Good Eats: Colombian Cuisine Cheat Sheet


With mountains, rainforests and coastline, Colombia has unparalleled biodiversity, and unsurprisingly, a vast array of cuisines across the country. Each region has its own rich culinary history, from the signature dishes of the paisa (Medellin) region to the Caribbean-style cuisine of the coast. We’ve rounded up the Colombian dishes and drinks you have to try.

| Bandeja Paisa |


The most exemplary dish of the Medellin region is without a doubt the bandeja paisa, with some even claiming it should be Colombia’s national dish (other regions of the country may or not agree). Similar to a Full English Breakfast, the massive dish contains beans, rice, ground meat, fried pork rinds (known as chicharrón), chorizo, blood sausage, an arepa, fried egg, fried plantains, lemon and avocado (can’t forget about those fruits and vegetables). If you’re traveling on a shoestring, order this in the morning with a cup of hot chocolate and you’ll be set for the rest of the day. And even if you’re not traveling on a shoestring, you may want to cancel those dinner reservations after devouring one of these.

| Patacones |


The cuisine of Colombia’s Caribbean coast has many West African influences and patacones – twice-fried plantains – are no exception. Green plantains are cut into thick slices, fried once, then smashed into flat discs and fried again (more frying is always a good thing). In Colombia, patacones can be formed into massive discs, topped with meat or seafood and served like a sandwich.

| Ajiaco |


Most envision Colombia as a tropical paradise, but its capital city is perched high in the mountains, and thus usually cold, gray and rainy (think Seattle but with Juan Valdez instead of Starbucks). Spend a few days in Bogota and you’ll probably by craving something like ajiaco – a thick, everything but the kitchen sink type stew. The hearty soup contains three types of potatoes (this is the Andes after all), chicken, corn, a local herb known as guascas, and other vegetables. As far as Bogotanos are concerned, this is the region’s – and in the opinions of some, the country’s – best dish.

| Arepas |


Arepas are one of Colombia’s most popular and versatile foods. Found throughout the country and in Venezuela, the corn flour patties are in their simplest form grilled and filled with cheese or slathered with butter. But throughout the country you can find them filled with a variety of ingredients like meats, vegetables and cheese. Many regions have their own variation; the arepa paisa is often topped with meat, butter or hogao (the local version of pico de gallo). And in regions like Bogota, a traditional breakfast often consists of an arepa and hot chocolate.

| Arequipe |


Dulce de leche, manjar, cajeta – virtually every Latin American country has its version of this milk caramel. In Colombia it’s called arequipe, and is often sandwiched between delicate wafers called obleas. Every country claims its variation on the sweet treat is the best; as far as we’re concerned, they’re all equally good.

| Aguardiente |


With a name that roughly translates to burning water, what could aguardiente be but alcohol? Rum is the drink of choice along Colombia’s Caribbean coast but aguardiente is the most popular throughout the country. The anise-flavored liquor hails from the Antioqua region, of which Medellin is the capital, and is consumed in shots and chased with a wedge of lime (but don’t worry – aguardiente’s alcohol content is far less than that of tequila).

| Buñuelos |


Colombia is no stranger to fried food – and we say keep it coming. Buñuelos are essentially fried balls of dough, the main components of which are yucca flour and queso costeño – a salty white cheese similar to feta. They’re most popular during Christmas celebrations, but we recommend eating them all year.

| Panela |


Besides a bevy of fresh fruit juices, one of Colombia’s favorite beverages is agua de panela. Served hot or cold, agua de panela is nothing more than a block of unrefined cane sugar (panela) dissolved in water. With a squeeze of lemon it’s the perfect pick-me-up (well it is pure sugar after all). If you happen to pass through the town of Villeta, you may catch the National Panela Pageant.

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