13 Must-Try Traditional Colombian Foods
When I travel, more than sightseeing, I love to eat. Eating the national dishes of the country when traveling tell me much more about its people and its culture then a work of art in a museum. It’s a sensorial journey that involves all the senses. How could you resist?
Although some foreigners claim to love a few of the national dishes Colombia has to offer, Colombian specialties are not internationally recognized as many foreigners (and even Lonely Planet) will tell you that traditional Colombian food is generally bland, meat-heavy, overly fried, and a carb overload. However, it hits home for many Colombians as it’s what they grew up with and is a reminder of mom or grandma’s cooking, their youth and their land (something which they are very proud of).
So if you’re in Colombia and want to taste a piece of Colombian pride, I invite you to try the most popular and traditional Colombian food listed below.
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I am sure there are specialty restaurants in Bogota for each dish/drink listed below, but when you are out about visiting the city it can be a drag sometimes to go out of your way to find a specific address to feed your starved self. Therefore, I have made it easy and provided you with places that are in reach and easy to find as a tourist.
Need a drink to accompany your bite? Check out the 15 Typical Colombian Drinks You’ll Find in Bogota
1. HOT CHOCOLATE WITH CHEESE WITH AN ALMOJABANA AND/OR A BUNUELO
Hot Chocolate with Cheese (usually mozzarella or peto) sounds like a strange combo. And although it took some getting used to, I kinda love it now! Colombians typically have this for breakfast or ‘onces’, the 5’clock afternoon snack. If you care to do the same, take the cheese and drop it in your hot chocolate until it melts. Accompany the warm drink with an almojabana (baked cheesy bread ball) or a buñuelo (fried cheesy bread ball).
WHERE TO FIND IT: This is a very popular item which you will easily find anywhere. However if you are in the center, head over to La Florida, one of Bogota’s most famous bakery stores.
A classic traditional Colombian food, you’ll different types of tamales depending on the region you’re in. Essentially they all contain, chicken/pork, cornmeal, chickpea and other veggies wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. My personal favorite is a tamal santafereño for breakfast 😛
WHERE TO FIND IT: I find it to be more of a breakfast item. Commonly found on menus. I get mine from El Kiosko up north in Calle 145.
Traditional Colombian food at its finest! Get the best of Colombian in a cup. Salpicon is like an exotic chunky smoothie.
WHERE TO FIND IT: I find the salpicon at the chain Los PicaPiedra to be the best. They cost the same as the ones on the street, but with a standard of hygiene I can trust.
You can’t get more traditional Colombian food than this. Basically rice, pork and veggies prepared inside the animal itself. Pretty good, but I’ll let you be the judge of that!
WHERE TO FIND IT: It’s easy to spot lechona from far as it’s hard to miss the roasted pork head. If you’re a foodie and heading over to Paloquemao, you’ll find it in the markets there. If not, keep your eyes peeled in the streets.
By far my ultimate favorite traditional Colombian food! Cornmeal with cheese and butter steamed in a corn husk. Sounds so simple, but sometimes aren’t those the best things in life?
WHERE TO FIND IT: As they are a traditional product from the department of Boyaca, whenever we are on the road to Boyaca, we have a secret source that who call in advance to order and later stop in the middle of nowhere to have a woman bring us our order of warm envueltos by the side of the road. However, I know this is not really helpful! You can find this item in traditional Colombian joints or pick some up at Carulla which is not bad at all.
For this particular item, avoid Andres Carne de Res, they taste nothing like the real deal.
Compared to all the countries I have traveled to, no other place has the variety of fruits that Colombia does. Take advantage and drink up! My personal favorite is Guanabana or Soursop.
WHERE TO FIND IT: You’ll find it on every menu of every restaurant but some are more watered down than others. I like mine real thick so I just make it at home. You’ll also find guanabana juice on the streets, but I’m just super careful about my water source so if you’re like me, order in a restaurant instead.
Foreigners don’t seem to understand why Colombians can’t live without their arepas. They’re so dry and bland. Colombians will inarguable say something along the lines of, “Yes, that’s because you have to put, cheese and salt and butter and…and….and on top!” Save yourself the tasteless arepas and try the popular, arepa de choclo, arepa boyacense and arepa de huevo which are some of the most beloved amongst foreigners.
And no offense, but we all know Venezuelans have upped the arepa game with their stuffed arepas!
WHERE TO FIND IT: I’m guessing you’ll obviously head over to Andres Carne de Res which has several restaurants and plazas spread over the city. If not, there’s a delicious chain called ‘El Chocolo’ which I personally think does it better.
Fritanga is the traditional Colombian food typically meant to be shared on a family road trip. In this communal basket of food, you’ll find all parts of the pig stuffed, fried and grilled, potatoes, arepas, envueltos, corn, and more.
WHERE TO FIND IT: El Tambor is a chain you can find all over Bogota. Popular for its picadas, it’s clean and served in a friendly environment. Head over early as it gets really packed.
Another traditional Colombian food, empanadas are fried (what a surprise!) and most commonly filled with meat and mashed potatoes. Take the first bite and fill the empanada with ají and guacamole for a real kick. Definitely another favorite of mine.
WHERE TO FIND IT: You’ll find them on street stalls. I will usually go for the stall with the most people gathered around it to ensure it’s good and fresh. If not, here’s a complete list of where to find the best empanadas in Bogota.
10. CAZUELA DE MARISCOS
Seafood stew with coconut cream. My number one of all traditional Colombian foods! Originating from the coast of Colombia, no two are the same.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Sopas de Mama y Postres de la Abuela is a chain of typical Colombian dishes that’s easy to find and serves some really tasty dishes. Don’t hesitate to get the cazuela de mariscos.
11. AJIACO SANTAFERENO
This is the most representative dish of Bogotá. There is no way you can leave this city without having their famous soup. It’s a chicken and potato soup that is served with a side or rice and avocado which it to be mixed in the soup. To top it off, you can add capers, extra cream, and ají to bring up to heat.
WHERE TO FIND IT: If you’re around the Candelaria, I strongly suggest you go to the Puerta Falsa restaurant, one of the oldest in the city. But be sure to arrive early to get a seat as it’s quite small and fills up fast.
12. BANDEJA PAISA
Probably the most emblematic dish and the most famous traditional Colombian food, the bandeja paisa comes from the region of Antioquia. This used to be the breakfast of workers who had a long and hard day ahead of them. This extremely heavy dish come with beans, chorizo, chicharron, ground meat, morcilla, fried egg, plaintain, arepa, and avocado. Be prepared to enter a food coma.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Unless your going to Antioquia (in that case save your stomach for a bandeja paisa in Hato Viejo) the easiest place to find it where there’s a guaranteed quality is once again, Andres Carne de Res. I’m sure you can find a great restaurant that specializes in bandeja paisa, but if you’re visiting and want an easy point of reference, head over to Andres.
It’s not a dish but it doesn’t matter. You can’t leave Colombia without knocking back a few shots of this anise-flavored liquor.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Everywhere. At every party, restaurant and event.
What’s your take on traditional Colombian food? (If you’re Colombian it doesn’t count as we know you love it!) Please share your opinion with me in the comment box below, I’m curious to see what you think.