Colombia is one of the most culturally diverse Latin American countries. This level of diversity can be seen in people’s different accents, rituals, and of course, in the country’s delicious food.
Depending on the region of Colombia you visit, you can find very contrasting types of food. Colombian cuisine mixes Amazonian, Caribbean, African, and Arab culinary traditions – and that’s just to name a few.
One of the main factors enabling this level of food diversity is the richness found in Colombia’s biodiversity, which includes a high amount of natural ingredients with easy access to the Colombian people.
Ready to check out some mouth-watering Colombian foods? Let’s dig in!
Table of Contents
- Bandeja Paisa (Paisa Platter)
- Ajiaco (Chicken Soup)
- Rondon (Fish and Pork Stew)
- Carne a La Llanera (Slow-Cooked Barbecue)
- Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice)
- Sancocho (Three Meats Soup)
- Lechona (Stuffed Pig)
- Cazuela de Mariscos (Seafood Soup)
- Chocolate Santafereño (Hot Chocolate w/ Cheese)
- Cholao (Drink/Fruit Salad)
- Obleas (Wafer Sandwiches)
- Lulada (Lulo Drink)
- Cocadas (Coconut Cookies)
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Bandeja Paisa (Paisa Platter)
Although a traditional dish in the Andean region of the country, a good Bandeja Paisa can be found pretty much anywhere in Colombia. This is a very filling dish that mixes several different ingredients and is typically eaten as a standalone meal. It’s also considered one of Colombia’s national dishes.
The Bandeja Paisa is made with rice, minced meat, red beans, chorizo (in a sausage-like format), fried eggs, plantains, and avocado. The beans and meat are generally made first, then the rice and plantains, and then the eggs and chorizo – the avocado isn’t cooked. You can serve it all together on a plate or serve the beans in a separate bowl.
Along with the Bandeja Paisa, Arepas are probably another food that can be classified as a national dish, as they’re beloved all over the country (Arepas are also made in Venezuela). Due to their simplicity, the arepas are also one of the most popular Colombian street foods, and natives like to eat them as a part of breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The arepas resemble small sandwiches, having corn flour as the main ingredient. The way to do it can vary widely depending on the region. They can be grilled, baked, or even deep-fried. And as far as the filling goes, the Colombians can eat them with minced meat (pork, chicken, or red meat), cheese, vegetables, eggs, and more.
Tamales are a typical dish all over Latin America, and Colombians have a special place in their hearts for them. Colombians typically eat tamales at Sunday breakfast, family gatherings, or holidays (during Christmas especially). The recipe for these can vary widely throughout Colombia, but chances are they’ll be served wrapped in plantain leaves anywhere in the country.
If you want to take a shot at cooking them, clear your schedule. These can be boiled for up to 5 hours if needed. The tamales are made with maize dough, chicken or pork, peas, and several types of vegetables and spices. They also have amazing texture: soft on the outside and even softer on the inside.
Ajiaco (Chicken Soup)
A typical dish of Colombia’s highlands, Ajiaco is one of the country’s most popular comfort soups. It’s essentially a chicken soup, but the dish gets its main kick from the use of guascas – a native herb – and other local spices. It’s also very creamy and filling, and like any soup, great for chilly days.
The dish consists of chopped chicken, capers, cream milk, corn, guascas, traditional vegetables, spices, and depending on the region, they can also use up to three types of potatoes: white, yellow, and red. The soup is rich in carbohydrates, protein, and potassium.
Rondon (Fish and Pork Stew)
Fish and pork may seem like an odd combination to some, but to Colombians, this is a well-known combo. Rondon soup has strong roots in Caribbean cuisine and it’s one of the creamiest and most filling stews you’ll eat. This is a typical recipe from San Andres Island.
Rondon soup is also widely considered an aphrodisiac.
As with most stews or soups, the rondon can feel a bit laborious for beginning cooks, but the commitment it’s worth it. The dish is made with coconut milk (hence the creaminess), fish and pork, bell peppers, carrots, onions, and spices. In some parts of the country, the dish is served with plantain chips, which make a great duo.
Carne a La Llanera (Slow-Cooked Barbecue)
How ‘bout some Colombian barbecue to lighten up your day? Sounds good and, trust me, it lives up to the expectations. This type of meat is quite popular in eastern Colombia, a region locally referred to as llanos orientales. The region is a type of Colombian countryside, where people sitting around a bonfire after work is still a thing.
And that bonfire is responsible for cooking some very juicy, tender, and delicious pieces of meat. Colombians typically cook red meat (filet or stakes), chorizo, pork meat, and sometimes chicken in this setting. Traditional sides on such occasions include grilled yuca, potatoes, guacamole, and to drink, aguardiente.
Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice)
Perhaps one of the most favorite food combos in Latin America, arroz con pollo had to have a Colombian version. The dish is typically eaten as lunch or dinner and can go along with pretty much any drink, although citric juices like orange or lemon should really hit the spot. The Colombian version maintains the classic yellow coloring of the dish.
The Colombian chicken and rice aren’t so far off from other versions of the dish. To make it, you’ll use chicken, rice, classic vegetables, tomato paste or sauce, and some local spices and herbs (such as cumin, bay leaf, and cilantro). This dish is typically served with lime wedges, avocados, or simple green salads.
Sancocho (Three Meats Soup)
Another very filling Colombian soup, the sancocho is typically made with three types of meats and has a thick consistency for a soup. The dish is served in a large bowl, often with avocado and white rice as sides. It can be eaten as a standalone lunch or dinner meal. Some Colombians like to go hard on the hot sauce, but it can be served separately – or not at all – as well.
The main meat trio is generally composed of chicken, fish, and beef, although some people often make the dish with only one of the meat options. Other ingredients include potatoes, yuca, plantains, several vegetables, and cilantro. It’s generally served on Sundays or at special family gatherings.
Just like tamales and chicken and rice, empanadas have their own version spread across nearly every Latin American country. The Colombian version follows the classic cooking format, and the cakes are made of precooked corn flour and are typically filled with shredded pork, beef, or ground meat.
Before they’re deep fried, the empanadas can be filled with – besides the meat – potatoes, cheese, mushrooms, and several types of vegetables. Seasoning consists of salt, black pepper, and cilantro. Common sides include lime wedges ají sauce, a traditional Colombian hot sauce made with chili, coriander, and tomatoes.
Lechona (Stuffed Pig)
The lechona is a dish heavily inspired by Spanish cuisine, consisting of roasted pork stuffed with rice, peas, and spices. It’s a dish commonly served at festivities such as New Year’s Eve, birthday parties, family get-togethers, etc. The lechona is traditional to the Tolima region, but you can find it in many other restaurants across Colombia.
If you want to make it at home, you’ll need pork, pork fat, peas, scallions, garlic, white rice, and a bit of saffron. The lechona is usually baked in a brick oven for up to 10 to 12 hours. If you’re not feeling patient enough, you can always go to a Colombian restaurant and order it, but keep in mind that the dish is a bit pricey.
Cazuela de Mariscos (Seafood Soup)
Colombians sure do like some soup. This seafood soup in particular follows the thick-Colombian-soup tradition and is simply a perfect dish for a night meal. Cazuela de mariscos is also considered a delicacy, so if you’re ordering it at a restaurant, it’ll probably be a bit more expensive than other soup options.
The seafood that generally goes here can include shrimp, oysters, lobster, calamari, octopus, and fish. Alongside these, you’d also use coconut milk, tomato paste, vegetables, parsley, paprika, and a bit of white wine. The soup is typically served with plantain chips, white rice, or a simple green salad as side.
Chocolate Santafereño (Hot Chocolate w/ Cheese)
Ok, I know this doesn’t sound very appealing at first, but hear me out. Believe it or not, this is one of the most traditional Colombian meals ever, being consumed daily by many Colombians since the 20th century. The meal consists of hot chocolate, a piece of fresh cheese, and bread. That’s right, lactose intolerants beware.
This hot chocolate is typically made with a chocoletera, which is a small metal pot every Colombian has in their kitchen. When it comes to the actual eating, methods may vary. Some people like to eat the cheese and bread separately, while others like to dip both the cheese and bread in the hot chocolate and then eat it. When it’s your time to try it, just go with whatever feels more tasty to you.
Cholao (Drink/Fruit Salad)
Cholao is a refreshing Colombian shaved ice cream that can fit inside the drink or fruit salad category. Cholao is non-alcoholic and most consumed by Colombian people on hot summer days, when the drink offers a much welcome cooled down.
Cholao is made with soursop, papaya, passion fruit, watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, apples, grapes, and blackberries. Apart from the obscene amount of food, the drink also contains fruit syrup and condensed milk, and it’s often garnished with shredded coconut and a cherry on top. And yeah, the cholao is absurdly sweet.
Obleas (Wafer Sandwiches)
Obleas are round and thin wafers made out of a simple dough composed only of water, wheat flour, and sugar. These are one of the most beloved desserts in Colombia, probably because they’re sweet sandwiches that you can fill with anything. They also have a very crunchy texture, so much so that it’s almost impossible eating them without making a mess.
Typical filling of the obleas include delicacies such as fruit jams (mostly berries), fresh fruit,
condensed milk, chocolate syrup, sprinkles, and even shredded cheese, which gives them a nice and smooth salty kick. If you wanna make a more robust dough, you can always use eggs and butter, and replace the water with milk.
Lulada (Lulo Drink)
Lulada is one of Colombia’s top drinks, made out of lulo, a delicious local fruit. The fruit resembles a small orange and just like its counterpart, it also has an acidic flavor, although many think the lulo has a more pineapple taste. The lulo also has green pulp, so don’t think the fruit’s rotten if you try to make the lulada at home.
Making it is quite simple. Crush some ice cubes, grab some lime juice, mix it with condensed milk, and then triturate the lulo manually to add it to the mix. You’ll get a refreshing and sweet drink as a result, and if you want to make things extra interesting, add a bit of aguardiente as some Colombians do. Or maybe just vodka; no harm in that.
Cocadas (Coconut Cookies)
Cocadas are a very popular and delicious Colombian dessert typically sold by street vendors or “beach” vendors. Like most tropical countries in South America, Colombia has no shortage of coconut trees, and the coconut is the big star of the cocada. They have a sweet, coconut-y flavor and creamy texture on the inside.
To make the cocadas, you’ll need shredded coconut, milk, and, occasionally, cinnamon powder. The cooking here is simple, but you have to be patient. Place all ingredients and let them boil in reduced heat for about 30 minutes, stirring up occasionally. Then, using two spoons, place small bits of the mixture on a baking sheet. Let them cool completely and then store them in a sealed compartment for one week; after that, they’re good to go.
I’m Maria and I love cooking—and mostly EATING—food from all around the world. I’ve been sharing my abuela’s secret Latin-American recipes for the last 7 years with the world on this blog. I’ve been a full-time food blogger for many years and I’m always trying new delicious meals that don’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef. I also love traveling, cats, and knitting.