Colombia is a beautiful country, a land of lush rainforest, dusty vistas, rocky mountain ranges and tropical coast. Each of these geographic regions is proud of what it’s known for, be it quality hammocks, emerald jewelry, hand-knotted mochilas or hormigas culonas, giant roasted ants which, with the exception of legs and antenna, taste just like salted peanuts.
Ants aside, Colombia has a generous and excellent kitchen. From typical lunches and dinners of grilled meat alongside rice, potatoes, stewed yuca and platanos to savory street snacks and refreshing fruit juices, all at affordable prices, you can only blame yourself for going hungry.
Arepa – A Colombian plate isn’t complete without an arepa on it. These flat cakes made from cornmeal and water or milk vary regionally. In some parts of the country, they’re eaten with butter and farmer’s cheese, while along the north coast, arepa de huevo, deep-fried and stuffed with an egg, is a favorite breakfast food. (Between $1-$2)
Ajiaco – Colombians love soup, and each region has its own specialty. In Bogotá, this is Ajiaco, a hearty, home-style soup made with chicken, two or three types of potato and guasca, an aromatic herb only grown in the Americas. The soup is served with a separate plate of rice, chicken, ears of corn, avocado chunks, capers and cream, which diners add to their soup bowls themselves. ($8)
Changua – In the mountain regions of Colombia, breakfast soup, called changua, is a regional specialty. Changua is a broth of milk, water, salt, scallion and poached egg often served with cilantro and stale bread to soak in the broth. (From $3-$5)
Patacones – Another standard side dish, patacones also make an excellent snack slathered with spicy aji, a thin salsa. Plantains are sliced, fried, smashed, then fried again until golden brown. The flat, fried patacones can also be served with chicken or other meat. (From $1-$6, depending on preparation)
Sobrebarriga Bogotana – Sobrebarriga Bogotana is a flank steak marinated overnight in a fragrant garlic and tomato sauce, then slow cooked in a Dutch oven. It’s served with a rich sauce made from cooking juices as well as potatoes, yuca and rice. (From $9-$12)
Empanadas – This stuffed pastry is ubiquitous in South America. In Colombia, deep-fried, savory empanadas contain a filling of beef, chicken and/or cheese along with rice and cilantro. Small snack shops or roadside carts sell empanadas and other fried goodies for just a few dollars. ($1 or less)
Fruit Salad – No canned cocktail for this country. In Colombia, a fruit salad consists of two scoops of ice cream topped with freshly chopped fruits such as mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, kiwi and apple. It’s rounded out with a decadent blend of toasted coconut, caramel arequipe syrup and shavings of queso blanco. (Between $4-$6)
Mojarra – You’ll find an abundance of fresh fish along the coast. In the north, mojarra is especially popular. Try this flaky, white fish roasted whole and squeezed with lime or deep fried to such a crisp that even the fins are edible. Beachside shacks will sell a plate of fish, patacones and onion-pepper slaw for about $7-$10.
Pandebono – While yuca, a staple of the Colombian diet, is usually stewed in chicken broth and bright yellow colór, a spiced food coloring, it is just as often ground to flour and baked into tiny balls of slightly bitter, chewy bread stuffed with something sweet, commonly guava paste (bocadillo) or creamy caramel arequipe. Pandebono’s savory cousin, pandeyuca, is stuffed with cheese. ($1 or less)
Tamales – Colombian tamales get their distinctive flavor from the banana leaves in which they’re wrapped, which perfume their filling of corn meal, bone-in pork, potatoes and peas. Tamales are frequently eaten on Christmas Eve for Noche Buena but are enjoyed year-round as well. (Between $4-$5)
Fruit Juices – Between curuba, lulo, guanábana, tamarillo, guava, mango, passion fruit and more than six types of banana as well as hundreds of other tropical and regional fruits, you could try a different juice for each day of the year. Fresh fruit is blended with water or milk and drunk with most meals and as a daytime refresher. Throughout the country, you’ll find vendors pushing a big barrel of fresh juice around on a cart. (From $1-$2)
Elisabeth Pfister is a writer for TravelNerd.com, which focuses on bringing transparency to the fee ridden world of travel.