Last updated on June 22nd, 2023 at 03:50 pm
My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!
Colombian cuisine is extremely diverse, with so many typical dishes that even if you were to visit the main destinations, you would still miss out on many of them!
The cuisine originated from native indigenous, Spanish, and African influences, and varies in each of the six natural regions due to the immense availability of ingredients, thanks to having all the thermal floors.
Read on to discover the main typical dishes from each region that you should try on your trip to Colombia!
Typical dishes from the Andean Region
The Andean region is the country’s industry and business center, hosting most of the population. Since it is large, it has sub-regions, each with different cuisine.
Cundinamarca and Boyaca
These departments are known to have the cold capitals of Bogota and Tunja. In this region’s restaurants you will find many soups as main dishes, but don’t worry, they are delicious!
The traditional soup of the capital Bogota and other parts of the Andean region is the ajiaco. Chicken, three varieties of potato (pastusa, sabanera and criolla), guascas (an aromatic herb) and corn are the main ingredients. Take into account that an ajiaco is not an ajiaco without guasca herbs, it gives it its unique taste.
Topped with heavy cream and served with white rice, avocado and capers, this dish is a must when traveling to the center of Colombia.
I guess you haven’t heard of a soup for breakfast. However, the Colombian central Andean region has one and it’s called changua.
Ingredients: water, milk, eggs, scallion, and coriander.
It may be an unusual combination of flavors and lately, many locals have pronounced their disgust towards this dish on social media. However, it remains a traditional Colombian dish and you should try it when in Bogota so you have your opinion.
Fritanga is a Colombian dish from the Andean region that everyone visiting should try -except for vegetarians. A mix of grilled beef, chicken, pork crackling, pork sausage, morcilla (blood sausage) and other sausages, even fried cow intestines, plus potatoes, fried yucca, arepas and fried plantain is what you will see on your plate. It is always served with ají, guacamole or chimichurri sauce.
There are versions ranging from low to high prices, depending on the aesthetic of the restaurant… but the fat content remains the same. Fortunately, there are tons of places to go for a hike after having fritanga for lunch.
Sobrebarriga en salsa
This beef-based dish uses the flank cut of meat whose name in Spanish literally translates ‘over the belly’. This cut is widely used in the country with different cooking methods.
The sobrebarriga en salsa is typical from Boyaca and consists of the flanked steak cooked for a couple of hours in a stew of tomato, onion, cumin, pepper and sometimes beer.
As usual in Colombia, the side dishes are white rice, avocado and perhaps a vegetable salad.
The department of Antioquia is also known as the ‘Paisa region’ and is full of kind people, green mountains and delicious food.
Antioquia’s -and perhaps Colombia’s- most famous dish is bandeja paisa. It was -and continues to be- what the hardworking peasants ate to recharge in the middle of a heavy day.
It is made of red beans, white rice, ground beef, chorizo (pork sausage), chicharrón (pork crackling), morcilla (blood sausage), fried egg, arepa, fried plantain and avocado. A truly bandeja paisa has these 10 ingredients -not more, not less- in fair amounts; this is why you can order half a portion if you think you are not able to finish the full plate.
It is so delicious that you may want to have it during all your journey in Colombia.
Mazamorra is the perfect side dish or dessert for a Colombian meal. Typical of the Paisa region, this dish has well-cooked hominy corn, milk and is served hot or cold with grated panela or a bocadillo.
Usually, paisas eat it with a bandeja paisa, but that can be too much for a foreigner, so you may try it as a dessert of lighter meals.
Tolima and Huila
These departments southwest of Bogota boast a completely different food that is eaten all around the central region of Colombia.
Lechona is a shocking dish, especially because of its presentation. Pork meat, peas and spices… it sounds pretty normal. The thing is that all of this is stuffed into a roast pig cooked for 10 hours approximately.
If you are an animal rights activist, you should probably look away to avoid feeling like the big pig is staring at you, disappointed.
Some variations, such as the Bogota version, include rice, and the dish is served with a white small arepa.
A corn-based dough with pork, chicken and vegetables wrapped in a plantain leaf, this is the Colombian definition of a tamal. There are different kinds of tamales all over Latin America and inside Colombia too, but the most famous ones come from Tolima.
Be careful when you buy a tamal and start opening the plantain leaves because there would be hot steam coming out of it, as it is cooked in boiling water.
Santander and Norte de Santander are in the northeast of Colombia and have the capitals Bucaramanga, ‘the pretty city’, and Cucuta, the border city with Venezuela.
Although it is not the main course, the hormigas culonas, fried or roasted big ants are something you should try in Colombia. They may look strange but for some, they taste like crunchy salted peanuts.
This soup follows the standard of a Colombian soup: meat, vegetables, legumes and some carbs. This time, the ingredients are beef, beef ribs and tripes, pork, pasta, corn, potatoes, ahuyama (variety of pumpkin), carrot, peas and beans, all seasoned with onions, garlic, coriander and more.
This would be sufficient for a complete meal, but it is served with white rice, arepa and avocado. A totally nourishing dish.
The list of exotic food in Colombia goes on and pepitoria is part of it. The main ingredient of the dish are the guts of a cabrito (goat kid), which are mixed with its blood, rice and a vegetable stew.
It is believed to have its origins in a Spanish stew made of bird guts, whose goose-based French version was called petit-oie. Both the dish and the name were adapted in Colombia and are now a classic in Santander’s typical cuisine.
Typical dishes from the Amazon Region
The remote and biodiverse Amazon jungle has an exotic cuisine that has been kept throughout generations. Here you can have exotic fish, meat and even insects!
The Amazon jungle is inhabited by different indigenous groups that have bizarre cuisine traditions.
You will be shocked to know some locals casually eat this chubby larva alive! However, there are more presentations included fried, stuffed with meat and cheese or in a brochette that might change your mind about eating it.
The truth is that mojojoy is highly nourishing, has zero cholesterol and is a good source of protein.
This freshwater fish stands out for its size and taste. Its meat is highly coveted for being tender and the portions they serve you are huge! In some restaurants, you can find the fish farm and even feed them yourself.
Morrocoy (Red-footed tortoise)
Yes, the Amazonians eat tortoises. The tortoise meat has to be washed with lemon water before being cooked for about 2 hours. The dish is completed with a stew, white rice or yucca.
Typical dishes from the Caribbean Region
The Atlantic coast of Colombia is so vigorous thanks to its people, its biodiversity and its food. Clearly based on seafood, the Colombian Caribbean cuisine also consists of soups and a lot of carbs!
Arroz con coco
For once, white rice is not the quintessential side dish of a Colombian dish. It gets a sweet taste and more color in the Caribbean cuisine.
Coconut rice is a typical food in several tropical regions, including the northern coast of Colombia. You can try two versions: the sweet one, usually cooked with raisins, and the savory one, served as a side dish of seafood.
Its secret? The rice is coated with a coconut milk caramel before being cooked, so the flavor is intensified! It is the best side dish to the mojarra frita.
The most northern department of Colombia, La Guajira, has a traditional cuisine based on meat of not-so-common animals.
Friche is similar to Santander’s pepitoria, but it excludes the rice and, instead, offers goat kid meat cooked in its blood and then fried and seasoned. It is a delicacy of the Wayuu indigenous tribe.
Mote de queso con hogao
This typical dish has as a main ingredient chopped yam and diced salty costeño cheese. It is a thick, creamy soup whose recipe also includes coconut milk, local sour cream and lemon juice.
For a meatless soup, it is pretty filling. Mote de queso is quite popular all over the Atlantic coast.
Typical dishes from the Insular Region
The typical food from the Colombian Caribbean islands is a mixture of flavors, textures and colors derived from ancestral cuisine techniques.
Rondón or Run down
Rondón is the most representative typical dish from San Andres and Providencia Islands, whit Afro-Caribbean roots.
It is like a stew or soup made up of coconut milk with protein sources such as pigtail, shellfish and fish, yucca, green plantain, the exotic breadfruit, yam and dumplings (flour tortillas), all seasoned with varied spices. This is a successful variation of the Jamaican dish.
Sopa de Cangrejo
The crab soup is another famous dish of the islands, known to have aphrodisiac properties. Main ingredient: crabs, of course. It also has pigtail, yam, yucca, potato, green plantain, coconut milk and different seasonings.
The bright color and presentation of the soup are mouthwatering.
Typical dishes from the Llanos (Orinoco) Region
The east part of Colombia offers typical food that goes from beef, capybara meat and local fishes. The Eastern Plains have a unique cuisine.
Another odd animal eaten in Colombia is the capybara. This giant rodent inhabits the plains of Colombia and Venezuela all the way down to the south of the continent, and it is farmed for skin and meat.
Chigüiro‘s meat is quite tasty and it is seasoned with salt and onion. You can pair it up with some yucca and fried plantain.
Thanks to the livestock industry typical of the Llanos, one of its most famous dishes is mamona, roast veal served with potatoes, yucca and plantain. It is the traditional BBQ of the region and common dips are guacamole and local chili sauce.
Typical dishes from the Pacific Region
The Colombian Pacific coast has varied ecosystems and therefore varied cuisine. It doesn’t matter if you are on the rainy coast of Choco, the warm Valle del Cauca or the high and cold city of Pasto, Nariño, you will be delighted with all the Colombian dishes offered.
No food is more traditional in Valle del Cauca department than Chuleta Valluna.
This delightful recipe consists of a breaded pork cutlet marinated overnight. The side dishes are usually white rice, fries and a salad, and locals squeeze half a lemon over the pork to enhance its flavor. You can find this in all the restaurants in the region.
A whole roasted animal served on your plate staring at you, again. Cuy asado, or roasted guinea pig, is a typical dish of the southwestern department of Nariño, along with Ecuador and Peru, eaten for thousand years by indigenous people.
It may not be for everyone, but those who dare to taste it, say the meat is tender and similar to that of a rabbit. Cuy can be served with rice, or potatoes and salad.
Sancocho de gallina
Sancocho is a soup eaten in all Colombian regions, each one has its own kind of this exquisite soup. The version from Valle del Cauca is chicken-based, with potato, yucca, plantain, and spices, such as the cimarrón coriander. It is commonly served with white rice and avocado.
There is also a version called sancocho trifásico, which adds pork and beef ribs, and sabanera potato.
Colombian Pastries and Desserts
Colombians love pastries and sweets. Each region has its own delicacies, but here you have some representative ones that you can find all around the country.
Arepas are a widely known South American food, most commonly accredited to Venezuela.
Colombia has a myriad of arepa kinds, varying from region to region. You can distinguish the paisa version of this ‘cornbread’ for being white, thin and flavorless. This is why it is never eaten without butter, white cheese, or other foods. Another flat -but better tasting- variety is the arepa de choclo, made of sweet corn. The cheese-stuffed arepa is commonly sold on the streets and cafés.
Arepa boyacense ranks as one of the favorites for its sweeter taste that enhances the flavor of the white cheese inside. The Caribbean variety, arepa de huevo, is deep-fried and stuffed with an egg and shredded meat.
You will be able to enjoy a plethora of delicious arepa flavors all around Colombia.
Santander is the cradle of the amazing bocadillo or guava paste, a typical dessert eaten all over Colombia. This type of jam is made from guava pulp mixed with panela or sugar and the final product -firm squares of different sizes- is wrapped in bijao leaves.
Colombians eat it with a glass of milk, mazamorra, white cheese or even inside baked plantain or cakes.
Christmas time in Colombia is not the same without buñuelos. These are like sweet fritters made from corn flour and costeño cheese turned into a perfect ball and then fried until golden brown. Spongy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, that is how a buñuelo should feel in your mouth!
You can find them every time of the year at most bakeries or cafés, however, during Christmas, Colombians traditionally eat buñuelos with a portion of natilla.
The famous empanadas can be found in several Latin American countries, including Colombia.
Here, these delicacies are made with cornflour, stuffed with meat or chicken, potato, rice and egg -fillings vary a lot, and then they are deep-fried, cause Colombians love fried foods!
Top the empanada with ají sauce, ketchup or tartar sauce, and pair it up with a cold soda.
Another Christmas classic. This typical dessert is like a pudding, only firmer.
Its ingredients are cornstarch, milk and a sweetener, whether it is white sugar, brown sugar, panela or sweetened condensed milk. From there, people add raisins, cinnamon, shredded coconut, vanilla essence and even aguardiente!
The white natilla is commonly topped with blackberry jam and a pair of buñuelos, the perfect duo!
From Valle del Cauca, pandebonos make their way as a loved bread-like preparation in every café of the region. These are made from corn flour, yuca starch, cheese, and egg, and sometimes stuffed with bocadillo. Eat a warm pandebono with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
There is a lot more to talk about Colombian food. Fruits and drinks were not even mentioned, but that can be content for a whole new blog. For now, I hope you have an idea of what typical dishes to eat when you are visiting Colombia.
Colombia Travel Guides
There is much more to see in Colombia, you can find everything in my travel guides.
- Colombia Travel Guide
- Bogotá Travel Guide
- Medellin Travel Guide
- Santa Marta Travel Guide
- Cartagena Travel Guide
- La Guajira Travel Guide
- Llanos Travel Guide
- Providencia Travel Guide
- Coffee Triangle Travel Guide
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