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Colombian food is some of the most vibrant and holistic on Earth. The geography of this tropical country gives it the resources to make a variety of delicious dishes that contain tropical fruit, exotic fish, and mouthwatering spices. Colombia’s food is a mix between Caribbean and regional jungle fare that reflects the ingredients within each chef’s reach.
The cooking in Latin America is very similar to the ‘Farm to Table’ fad that is finally sweeping North America. Sadly, it’s taken an upswing in a trend for us to come back to basics like that, but Colombians don’t know anything else, so foodies will greatly appreciate the fresh and exotic flavors of this unique and lush nation. Here are the best local foods to get your hands on when visiting Colombia.
Because there is so much fruit available to locals, the beverages are usually laden with fruit juice. The Boliguaro de Corozos at El Boliche Cebicheria are lip puckering mixtures of cherry juice and anise liqueur. Local to Cartagena, it may not have the fizz but tastes like spiked cream soda. If you would like to try something without alcohol, the salicon is made with chunks of fresh fruit and cola, and you can’t go to Colombia without having freshly roasted coffee.
A little thicker than corn tortillas and stuffed with different fillings, Arepas are a type of grilled, baked, or fried flat bread made with coarsely ground corn. There are far too many varieties to count, but popular ones are filled with seafood, eggs, cheeses, or other meats. In essence, the Arepa is the South American answer to the pizza pop or toaster strudel, except they’re much more natural, don’t involve a microwave, and are made with fresh ingredients.
Appies You Need to Try
There are an insanely diverse variety of items that are stuffed with cheese or meat to try in Colombia. You can have Carimañola, which is a yucca fritter that gets fried with meat and spices inside, or you can enjoy a small plate of Aborrajado: fried plantains with a gooey cheese filling. You can also have ceviche made with freshly caught seafood if you’re in a coastal locale. Can you say delicioso?
The Main Course
First off, you might as well forget trying to avoid rice when you visit Colombia. It’s in almost all main courses or served on the side. Arroz con Coco is the most popular. It’s just coconut rice, but it seems to be a major staple, so you’ll need to get used to that. Other than that, main dishes are a veritable feast of meat, spices, peppers, and all manner of root vegetable. Bandeja Paisa, a Colombian hallmark dish with meat, beans, eggs, rice, and a variety of other ingredients is tops at Mondongo’s in Medellin. Same with their namesake dish, Mondongo, a rich and hearty beef tripe soup with fresh cilantro and tons of veg. It sounds kind of unsettling to North Americans, but it isn’t popular throughout the entire Caribbean and Central/Southern America for nothing, so give it a go!
Again, there are a large range of different fruits in Colombia that are both familiar and specific to the region. Strawberries, Passion Fruit, Bananas, Mango, Starfruit, Dragon Fruit, and Guavas are a few tantalizing fruits you may not have eaten off the tree, so take this opportunity to learn what they taste like when they’re grown in their natural settings and ripened by the sun. You can also try a few of the local fruits that you can’t get anywhere else. Lulo, a tomato-like citrus fruit, is one of the more popular ones. Highly enjoyable in the form of juice, it’s sweetened with a little sugar, which may be why it’s such a popular menu item in Colombian restaurants.
Desserts and Treats
Every Latin American nation has a version of Dulce de Leche, and Colombia does too (theirs is called Arequipe) Colombians also enjoy other custard-like desserts like Manjar Blanco, Natilla, and Postre de Natas. In addition, there are pastries with to-die-for fillings like the Pastel de Gloria, a puff pastry that resembles a danish with cheese and, in this case, guava filling. If you have to pick one more dessert to try, don’t miss out on the Bocadillo de Guayaba, a completely natural and dense guava jelly. These are eaten like candy all over the nation, so if you can, bring a few back home with you to share.
Colombia is just too exciting of a country in terms of its culinary diversity to stick with things you already know, and a lot of meals are served in massive portions for very little cash. Do visit the fruit stands if you must pick and choose where you eat, and definitely make time to do dessert. Come to Colombia hungry for good food and you won’t be disappointed!