In previous posts, we’ve talked about the extensive diversity in Colombia in relation to food, music, and weather. In this post, we’re going to focus a bit on the extraordinary culinary diversity of Colombia. As we’ve mentioned before, Colombia is a very “regional” country. And, each unique regional subculture of Colombia includes distinct and delicious culinary traditions indigenous to that particular region. So, to get you better acquainted with these regionally traditional dishes, I am going to highlight some of the most traditional dishes of three of the most visited regions of Colombia—the Coffee Zone and Antioquia, the Caribbean Coast, and Cundinamarca, Boyaca and Bogota.
One of my favorite regions in regards to food is the Coffee Zone, including the department of Antioquia. The Coffee Zone and Antioquia are famous for two things: coffee and beans! For some of the best coffee in Colombia, head here. Ask for a tinto campesino whenever possible. This is black coffee made with agua de panela (unrefined cane sugar water) instead of plain water. If you’re not a coffee fan, look for hot chocolate made with agua de panela, also a regional specialty. To accompany your coffee or hot chocolate, try some Antioqueñan arepas (typically made with white corn flour) with melted cheese or butter and salt. If you want a traditional cold drink, try guarapo—basically a cold glass of agua de panela, sometimes with a hint of lime juice. If you need to fill your belly, try a bandeja paisa (a large dish filled with beans, rice, avocado, plantains, blood sausage, fried pork rinds, ground beef, a fried egg, and a small arepa). Bandeja paisa is not only the most traditional dish in the Coffee Zone and Antioquia, it’s also one of the most famous Colombian dishes around the world. You can also try a cazuela de frijoles—a type of bean soup, fried trout, mondongo (soup made with the cow stomach), and mazamorra (a type of cold soup made with ground maize, white or yellow, and milk and often served with bits of panela or bocadillo—guayaba sweets). Some Colombians say you can also find the best aguardiente, the national liquor of Colombia (made from sugar cane and anise), in Antioquia!
If you are hunting some good seafood, you’ll need to head towards the coast. On the Caribbean Coast, you’ll find amazing pargo frito (fried snapper, both red and golden), róbalo (sea bass) and mojarra (sea bream) that is served with coconut rice, and fried plantains. You can also find a variety of cazuela de mariscos (seafood soups), prawns (both regular and jumbo), and occasionally lobster. In Barranquilla and Cartagena, lobster can be fairly expensive and often hard to come by. However, if you head farther north into the department of La Guajira to the cities of Riohacha and Cabo de la Vela, you can get an amazing lobster dish for around £5-£10. You can also find a lot of dishes with suero, a type of sour cream/salty yoghurt only found on the coast. You’ll normally find this served with fried plantains and the Barranquillan and Soledeño specialty of butifarra (a regional type of sausage). Also, if you like coconut, you’ll be spoiled rotten on the Caribbean Coast. You can get delicious limonadas de coco (coconut limeades),limonadas de coco cerezadas (cherry coconut limeades), and alcoholic beverages such as coco loco and piña colada in almost any restaurant, and you’ll find agua de coco (coconut water) is sold fresh inside the coconut by street vendors all over.
If neither beans nor seafood is your style, head to the interior of Colombia to departments like Cundinamarca and Boyaca, and the capital, Bogota. Here you’ll find a mix of different dishes; some of the most traditional are ajiaco (a hot soup made with different types of potatoes, chicken, capers, corn, table cream, and guascas—a Colombian herb), caldo de costilla (a beef broth containing herbs, normally a chunk of beef-still on the bone, and potatoes), and arepas boyacenses (arepas made with yellow corn flour and filled with a sweet cheese). To drink, you’ll find some restaurants offering a cold glass of agua de panela with lime, various types of fresh fruit juice, and a range of beers including the Bogota Beer Company artisanal beers (if you like beer, you can’t leave Colombia without trying these beauties). A lot of the food in the interior will be food that “warms you up,” as it can get pretty chilly in this region!
I hope that’s got your taste buds itching to try some Colombian cuisine!
Until next time,
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog http://www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- Colombian Food is Not “Mexican Food” (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Cooking class in Bogota (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Have a healthy journey around Colombia while eating your five-a-day (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Colombian Cuisine (fifisskinnymunch.wordpress.com)
- Explore Colombia with Uncover Colombia: Check our new tours (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)