plantains. The Carribean coast had some nice fish dishes. The colourful old town of Cartagena is a foodie hot spot where you will find interesting fusion restaurants combining Carribean with international dishes. Try Zaitún restaurant for a bit more upscale Carribean-Arabic fusion food for instance. Definitely visit Restaurante Coroncoro for a huge selection of traditional and rather straightforward Colombian dishes.
We also noticed that Colombians eat a lot of cheese. In all the regions we visited we saw different varieties of queso campesino. In a local restaurant in Bogota we even had hot chocolate and tea with pieces of cheese thrown in. The cheese is supposed to melt in the loquid (poquito loco…).
If you are interested in food in Bogota you can check out Carlos’ video blog Comer en la Calle.
Definitely visit the restaurant/bar/club Andres Carne de Res in Bogota and get soaked up by the maelstrom of merry people eating, drinking and dancing on it’s many floors.
An interesting side fact we noticed is that there is a 10% voluntary tipping fee on restaurant bills in Colombia, which you pretty much have to pay in mid-range to upscale restaurants. The one time we tried to have it taken off, because the restaurant charged us a ridiculous amount for a piece of bread, the staff was baffled and did not know how. We got nowhere complaining. So it does not seem all that voluntary.
Still, despite serving mostly down-to-earth rice and meat dishes, we found dishes we really enjoyed. So here is what we liked to eat in Colombia:
Best snack: arepa
Arepas are everywhere in Colombia. At times it seemed they were the only available snack in the entire country. Arepas are fried round cakes made from corn flower. They come as a side dish or filled with cheese and meat at street stalls. Generally they are delicious if there is enough fat in the Form of cheese or meat on them and they are fresh.
Best soup: Ajiaco
This is a delicious thick potato and chicken soup stew is very popular in Bogota. It is made from three kinds of potatoe, and is served with chicken shreds, cream, capers, rice and avocado.
We tried it in La Puerta Falsa, a famous traditional restaurant in La Candelaria.
Best main dish: bandeja paisa
Bandeja paisa is a sledgehammer dish of different meats, beans and rice. If you work in the fields or coffee plantations the entire day you might need all the calories and carbs packed onto that plate. Otherwise it is a good idea to share.
Best drink: jugo tomate de arbol
The best drink in Colombia one would assume must be coffee. All the great coffee we drink in Europe seems to originate from Colombia. Well, yes it does. Thus since the great coffee beans are exported oversees what remains in the country is of less quality. Colombians, generally speaking, drink their coffee with heaps of sugar and do not care too much about brewing high-class beans. The coffee farmers in the zona cafetera are a different story. You will find some amazing fresh coffee there.
With lunch menus you often get a free jugo or juice. Tomate de arbol or tree tomato is a sour/sweet red tomato-like fruit that grows on small trees. The juice is delicious and interesting.
Best alcoholic drink: aguardiente
We were quite taken with the pastis-like liquor aguardiente. You get it in practical tetra packs or glass bottles. It differs from region to region.
Weirdest food: hormiga culona
If you have a daring Goodie spirit in you, a weird delicacy you can try when visiting Colombia is hormiga culona. Those are peanut-sized fried ants that taste like marmite or Maggi. The literal translation is ant with large ass. They are crunchy and have legs sticking out on all sides.