Colombian Food: 28 Traditional Dishes to try in Colombia or at home
Latin America is famous for its delicious food, and Colombia does not disappoint. In fact, sampling Colombian food is one of the top reasons to visit Colombia. Like its country, Colombian cuisine is diverse and exciting.
You may spot the odd Caribbean food or Peruvian dish in these 28 best dishes – Colombian cuisine is massively influenced by its surrounding regions and colonial history. The country is split into six regions, each of which has its own regional specialties as well. Remember that there are regional differences when traveling around Colombia’s must-see cities – you don’t want to miss out on a specialty dish.
28 Traditional Colombian Dishes
Ready to explore the best Colombian food? Whether you want to try some Colombian cuisine at home or are visiting Colombia and are excited to try local dishes, this guide will introduce you to the best. We’ll cover everything, from Empanadas to Frijoles Rojos. Let’s dive straight in.
1. Colombian Empanadas
Colombian empanadas have been a favorite dish since colonial times. Its appearance is much like a Cornish pasty, and the pastry is folded over with a filling inside. It’s easy to spot with its characteristic semi-circle shape and pinched edge.
You’ll find ground meat, potatoes, cheese, and hogao (tomato salsa sauce) inside. Of course, there are some recipe variations – especially for meat-free versions of the dish. Colombian empanadas are straightforward to make at home and delicious to eat in Colombia. If you want a quick, easy snack, empanadas are one of the best Colombian dishes.
If you want to try an empanada before you travel to Colombia, you can follow this recipe to make your own at home.
The legend behind pandebono is that an Italian baker living in Cali created the bread. When he sold it, he used to walk the streets shouting ‘pane del buono’ (good bread); the name stuck, and the bread became one of the most popular Colombian foods.
So, what is it exactly? The bread is also nicknamed Colombian cheese bread, which should give you a good hint. It is made with melted cheese, yuca flour, and eggs and shaped into bagel or ball shapes. You can eat pandebono at breakfast, as street food, or as a side at dinner – it is a flexible dish. Remember that it is best eaten when it is still warm out of the oven. Pandebono is a dish intended to be eaten as fresh as possible.
To get in the mood for your Colombian travels, make your own Pandebono at home with this recipe.
3. Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja paisa is probably the most iconic Colombian food in this guide. Some even go as far as to call it the national dish. Bandeja paisa is a platter-styled meal with an assortment of meats, a fried egg, white rice, corn, plantain, red beans, and an avocado. The meats include minced beef and chorizo sausage to chicharron. You’ll usually find an Arepa on the plate, too (more on that later).
Bandeja paisa is typical of Colombia’s Antioquia region and, like frijoles rojos, was perfect for workers spending long days in the mountains and on farms. Bandeja paisa packs a nutritious punch and is packed with protein and carbohydrates. It remains a popular lunch choice and is one to try if you visit Colombia. Make your recipe at home by following this recipe.
4. Frijoles Rojos
Frijoles Rojos is a special Colombian dish that uses cargamento beans, also called red beans. This Colombian food is particularly healthy, and red beans are a great source of iron, potassium, low-fat protein, and fiber. It is a stew-like concoction, and the red beans are mixed with tomatoes, onion, and garlic. It is then usually served on top of a portion of rice.
Frijoles rojos was originally a laborer’s meal. It is budget-friendly and packed with energy and nutrients – perfect for fueling a hard day at work. However, Frijoles Rojos have become a widely eaten dish in Colombian cuisine. Watch this easy video to make it yourself.
5. Bananos Calados
Bananos calados is one of Colombia’s best desserts and comes from the Quindio region, near the Andes. It might not look (or sound) appetizing, but it is easily one of the tastiest meals you can try from Colombian cuisine. The dessert consists of fried bananas mixed with lime juice and served with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, creating a sweet yet tangy treat for your tastebuds. Occasionally, you may also find the lime juice replaced by orange juice and cinnamon – so keep your eye out for any unique recipes.
Colombia has lots of native fruit, and you can easily see that this has inspired many traditional recipes. Bananos calados are one food to try if you want to experience Colombia’s dessert scene. Make this delicious sweet at home to bring back memories of your travels to Colombia.
6. Chicharron Colombiano
Chicharron Colombiano is fried pork belly, a hearty dish covered in onions, bay leaves, and seasoning for a glorious taste. Chicharron is packed with flavor and served with a crisp texture that has been perfected over generations of cooking. It is a typical dinner dish and is associated with family and tradition.
The dish is typical of Colombia’s Andean region. However, it originated in Spain and was introduced to Colombia by Spanish colonizers. The Spanish recipe varies greatly; rind or belly cuts can be used, unlike the Colombian version. You’ll find that most countries in Latin America have their own version of chicharron. Get ready to try as many different versions as possible. Colombia has since taken a firm spin on the dish, though, and chicharron has well and truly entered Colombian cuisine.
7. Coconut rice
Forget white rice; coconut rice is the tastiest. As its name may suggest, coconut rice is cooked with coconuts, giving it a yummy flavor and getting it a place on this list as a meal in its own right. There are two main ways coconut rice is prepared: cooking it in coconut milk or mixing it with shredded coconut. Cooking it in coconut milk is the best, as you get a stronger coconut flavor.
The history of coconut rice is a bit of a mystery. The dish is scattered across the globe, especially in Asia and South America. However, since coconuts are one of Colombia’s most common tropical fruits, it is no mystery why they are so prevalent in Colombian cuisine. If you get the chance to try it, coconut rice is a tasty dish.
8. Pescado Frito
Pescado Frito is a classic, traditional Colombian food. Pescado Frito translates as fried fish and is served whole, with skin and head intact. It can be a little daunting if you aren’t used to eating fish like this. However, you’ll soon be won over, as cooking the fish in its skin boosts its flavor and keeps the fish meat moist. You can expect much juicer meat than you’d get eating fillets and fish steaks.
In Colombia, the fried fish is usually mojarra or red snapper. The fish is sliced and then flavored with lime and seasoning, often sitting in the juice for a while to really soak up the flavor. It is served with rice, plantain, and salad – the perfect lunch dish.
9. Arepa de Huevo
Arepa de huevo is a variation of standard arepas, which are fried corn cakes. Arepas are a massively popular breakfast food and are also considered somewhat of a comfort food. Arepa de huevo are one of the tastiest variations with egg. Preparing them involves frying a corn cake, splitting it, and filling it with an egg, then frying it again to cook the egg inside. The result is a fried egg coated in fried bread.
It is no shock that arepas de huevos are one of the most popular dishes – especially for breakfast. They are served in stacks (like pancakes) as a standalone dish. Just pick your sauce to match, salsa and sour cream are great choices. See this recipe to wake up with a taste of Colombia.
10. Sopa de Pollo
Sopa de pollo translates as chicken soup, and it is another comforting meal in Colombian cuisine. It is fair to say that it is probably the most typical Colombian soup and is widely eaten across the country. The chicken soup is also packed with plantain, corn, potatoes, and yuca. In fact, it is so full of ingredients that it often appears more like a stew than a soup.
Of course, chicken soup is found worldwide, but Colombia’s version is particularly delicious. The blend of ingredients like plantain and yuca is much more unique, and often Colombian recipes use an entire chicken.
Sopa de pollo is an excellent Colombian food to try when visiting or to recreate at home. It is best cooked slow-cooked and served piping hot and is one of those one-pot dishes the whole family loves.
Morcilla is a blood sausage made with ground pork and pork blood. Morcillas are easily spotted because of their dark, deep reddish-brown color. They are a very traditional dish across Latin America. You should have no problem finding some to try if you visit Colombia. And if you like black pudding, you are in for a treat.
Morcillas are prepared from scratch, and the process involves squeezing the mixture into sausage casings. The ground meat is mixed with pork blood, onions, and rice before being put into casings. Colombian recipes tend to add cilantro and occasionally green peas as well. The sausages are then usually boiled to cook.
12. Cazuela de Mariscos
Ready for a Colombian seafood dish? Cazuela de mariscos is one of the most popular Colombian dishes in coastal regions, especially along the Caribbean Coast and Cartegena. It is a typical food and seafood casserole or seafood stew – packed with everything from prawns to mussels and lobster. The meats are cooked in coconut milk with a mixture of vegetables. You might even have white wine and cheese added to the mix if you are lucky.
Cazuela de mariscos is an iconic dish when visiting Colombia’s coastline. What is better than a fresh seafood dish? Most of the time, the ingredients have been just caught out of the Caribbean Sea. This is definitely one for your list when you visit Colombia. Or try making it at home with this yummy recipe.
13. Colombian Bunuelos
Bunuelos are deep-fried balls packed with fresh cheese – a perfect afternoon snack or breakfast bite. Strangely enough, they are often served alongside hot chocolate and coffee, so you can often find bunuelos at cafes in Colombia.
Bunuelos are one of the most popular Colombian foods. The recipe creates dough from yucca flour, cornstarch, eggs, milk, and sugar. The deep-fried dough is then made, with the bunuelos arranged into their characteristic appetizer-sized ball shape and floated in a pan of boiling vegetable oil.
It is thought that bunuelos were introduced to Colombia by Spanish invaders. The snack is now eaten across Colombia as street food and cafe or restaurant treat. Bunuelos are especially popular at Christmas time. We found this easy to follow recipe on YouTube
Obleas is not just a typical Colombian dish; it is enjoyed all over Spain and Latin America. Obleas looks like a sandwich, and that’s precisely what it is. The classic dessert consists of two wafers that sandwich a filling of dulce de leche and often a mixture of fruit, whipped cream, and jam. The Colombian version is almost identical but adds one special ingredient – Colombian caramel.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, obleas are one of the best typical Colombian desserts to try. You’ll find them everywhere, from cafes to street stalls.
Lechona is a Colombian food for special occasions. The dish consists of a whole roasted pig stuffed with onions, peas, potatoes, pork fat, white rice, garlic, and spices like cumin. After the pig has had its bones removed and has been stuffed, it is placed in the oven and slow-cooked (often for up to ten hours).
Needless to say, lechona is intended to be the culinary masterpiece of the table. It is a dish designed to be shared with large groups of people when you want to splash out on a fancy meal. You will often find individual servings of lechona at restaurants around Colombia, though, so keep your eyes peeled.
Let’s set Colombian foods aside for a moment. Cholado is one of the best drinks in Colombia, so let’s introduce you. The drink is a refreshing mixture of shaved ice, fresh fruit, and sweetened condensed milk. Depending on where you get one, you may also find the drink served with ice cream, wafers, and whipped cream.
Cholado originates from Jamundi in Valle de Cauca. It is a mix between dessert, fruit cocktail, and drink – ticking all the boxes creatively and deliciously. If you love fresh fruit and sweet treats, it is a great drink to try when visiting Colombia, yet simple enough to recreate at home.
Carimanolas are easy to spot. The tiny fritters are shaped into characteristic torpedo shapes, usually served in bulk as bitesize appetizers. They are a traditional Colombian food, although you’ll also find carimanolas in other Southern American countries like Panama.
Inside, carimanolas are stuffed with ground beef or shredded chicken, cheese, and seasoning. The fritters are then deep-fried to create a sort of meat pie. They are light and crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside. More often than not, carimanolas come with aji sauce. This bright green sauce mainly consists of cilantro and is nice and spicy – the perfect side. Want to try them before your travels? Head over to follow this recipe
18. Colombian Sopa de Mondongo
While mondongo often has a stew-like consistency, it is actually another typical Colombian soup. The soup consists of onion, potato, beef tripe, chorizo, and pork, all served piping hot in a small bowl. It is a highly traditional Colombian food, and you’ll find mondongo at most restaurants across the country.
Like many Colombian dishes, sopa de mondongo is believed to have been introduced by Spanish colonizers. The tomato-based soup has been firmly adopted into the Colombian culinary scene, though, and Colombian versions of the recipe have a definite twist.
Fritanga is a platter dish. The dish is widely sold amongst street food vendors and consists of a mixture of foods heaped onto a large plate – usually barbecued on the street. So, what foods will you find in fritanga? Usually, chorizo, sausage, plantain, and a mixture of vegetables.
Fritanga is a Nicaraguan dish, although it has become adopted into Colombian cuisine. The story behind its origin is a tragic one. The meal was first created after the 1931 earthquake, which hit Nicaragua, and people cooked food on the street with barbecues.
Now, you’ll find fritanga cooked all over Latin America and Colombia. It is a historical, tasty, and filling dish to try.
A bocadillo is a delicious Colombian food made with guava paste – a product of a popular tropical fruit. The dish is extremely sweet and a special treat and dessert. It has a melt-in-your-mouth texture but is otherwise not sticky to the touch. Bocadillos only require a few ingredients, mostly panela and guava pulp, so they are straightforward to make if you want to recreate the dish at home.
You’ll often find bocadillos served at cafes, usually alongside a slice of salty white cheese. They come cut into little rectangles or squares and are the perfect bitesize treats.
Aborrajados are one dish that you don’t find as easily. It originated in the Valley de Cauca and is a regional specialty. The creative (if slightly bizarre-sounding) dish consists of deep-fried plantain stuffed with cheese to create a crispy, healthy cheese bite. The very best place to try aborrajados is in the region of the Valley de Cauca itself, where you’ll find the dish most prevalently anyway.
Aborrajados are served as snacks or appetizers before a large meal. Don’t rule out the dish at pudding time, though, as you can add guava paste to the fried dish to create a sweet treat for dessert.
22. Arroz con Pollo
Arroz con pollo literally translates as rice with chicken. It is a simple but staple Colombian food and much like Spanish paella. The dish consists of rice, chicken, onion, and vegetables, with saffron tossed through the mixture for additional flavor.
If you want a filling dish, arroz con pollo is a brilliant choice. Plus, it is easy to find and is widely served at restaurants and street vendor stalls across Colombia. It is believed that arroz con pollo originated in Spain while the country was under Moorish influence. When Spanish colonizers arrived in Colombia, it is presumed that the dish was introduced to Colombian food culture.
23. Cocadas Blancas
We’ve covered lots from Colombia’s coastal region. But what about a dessert from the Caribbean Coast? Cocadas blancas is a super sweet dessert for your list. The dish is made with a mix of shredded coconut, sugar, milk, and coconut water. Depending on where you try it, you may also find extra ingredients like cinnamon – most people have their own twist on the classic recipe.
Cocadas blancas are usually sold on the street and along Colombia’s beaches. However, you can find them on dessert menus in restaurants too. They are delicious food, sticky and sweet. You are in for a treat trying one.
24. Colombian Hot Chocolate
Speaking of desserts, hot chocolate is another sweet treat that Colombia excels at. The Colombian version of hot chocolate is called Santafereno. It is very different from the European and American versions of the drink. Instead of sweet milk chocolate, the Colombian version uses dark, unsweetened chocolate. Santafereno is typically made in water, not milk, with cinnamon or cloves often added to counteract any bitterness. It may sound strange, but Colombians are also famous for dipping cheese in their hot chocolate – which you may or may not want to try.
Another thing that’s important to know is that Colombia has been using chocolate for centuries. Chocolate is made from cacao trees, which are found in areas of Colombia and the Amazon basin. Colombia isn’t alone either; cacao has been used all across Latin America as far back as the Aztecs and Mayans.
Calentado is a staple in Colombian gastronomy and is a dish rooted in recycling leftovers from the night before – its name literally translates as ‘heated’. The dish was born out of poverty to limit waste, but now it is one of the most traditional foods in Colombia.
The most common ingredients in a calentado dish are white rice, plantain, and steak. It is then often topped with a fried egg and arepas, perhaps even served with a hot chocolate or coffee. By the nature of the dish, calentado was mainly cooked at home. Of course, now you’ll find it on menus across the country. At restaurants, you tend to also find avocado and sausage served alongside the standard ingredients.
26. Fried Plantain
Fried plantain is yummy Colombian food. To the untrained eye, you can be forgiven for mistaking them for bananas. They look identical, except plantains are much larger, less sweet, and only become ripe once they turn black. In their yellow stages, plantains are perfect for frying, which is where deep-fried plantain comes in.
The best thing about fried plantain is its versatility. You could have it savory with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or you could caramelize it and have it as a dessert. You could pair it with an egg, or you could pair it with ice cream.
Fried plantain tastes like a potato, and the crisp outer layer gives way to a soft, squishy inside. You won’t have any issues finding fried plantain in Colombia (or Latin America), so try it yourself.
28. Colombian coffee
If you love coffee, you are in for a treat. This traditional Colombian drink is world-famous, and the amount of coffee beans grown in Colombia is exciting for any caffeine enthusiast. For the most part, Colombia grows Arabica beans, which are light and sweet to taste, unlike the intense Robusta. The fact that Arabica is a bit weaker than Robusta is probably a good thing, though, since, in Colombian coffee culture, it is drunk most from late afternoon to early evening. Not from the morning to early afternoons like in the US and Europe.
A great way to experience Colombian is to go coffee tasting. And if you want to go coffee tasting in Colombia, prioritize visiting Medellin or Manizales. These regions are famed for their coffee beans and have varieties named after them. You can book tours around local coffee plantations or visit local cafes.
Maracuya might sound unfamiliar, but the chances are high that you’ve seen one before. Passion fruit might not be a dish as such. Still, tropical fruits are such an established part of Colombian gastronomy that we had to include them on this list. Passion fruits are a deep purple on the outside, with a waxy, protective outer skin. Cut open, they reveal a tangy, delicious bed of yellow seeds. These seeds can be eaten straight from the passion fruit or used as an ingredient for products like ice cream or juice.
Passion fruits grow all over South America and are believed to have originally come from the Northern Argentina region before spreading out in popularity across the continent. Not planning a visit to Colombia? No problem. You can try passion fruit worldwide since it is a significant export product.
Colombian food is one of the best cuisines in the world. There is so much to try, so get started as soon as possible. Luckily, if you are visiting Colombia, there are plenty of food tours to sample traditional Colombian cuisine – leading you around the best spots. You can check out our best travel tips here as well.
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