Food in Colombia is deliciously diverse and based almost exclusively on the fruits of the nation’s lush nature – be that succulent lobster from the Caribbean coast, exotic larvae plucked straight out of the Amazon or rare vegetables grown on the lush plains of the Andean Mountains. Colombians are also unfailingly proud of all things Colombian, with restauranteurs based in everywhere from tiny fishing villages along the coast to glamorous neighbourhoods in the upscale cities. Getting under the skin of the foodie scene is a great way to experience local cultures. Ask the chef about the nutritional properties of their ingredients, chat to a street food vendor about their cooking technique and make sure to have a go saying “¡Buen aprovecho!” (enjoy your meal) as you walk past a group of locals tucking into their meal.
Hearty Caribbean Classics on the North Coast
The wildly undiscovered northern coast of Colombia still basks in its traditional Caribbean feel, which is reflected most prominently in its culinary culture. Outside of Cartagena, the food scene is almost entirely based on centuries-old traditions from crab fishing in misty mangroves and saltwater fishing from dawn to dusk to infusing locally sourced coconut into just about everything. Dining out in Caribbean Colombia is a real treat: the ingredients are ultra-fresh, the portions plentiful, and the flavours deliciously rich. There’s cazuela de mariscos (a creamy white fish and seafood stew); ajiaco con pollo (a warming chicken soup with Andean potatoes, corn on the cob and a popular Colombian herb called guasca); and plenty of fresher-than-fresh grilled fish and lobster. Other dishes include staple side plates like arroz con coco (coconut rice) and patacones (fried plantain); the go-to desert cacadas blancas (a sugary coconut cookie); and refreshing beverages like limonada de coco (coconut lemonade). From Cartagena, we can whisk you off to La Boquilla, a traditional fishing village that lives to the beat of its African past. While you’re here, sample the local delicacies (hint: there’s lots of grilled fish), try your hand at crab fishing and grab an instrument to join in with the evening music.
The Delights of the Coffee Region
While precious coffee beans are, of course, the most adored export of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle – which lies between the cities of Manizales, Pereira and Armenia – the region is also famed for its tasty traditional food. Bandeja Paisa is the star of the show, an iconic dish made with ground beef, pork belly and chorizo and served alongside beans, rice and avocado. For something a little lighter opt for mondongo (tripe and vegetable stew), lentejas (lentil soup) or tamales (chicken, rice and vegetables served in steamed banana leaves). And then there’s the coffee. While Colombians sure do love their rum and their cerveza (Club Colombia is the go-to beer), coffee is without a doubt the national drink. Children start drinking coffee early in life, while adults are known to drink upwards of three cups a day. A visit to the coffee farms of Colombia is an absolute must and we can arrange for you to stay in a charming farmhouse set among endless emerald bamboo groves, coffee plantations and gigantic banana trees. You can enjoy candlelit dinners in the lush fields, private champagne picnics in the bamboo forest and, of course, plenty of coffee cupping (tasting sessions).
Sumptuous Street Food, Anywhere and Everywhere
When it comes to food in Colombia, it doesn’t get more traditional than the bite sized culinary classics whipped up in a moment’s notice on the ever-bustling streets of Cartagena, Bogota and everywhere in between. There are empanadas (a deep-fried savoury snack) and buñuelos (a sweet ball-shaped doughnut), both of which have their roots in Spain; carimañolas, a sort of torpedo-shaped empanada; and cocteles, a mixture of fresh seafood dressed in a cocktail sauce. But the most ubiquitous of them all is certainly the arepa, a corn cake stuffed with local ingredients. In Caribbean Colombia it’s the arepa de huevo, a deep-fried arepa with egg and ground meat; in the coffee region it’s the arepa de choclo, a sweet pancake-style arepa often served with fresh cheese; and in Antioquia it’s the arepa paisa, a simple arepa with no additives to which you can add whatever you please.
Fine-Dining in Colombia’s Dazzling Cities
After indulging on the rich, buttery delights of the street food scene, it’ll be high time to turn your nose to the stylish restaurants of some of the nation’s most exciting cities, many of which take an innovative approach to traditional food in Colombia. Bogota is undoubtably the culinary capital, offering high-end eateries in spades. There’s El Cielo, where you can enjoy dishes like tapioca arepa tacos in the 15-course tasting menu; Harry Sasson, whose talented chef whips up iconic Colombian dishes with a certain finesse; and award-winning Leo, an unmissable spot in the capital that focuses on the different ecosystems found throughout Colombia. For something a bit different, we can also arrange for you to try an exclusive Amazonian tasting menu at one of our favourite spots in town. Medellin and Cartagena are also hot spots on the gastronomic trail with neighbourhoods like El Poblado (in Medellin) and the Old Town (in Cartagena) offering no shortage of stylish restaurants serving top-notch traditional fare. But no matter where you are, you can rest easy knowing you’ll be armed with a carefully-curated destination Dossier, filled to the brim with our picks for finest tried-and-tested eateries.
Header Image: Grant Harder