Due to its privileged location and rich cultural heritage, Colombia’s cuisine offers a wide range of ingredients and preparations depending on the region you visit. Here are some typical Colombian foods you won’t want to miss:
º Feast on the Caribbean region’s most typical plate: fried fish, plantains and coconut rice (“pescado frito, patacones y arroz con coco”), often made with “mojarra,” a small, white, tropical fish. In this dish, you’ll adore the crunchy mix of sweet and salty flavors. Don’t be surprised—the fish normally come whole, with the heads. And watch out for bones!
º The region also boasts some of the country’s most famous snacks and finger foods, sold on the streets and in shops. Try the fried egg corn cakes (“arepas de huevo”), yucca fritters stuffed with ground meat (“carimañolas”), white hominy rolls (“bollo limpio”) and Colombian sausages (“butifarras”).
º For a sweet treat, track down someone with a basket of homemade goodies and pay a small price for an array of delicacies, like pastries, cakes and chocolates, mixed with coconut, guava, fried plantain and other exotic ingredients. Some suggestions: popcorn balls held together by shaved coconut and panela (“bolas de alegría”), sweet cassava or yucca bread (“dulce de yuca”) and caramelized coconut treats (“cocadas”).
º On the Caribbean islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina try “rondón,” an exotic dish of fish, snails, yucca, pigtail, sweet potato and “dumplings,” a type of flour tortilla. The tropical mixture is cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with pepper and herbs.
º In the Pacific region you’ll find several broths, stews, soups and rice preparations, made with a delicious variety of meats, fish, crab and typical vegetables or fruits from the region.
º “Arroz atoyao de jaiba” (rice mixed with vegetables and crab) and “tapao de pescado” (stew that features fish, potatoes, plantains, yucca, tomatoes, onions, and peppers, with rice on the side) are among the best choices you can make.
º While visiting the department of Choco, you must try the typical “arepas” and “cakes” made from ñame blanco chocoano (white yam that grows in the region).
º In the Cauca Valley, which faces the Pacific Ocean, try the “chuleta valluna” (a deep-fried breaded chop, served with rice and salad) and “aborrajado”, a deep-fried plantain stuffed with cheese.
º The most traditional beverages from this region are the “Lulada,” made with the exotic lulo fruit, and “Champús,” made of crushed maize, panela, lulo, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and orange leaves.
º For dessert, “manjar blanco” is sweet custard made from milk, vanilla bean and sugar, simmered until thick and creamy. You may see it served with figs and fresh cheese on the side.
º The “Bandeja Paisa,” or Paisa Platter, is among the most popular Colombian dishes. It’s from the Andean region around Medellín, where the people are known as “Paisas.” And the Bandeja is notorious for the variety and generous amount of food it includes. On one plate, you’ll get beans, rice, ground meat or carne asada, chorizo, pork belly (chicharrón), fried egg, arepa and avocado. Be warned: This is a hefty amount of food, originally intended for laborers. Naptime may follow.
º On Bogotá’s chilly, drizzly afternoons, a thick and hearty “Ajiaco” soup will warm you right up. The region’s most famous dish consists of shredded chicken, potatoes and a chunk of corn on the cob. Cream, capers, and avocado are also added. It’s flavored with a locally grown herb called “guasca,” which has a deep grassy flavor and is an essential part of the recipe.
º The nearby mountain region of Tolima is known for its heralded cuisine. The local “tamales Tolimenses” are a delicacy, made of a corn and filled with peas, carrots, potatoes, rice, chicken, pork and spices. The hearty, soft tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for three to four hours, emerging hot and full of flavor. In Tolima, you’ll also likely find “lechona,” roasted pig stuffed with a salty and delicious mix of peas, onion, rice and spices.
º In the central north of Colombia, Santander’s cuisine, referred to as “santanderes,” is some of the country’s best known. Here you’ll find “mute,” a soup made with pork parts, corn, and vegetables; “cabrito,” or baby goat; and “pepitoria,” rice with goat intestines and blood. Santander’s take on the sweet guava jelly dessert known as “bocadillo de guayaba” is perhaps the country’s best known, and it’s called “bocadillo Veleño.”
º In the eastern Colombian plains, known as the “Llanos,” you’ll find the country’s best beef. And to do as the locals do, eat it barbecued. Traditionally, large cuts of meat are skewered on long metal poles that lean in towards wood fire pits. Among them, the “ternera a la llanera,” or tender beef, is perhaps the most popular. For this simple dish, veal is cooked by fire and served with boiled yuca and potato on the side. To spice things up, grab the aji.
º In Colombia’s Amazonian jungle, like in Brazil’s and Peru’s, freshwater fish is the cuisine’s main component. Don’t miss the “pirarucú,” which is among the world’s largest freshwater fish. The fish has few bones and is normally served grilled or fried, though it can also be smoked or salted and dried.
º Across Colombia, every department has its own version of the popular and beloved “sancocho” soup, a hearty mix of tender meat, tubers and vegetables, slowly simmered. The city of Cali offers one of the Country’s most beloved sancocho variations, the “sancocho de gallina,” or sancocho of chicken or hen, widely enjoyed in spite of the city’s warm temperatures. In your overflowing bowl, you’ll find a healthy mix of chicken, plantain, corn, coriander, yucca root and other seasonings.
º Across the mountain region, you’re sure to find the famous platter of fried meats and vegetables called “Fritanga.” The dish traditionally comes with meats, fried plantains, pork belly, yucca fries and yellow potatoes, with “aji,” a spicy vegetable accompaniment, to sprinkle on top. And the Andean region’s “empanadas,” or meat filled patties, are some of the country’s most renowned.
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