Colombian food is certainly not world famous. The country is not renowned for its traditional dishes, but there are still a lot of unique dishes, street food, spices, and fruits to find throughout Colombia.
One of the best ways to learn about a culture and a country is to try the most popular local dishes. It’s unlikely you will be traveling to Colombia solely to try Colombian cuisine, but regardless of the purpose of your trip, you should still immerse yourself in the food culture to learn more about Colombian culture.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of most traditional Colombian food (I am Italian, after all!), I still found many dishes I genuinely enjoyed. And during my time in Colombia, I had a lot of fun sampling the large variety of food in this beautiful country.
You should also read my post 19 Best Things To Know Before You Visit Colombia.
The Best Colombian Food To Try
Calentado is definitely the most common breakfast dish you’ll find all across Colombia. Calentado is comprised of rice and beans (often leftover from the night before and mixed together, making it incredibly rich and blended in flavor), eggs, avocado, and a simple arepa (more about that in a bit). It is extremely filling and heavy, so be prepared to be full for a good while afterward.
If you order Calentado at a sit-down restaurant, your server will likely ask you how you want your eggs. You can have them scrambled (huevos revueltos), fried eggs (huevos fritos), or soft-boiled eggs (huevos blandos).
Huevos Pericos is your classic egg breakfast. It consists of scrambled eggs mixed with onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. It is often cooked with a generous amount of butter and served with an arepa and cheese.
In Colombia, most soups are called “sopas” or “caldos.” Sopa is the generic term for soup in Spanish. And Caldo is a soup with a clear broth, often made from chicken, beef, or fish.
Changua is traditionally a hearty breakfast soup. It is made with milk, scallions, and eggs. It is sometimes served with cheese or avocado on top and a slice of bread on the side.
Ajiaco is made with chicken, three types of potatoes (including a native Andean potato called papas criollas), corn on the cob, guascas (a popular Colombian herb), capers, and a touch of cream.
Ajiaco has a thick, hearty consistency and is known for its rich and comforting flavors. It is an incredibly filling soup that is perfect for chilly or rainy days. Colombian frequently enjoy this soup during holidays or family gatherings, but you can easily find it year-round in local restaurants.
Sancocho is another hearty soup that Colombians love to serve for special occasions or family gatherings. It is made with chicken or beef broth, yucca, plantains, corn, and a medley of other vegetables. There is often a large chunk of meat, bone included, as the centerpiece in the soup.
Different regions in Colombia have different variations of Sancocho. For example, Sancocho de Pescado (fish) soup is extremely popular on the Carribean coast of Colombia, where it is made with the fresh catch of the day. In the mountain region you’ll often find Sancocho de Gallina (chicken).
Sancocho is sold everywhere in Colombia, from street food vendors to local spots to high-end restaurants, each with a unique variation of their Sancocho. It’s one of the most popular Colombian food you should try!
Rondon is a popular seafood soup, most often found on the Carribean coast of Colombia. It is made with fresh seafood (usually a combination of fish, crab, shrimp, or squid) and starchy vegetables, like plantains or yams.
Rondon is prepared by boiling the seafood and vegetables in coconut milk with various herbs and spices. The final result is a rich, flavorful, and creamy soup. You’ll notice a touch of sweetness from the coconut milk, leaving your mouth watering. Rondon has gained so much popularity that it has spread to neighboring countries and has become a staple in Panama and Nicaragua.
Cazuela de Mariscos
Cazuela de Mariscos translates to “Seafood Casserole” in Spanish, and it is just that. Cazuela de Mariscos is a rich, heavy, and mouth-watering meal with a liquid broth base. Cazuela de Mariscos is often made from a combination of seafood, including fish, shrimp, squid, octopus, clams, and mussels.
Sopa de Mondongo
Sopa de Mondongo is one of the most popular “comfort foods” in Colombia. It is a heavy soup often served as a lunch or dinner dish. The soup is made with beef tripe (cow stomach) and a mixture of other vegetables and spices. The meat and vegetables are slow-cooked until soft and tender, creating a flavorful broth.
Bandeja Paisa is a full meal from the Antioquia region of Colombia (otherwise known as Medellin). This meal has many different components, making it an incredibly filling and satisfying meat-heavy dish. Oftentimes you’ll find the following in your Bandeja Paisa:
Slow-cooked red beans
White rice served alongside the red beans
A generous portion of ground beef
Chicharron (fried pork rind)
An arepa on the side
If you plan to try the Bandeja Paisa, be sure you are hungry and ready for a large meal.
Posta Negra Cartagenera
As the name suggests, Posta Negra Cartagenera is from Cartagena. It is a slow-cooked beef dish that is marinated in a mixture of spices. The unique flavor of Posta Negra Cartagenera comes from the sauce, a carmelized sugar sauce that gives the meat a very dark coloring.
Carne a la Llanera
Carne a la Llanera comes from the Llanos region in Colombia (eastern Colombia). This dish is typically grilled or roasted beef, onions, tomatoes, and garlic. It is often served with a side of rice, yucca, and plantains.
Carne a la Llanera also has a very strong smoky flavoring, as it is usually prepared over an open flame or grill.
Lechona is a popular dish in Colombia, particularly in the Tolima, Quindío, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca regions. Lechona is prepared from a whole pig, deboned, and stuffed with rice, peas, onions, and other spices.
The deboned and stuffed pig is then roasted for several hours until the meat and vegetables are tender and the skin is crispy. Lechona is often served with popular Colombian side dishes, such as arepas or tamales.
Cabrito Cantandearano is considered a culinary specialty in the Santander region (northeastern part of Colombia). It is made with marinated baby goat meat and is slow-cooked for several hours until tender and juicy. This dish is often served with a side of rice, salad, and beans.
Trucha Frita translates to “Fried Trout” in English, and it is precisely that. Trucha Frita is incredibly popular among Colombians and travelers alike, especially along the coast of Colombia – it’s a Colombian food you won’t miss, and in fact there will be many occasions when you’ll be eating it a few days on a row (at least that was the case for me).
It is usually made with fresh fish and served whole (eyeballs, fins, and everything still attached). It is often served with a side salad, beans, and rice. Many Colombian restaurants will also serve a specialty salsa or dressing on the fish. I especially enjoyed the fresh mango salsa on the side of my Trucha Frita in Taganga.
Arroz con Coco y Camarones
Arroz con Coco y Camarones translates to “rice with coconut and shrimp” in English. This dish is mainly a plate of rice cooked in coconut milk, shrimp, and other mouth-watering seasonings. It is a popular Caribbean meal in Colombia at sit-down dining restaurants.
Sweets and Desserts
Cholao is a popular sweet treat. You can normally find it all throughout the streets of Medellin. It is a blended ice snack mixed with fresh fruit, such as strawberries, bananas, pineapple, or mango. It is then topped with condensed milk and shredded coconut.
The quality of Cholao may range from vendor to vendor. We noticed a lot of street vendors made their Cholao with imitation fruits and lots of sugar but found the stands that used fresh fruit tasted much better.
Obleas are a popular Colombian street food and snack made from two thin, round wafers made from flour and water. They are typically filled with arequipe (check out what it is below), jam, cheese, whipped cream, or any combination of these fillings.
Arequipe (dulce de leche in many other countries) is not a stand-alone Colombian dessert but rather a filling or topping you will find on almost every Colombian dessert or pastry. It is a simple type of caramel made from condensed milk. I was not a fan of Arequipe, but it seems to be one of the most beloved toppings amongst Colombians.
Arepas are hands-down the most well-known street food in Colombia. Many Colombian dishes, especially breakfast meals, are served with an arepa. You will also find arepa rellenas (stuffed arepas) on almost every corner throughout Colombia.
Arepas are made from ground maize dough, which tastes almost like a thick corn tortilla. They are often stuffed with various ingredients (shredded chicken, beef, pork, cheese, and vegetables) or served plain with a hearthy serving of butter or cream.
Tamales are a staple throughout Central and South America, but Colombian tamales differ slightly. They are made from cornmeal and stuffed with different fillings (usually a mixture of meat and other vegetables). Colombian tamales are then wrapped in banana leaves and served with a side of aji sauce (spicy salsa).
Colombian empanadas are made with cornmeal dough filled with seasoned ground meat, potatoes, and sometimes vegetables. They are then deep-fried until crispy and golden brown. They are slightly different than empanadas found in other countries – for example Argentine empanadas – because they tend to be much smaller with a full-circle shape rather than a larger half-moon shape that is more recognized.
Chuzos de Res o de Pollo
Chuzos de Res o de Pollo, simply called chuzos, are beef or chicken skewers. These are cooked right on the side of the most populated roads. They are cooked on a charcoal grill and sometimes skewed alongside various vegetables. The meat is often marinated in a dish of spices and seasonings to give a noticeable pop of flavor.
Santander Style Carne Oreada
Santander Style Carne Oreada is known as “Colombian beef jerky,” which is eaten as a snack or used as an ingredient in other dishes. The beef is marinated in a mixture of seasonings and left to dry in the sun for a few days until completely dehydrated. This process makes it an especially popular snack in regions with limited refrigeration.
Chicharron is a beloved snack throughout the country, and a popular Colombian food. It is perfect for anyone looking for a savory treat. However, from personal experience, it can be a hit or miss. Not many travelers I met enjoyed Chicharron, but it’s definitely a local favorite.
It is made by boiling down pork belly or pork rinds. Then, it is fried until it has a crispy brown exterior. You can snack on Chicharron on its own, enjoy it as a side dish, or use it as an ingredient in other dishes.
Pan de Bono
Pan de Bono is incredibly popular throughout all of Colombia. You can find it among street vendors, cafes or as a side snack with your main entree. It is a traditional Colombian bread made with yuca flour, cheese, eggs, and butter (not even slightly resembling bread in Europe or North America). They are often bite-sized, round little pieces of flavorful bread.
Walking through fruterias (small fruit markets) in Colombia is an enjoyable experience because you’ll probably see all kinds of fruits you’ve never seen before. Colombia has many unique fruits that are only found in the local region. Here are some you should try.
Guanábana is a tropical fruit with a spiky, green exterior and soft white interior. It has a sweet and savory flavor.
Lulo is a small citrus-like fruit with a bright orange, soft exterior. The interior resembles an orange, juicy tomato (though it tastes nothing like a tomato).
Borojó is another tropical fruit with a woody-brown exterior and soft brown interior.
Mamoncillo is a small sweet-and-sour fruit with a bright green exterior and bright orange interior. It resembles a lime on the outside and has a similar taste.
Granadilla is a popular fruit in juices and desserts. It has a soft orange exterior and a grey jelly-like interior and is full of seeds.
Maracuyá is also known as passion fruit. It has a yellowish/orange exterior and a seedy white interior.
Uchuva is a tiny orange fruit popular for homemade jams and juices.
Pitahaya is also known as dragon fruit. It has a bright pink or yellow exterior and a white or pink interior.
Many of these fruits are local to Colombia, so it is worth exploring the fruterias and local markets to sample some unique flavors.
Chocolate Santafereño is a hot chocolate beverage from Bogotá. This Colombian hot chocolate has a rich and creamy texture with a sweet and slightly bitter taste. It is typically made with milk, panela (unrefined cane sugar), cinnamon, and Colombian chocolate.
Lulada is a sweet, refreshing juice made from lulo fruit, water, and sugar. It is often served in a glass and ice.
Colombia is world-renowned for its rich, flavorful, and high-quality coffee. If you’re a coffee fan, enjoy the world-class coffee grounds found all over Colombia. You may want to make sure to ask for a plain coffee as it is often prepared with agua de panela (sugared water from the unrefined cane sugar).
Aguardiente is the local liquor of Colombia. It is made from sugarcane and flavored with anise. It has a robust licorice-like taste and is generally served as a shot, but it can also be mixed with some local Colombian juice.
How To Make The Most Of Colombian Cuisine
Don’t miss the menu del dia
The menu del dia (“the menu of the day”) is a great way to try several different dishes of Colombian cuisine and meals at an unbeatable price.
The concept is popular across Colombia and other South American countries. The idea is simple: a restaurant offers a set menu at a fixed price every day.
The menu del dia is generally between 12,000 Colombian Pesos (COP) ($2.50 USD) and 25,000 COP ($5.10 USD). It often includes a drink, a soup to start, and your choice of an entree. You can choose your entree from a list of between 5-10 different options. The menu del dia is usually advertised with a chalkboard in front of the restaurant. If you don’t want the soup, just ask for it “seco” (dry).
Learn about local ingredients
Going into Colombia with a base knowledge of common local ingredients will take you a long way. These are some of the most common ingredients found across Colombia:
Fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, and oregano)
Meats (chicken, pork, and seafood)
Spices (cumin, paprika, and saffron)
Eat at local markets
Enjoying and exploring local markets is one of the best ways to truly experience Colombian food and culture. Not only can you stroll through aisles and aisles of local ingredients and meats for sale, but you can find the market lined with small local restaurants and street food vendors.
Try street food
There’s a wide variety of choice of street food in Colombia, and most is pretty good. The main markets, squares, and parks will be littered with delicious-smelling street food. You should definitely make room to try some of the excellent Colombian food.
Don’t be afraid of street food; it’s a cheap and easy way to get a small taste of Colombian cuisine. If you are not sure where to go, follow this simple advice: go where you see a line, or lots of people. Chances are the food there is better, and fresher (because there is more request).
Join a food tour
Guided food tours are an excellent way to find the best of the best of Colombian food while meeting other like-minded travelers. A good guided food tour will include a knowledgeable guide who can enlighten you on different dishes’ ingredients and cultural significance. A food tour can also be an excellent way to get to know a city and learn about other neighborhoods.
Below are some good food tour options you may want to consider:
Food discovery tour in Bogota – This is a popular 3-hour long walking food tour. It includes 7 different tastings in the La Candelaria neighborhood.
Street food tour of Cartagena – this is another highly-rated walking food tour in Cartegena. This two-hour tour includes several tastings and an informative guide to learn about the history and culture of Colombia.
Street food tour of Medellin – this tour is not only a great way to learn more about Colombian food, but also a chance to discover the city’s Poblado neighborhood.
Take a cooking class
Trying a cooking class is a really fun, interactive way to immerse yourself in Colombian cuisine. Because not only do you get to try traditional Colombian food, but you can learn how to cook it yourself. This is really the best way to learn about local cuisine and truly experience the Colombian culture.
I recommend signing up for a cooking class toward the end of your trip because then you’d have a good idea of what foods you like the most and want to learn how to make.
Check out this half-day market tour and cooking class in Cartagena. So not only do you learn about your favorite recipes, but you get to visit a local market to gather and learn about all the important ingredients.
This is another great cooking class in Cartagena. This experience is with a real, local chef in the restaurant. So you can also learn about his experience paving his way into the Colombian culinary world.
If you are planning a trip to Colombia, these other posts will be useful:
- Is Colombia Safe?
- A Great 2 Weeks In Colombia Itinerary
- 29 Best Places To Visit In Colombia
- 19 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota
- 22 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- 12 Best Things To Do In Medellín, Colombia
- 8 Best Things To Do In Guatape Colombia
- A Useful Guide To Taganga, Colombia
- 15 Best Things To Do In Santa Marta Colombia
- A Guide To Visiting Tayrona National Park, Colombia
- A Guide To The Ciudad Perdida Trek: 18 Best Things To Know
- A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia