10 Foods to Try in Colombia

Bandeja Paisa Typical Colombian food
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Colombian cuisine ranges from some of the most heavily fried, meaty, and caloric dishes in all of South America to super fresh and healthy street food—all of which is delicious. Plates like sancocho and lechona take hours to cook while street food stalls throughout the country serve juices and cut fruits of incredible variety ready in minutes. Bandeja paisa will fill you for the whole day while simultaneously allowing you to try culinary mainstays like arepas and beans.

Cheese is an underlying ingredient in many of the most famous and common foods, even in desserts like obleas and buñuelos. Regional specialties like the mojarra frita, can be one of the best ways to get a feel for the varied personalities of the departments (similar to states), while staples like empanadas will never be far away where you venture. With all that said, these are the must-try dishes of Colombia

01 of 10

Sancocho

Sancocho is a meat and vegetable stew
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A hot dish that blurs the line between a soup and a stew, sancocho is made by boiling a whole chicken in broth with plantains, yucca, corn, and potatoes. Oftentimes it takes a whole day to cook. Served for Sunday lunches and on
holidays, it’s topped with fresh cilantro, onions, lime, and ají picante (a type of hot sauce). Slurp a spoonful and mix it with the rice and avocado served alongside for a contrasting bite of hot and cold, spicy yet fresh goodness. Variations of it can be made with pork, beef, or fish, and each region of Colombia will have its own distinctive way of seasoning it.

Try a bowl in Ginebra at Restaurante los Guaduales.

02 of 10

Arepas

High Angle View Of Colombian Arepas being cooked on a griddle
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Shaped like a mini frisbee and made of cornmeal, the arepa is one of the most time-honored recipes in the country, dating back to pre-Colombian days. Baked or fried, arepas at their most basic come served with butter and a little cheese. Some regional varieties dress them up with chicharron (fried pork belly) or eggs, while others put cheese or yucca in the dough, making them sweet and delightfully chewy. Incredibly versatile, they can also taste salty, depending on the toppings, but the subtle taste of corn always balances the other flavors in this comfort food perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack.

Order arepas made with ingredients from Bogota's farmer’s markets at Abasto.

03 of 10

Lechona

Lechona (roast pork stuffed with rice, peaks, and meat)
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Prepared for weddings, birthdays, and New Year’s Eve, lechona is a juicy stuffed, roasted pig. To make it, chefs pack a pig with yellow peas, potatoes, green onions, yellow rice, cumin, garlic, and fresh herbs, then roast it for hours in a brick oven. Originally from the Tomila Department of Colombia, a single lechona pig can feed as many as 30 to 100 people and is typically served with arepas.

Go to Restaurante Boquerón, in the city of Ibagué to try this dish at the 60 year-old restaurant in the department where it originated.

04 of 10

Bandeja Paisa

A traditional dish from Colombia of a fried eggs, fried plantains, chicarrones, red beans, ground beef, avocados, lettuce, and a sausage link
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This insanely filling meal is the national dish of Colombia and hails from Antioquia. Served on a large oval platter, it consists of a whopping 13 ingredients including red beans, chicharron, plantains, rice, an arepa, fried egg, ground beef, and fresh avocado. Originally a dish eaten by farmers to give them energy throughout the day, the dish is well over 1,000 calories, meaning you’ll likely want to split it with your travel companion or take part of it to go.

Eat it in Medellín at Mondongo’s, and plan to take a nap when done.

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05 of 10

Empanadas

Wooden bowl of Colombian empanadas with spicy sauce and lime wedges
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A filling street food or satisfying side dish, Colombian empanadas distinguish themselves from those of other Latin American countries by their fillings: stewed beef, pork, or chicken seasoned with hogao, a creole sauce made from sauteing tomatoes and onions with coriander, cumin, and garlic. Crescent-shaped and deep-fried, the corn flour base is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Other fillings include cheese, ground beef with mashed potatoes, and pumpkin.

Sample several at Los Troncos, a Bogota chain specializing in empanadas from Colombia’s different regions, or buy them anywhere in the country from street vendors.

06 of 10

Tropical Fruits and Juices

Colorful fruit stand with dozens of Bananas bunches and crates of fruit at Paloquemao Market in Bogota Colombia
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While Colombia has plenty of deep-fried and meat-heavy street foods, its array of tropical fruits and juices are also sold for cheap by food stalls throughout the country. Sample chontaduro, the aphrodisiac peach palm fruit high in protein prepared with honey and lemon. Or snack on mango biche, pieces of mango spritzed with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Sip feijoa juice mixed with milk for a bubblegum-flavored concoction or try a champus, a mixture of corn, lulo, and pineapple juice.

The streets of Cartegena are particularly famous for their palenqueras, women fruit sellers who carry baskets of fruit on their heads.

07 of 10

Ajiaco

Typical plate setting for an Ajiaco, a colombian soup containing a chicken base, gallant soldier leaves, capers, maize, potato broth and heavy cream. The bowl of soup is accompanied by a plate with rice and avocado.
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A warm chicken soup made with corn and three different types of potatoes, this dish is popular in Bogota and the surrounding mountain region. Made with guascas herb and three types of potatoes (maroon speckled sabaneras, soft pastusas, and creamy papas criollas) it has an earthy taste, mellowed out by cream, corn, rice, and avocado slices. Cilantro, black pepper, and capers add to its diverse flavor profile.

Slurp down a bowl in Bogota’s own La Puerta Falsa or in the Mercado la Perseverancia.

08 of 10

Mojarra Frita

Mojarra Frita (fried whole Porgy fish) with fried plantains (tostones),salad, and coconut fried rice on white background
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The most popular fish dish on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the mojarra (porgy) is native to Colombia’s shores, where it's generally prepared by frying it whole. Similar in taste to tilapia, it has a firm consistency and is generally flavored with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt. Served with coconut rice and patacones (fried green plantain), the three dishes together make up what’s known as the bandeja costeña or coastal platter.

Order it at La Perla Negra in Cartagena.

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09 of 10

Buñuelos

Basked of Buñuelos, traditional Colombian cheese fritters, on a wodden table with a red and white check napkin
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Dip these salty deep-fried dough balls in chocolate sauce or arequipe (a rich caramel-like spread) for a savory and sweet snack. Made of small curd white cheese, this humble dish has appeared in the Roman empire, Moorish society, and Sephardic Jewish communities, before becoming a Colombian staple for breakfast as well as Christmas celebrations.

Eat them in Medellin at Buñuelos Supremo at the corner of Calle 9 and Carrera 43B.

10 of 10

Obleas

wafers with goat's milk candy on blue background. obleas, a typical sweet of mexico and latin america
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Colombia’s answer to waffles, obleas are large wafers topped with raspberry or strawberry jam, condensed milk, arequipe, and shredded cheese for texture. Usually bought from street food vendors, you build your own dessert by layering a wafer with a topping, then stacking another oblea on top. Stack as many wafers and toppings as you want until you have your desired oblea sandwich. The final result gets wrapped in foil to eat on the go.

Chow down on over 30 different varieties at Colombia’s most famous obleas factory in Floridablanca: Obleas Floridablanca.