As the summer travel season arrives, Family Eats collaborates with Marcela De Vivo, a freelance writer based in Southern California, who offers up her thoughts on the cuisine of Colombia. We hope it will inspire you to travel to new destinations in your own kitchen. Thanks Marcela!
Colombian cuisine will seem familiar to anyone who has tried Mexican or Latin American food before; however, Colombia has dishes that are unique to the country—as well as unique to the regions within the country. Coastal areas often feature a variety of seafood dishes that are prepared with coconut milk for a tropical flair. Inland, the meals tend to be focused more on meats and soups.
Breakfast and lunch are generally much larger than what is served in the United States, and dinner is a much lighter meal. Here are some local Colombian dishes that you should try while visiting the country.
Arepas are made from a precooked corn flour called masarepa, and similar to a thick pancake. A common accompaniment to any meal, or simply an easy snack food, arepas can be made savory or sweet by varying the toppings or fillings. Slightly thinner than its Venezuelan counterparts, Colombian arepas are often split and filled with cheese, meat, and eggs, and look like a thick corn pita pocket.
Arepas can also be deep-fried, baked or grilled. Often called a “comida rápida” (fast-food), Colombian arepas are something you will find almost anywhere. If you are buying an arepa as a snack, try an unusual combination, as the plain versions are served as sides to most meals in eateries all over Colombia.
Soups are important in Colombian cuisine, and ajiaco may be the most famous of all the varieties. A surprisingly filling soup that can stand alone as a meal, ajiaco is made with chicken, corn, potatoes (in some recipes, this requires three types: papa criolla, sabanera, and pastusa) and guasca, which is an essential ingredient that gives the soup its distinct taste.
The soup is usually served with rice, avocado, capers and cream, which you can use to customize your soup. Ajiaco is a rich and filling meal in and of itself, and you won’t be disappointed.
An enormous platter of food, this hearty meal is not for the faint-hearted, and is a must-try for travelers as it is considered by some as the national dish of Colombia. Roughly translated as “Countrymen Tray,” this common lunch plate originated from the Northwest region, and consists of piles of meat, beans and rice.
While each vendor or restaurant version may vary, the dish usually consists of grilled steak, fried pork rind, chorizo, and chicharron, which is served on a bed of rice and red beans. This pile of food is then topped with a fried egg and served with sliced avocado, plantano or banana chips, and the ubiquitous arepa. Plan on a siesta after this meal!
Not for the squeamish, eateries often show that they serve lechona by displaying a pig’s head in a glass case. Hailing from the area southwest of Bogota, lechona is a time-intensive, rich, and delicious dish that travelers should make a point of trying at least once.
A whole roast pig is stuffed with yellow rice, peas, onion, garlic, and a combination of spices, and then baked for ten hours in a clay or brick oven. This dish is also served with the ever-present arepa. Once reserved for special events, the dish is now served in specialty restaurants throughout Colombia.
An unusual combination of hot chocolate and queso blanco cheese, this delicious drink is perfect for cold winter days in Colombia. The hot chocolate, which is unsweetened, is served with a side of cheese and buttered bread; you put the cheese in the chocolate and wait for it to melt before drinking. Rich and hearty, this chocolate is unique and something to be experienced while in Colombia.
One of the best ways to learn about and explore other cultures while traveling is eating the local food. So, once you plan your trip to Columbia, make sure to try the above dishes that are indigenous to the country to enrich your travel experience.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in Southern California who writes on everything from marketing to travel. Working with travel company GuestDoor.com, she has been to Colombia several times and would encourage anyone else to go and experience the local cuisine!