Typical Colombian Food – An Introduction to a Few of the Must Eats in Colombia

Colombian cuisine isn’t internationally famous some other Latin American countries. Indeed, Colombian food is often overlooked, and even among those familiar with Colombian cuisine, some consider the food to be somewhat bland and flavorless.

While it is true that most dishes aren’t spicy or filled with exotic spices, I do find Colombian food to be hearty and fulfilling, with plenty of options that leave me longing for more.

Arepas

Arepas and Colombia go hand-in-hand. Arepas can be most easily compared as being thicker corn tortillas, not really meant for scooping up stuff, so much as toasting them over the burner and then topping them with anything and everything.

Most commonly arepas are eaten during breakfast, toasted then slathered butter, salt, and queso, quesito, or cuajada — different types of cheeses. It makes for a quick and hearty breakfast along side your Colombian coffee.

Think of arepas like bread, with nothing else they would be pretty plain and boring, but you can top them with just about anything.

There are the thick and greasy cheese-filled arepas, there are arepas made from yucca, and there are even arepas with a fried egg stuffed inside (one of the best, and a must try along the Colombian coast).

Ajiaco

Ajiaco is primarily from Bogota and the surrounding area, but is served throughout the country. It is basically the local version of chicken soup, but even better.

It is made with a few different kinds of potatoes, chicken, a chunk of corn on the cob, capers, avocado and topped with sour cream.

Ajiaco is among my favorite dishes in Colombia.

Sancocho

Sancocho is a hearty stew served throughout the country with a number of regional variations depending upon on what’s on the menu for the day. It can be made of fish, beef, or a mix of different meats.

The stew most often includes potatoes and yucca as well.

During the holidays or important occasions, families will often gather outside and cook up a sancocho in a big pot.

Empanadas

Empanadas are fried little pockets of goodness, often stuffed with rice and meat or potatoes, and served up with an optional helping of aji — or spicy salsa.

You can find empanada vendors on about every street, and they make for a great, albeit unhealthy, snack.

Empanadas can be filled with just about anything though, and you will find plenty of variation throughout the country or even within a given city, from salchicha-filled to chicharron and beans.

Pasteles

Colombian pasteles are like meat pies, basically, with either a fried corn-based shell like the empanada, or (my preferred) the flaky, breaded, pastries stuffed with meat.

You can find pasteles made with jam and cheese, meat, chicken, or even sweet, dessert-like pasteles. One of my go-to dinner options is a pastel de pollo from the corner bakery, stuffed with what seems to be about a full chicken breast. They are absolutely delicious.

Lechona

Lechona is a dish common from the Tolima department of Colombia, but you will see it served throughout the country.

It is made by stuffing a whole roast pig with rice, onions, peas, and spices, not unlike your Thanksgiving turkey.

This stuffing is absolutely delicious, and you’ll easily recognize where they are selling lechona by the presence of a large, roasted pigs head alongside a bed of rice.

Cazuela de Frijoles

Cazuela de frijoles is a typical Paisa dish, a hearty bean stew containing chicharron, salchicha, corn, avocado, plantains, crunchy potato strips, and more.

It is usually served up with rice and salad is among my go-to “menu of the day’s” when I am feeling extra hungry.

It’s kind of like a mini-bandeja paisa mixed into a soup bowl…

Bandeja Paisa

Ah yes, the Bandeja Paisa, Colombia’s national dish, and perhaps the most famous or infamous of all the plates.

The Bandeja Paisa, or Paisa Platter, is a seriously filling meal, containing an almost absurd amount of meat. The traditional Bandeja Paisa will include beans, rice, ground beef, chicharron, morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, avocado, an arepa, plaintain, and a fried egg.

This is a hearty dish that will certainly fill you up and put you into a food coma for the rest of the afternoon.

Your Favorite?

This is but a sampling of the many typical Colombian dishes you can find throughout the country, there is still lots to try, from bunuelos, to natilla and hojuelas.

Colombia is often overlooked in the world of international cuisine, but there is plenty on offer that will keep you full and satisfied.

What is your favorite Colombian food? Sound off in the comments below.

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Here's an introduction to typical Colombian food and a few things you must absolutely try while you are visiting...

Ryan S.

Ryan was planning to backpack through all of South America, but he started in Colombia and never made it past Medellin. He has since called Medellin home, as he explores everything this incredible city and country has to offer.