Updated on 02/27/2024
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!,
About Street Food in Colombia
Street food is a vibrant representation of a community’s gastronomy, embraced for its speed and accessibility. In Colombia, numerous food stalls dot the streets, offering a convenient alternative for those with busy daily lives who may not have time to cook at home.
This type of cuisine has extended beyond the streets, with bakeries and restaurants incorporating popular street foods into their inventory, benefiting local commerce.
While culturally significant, street food does come with risks, from preparation to consumption.
Why is Street Food So Popular?
Colombia’s street food gains popularity due to several positive factors:
- Flavor Variety: Street food offers a wide range of flavors and dishes from different cultures and regions, allowing you to enjoy authentic local dishes and explore new tastes without formal restaurant visits.
- Affordability: Generally more economical than conventional restaurants, street food is a budget-friendly option for those looking to dine out without spending much.
- Quick Preparation: Street food is prepared swiftly, ideal for people on the go or those seeking a fast meal without long waits.
- Convenience: Street food stalls are strategically located in places like markets, busy streets, and tourist areas, making them convenient for travelers and those seeking a quick meal during their day.
- Flexibility: Street food vendors often provide customizable options, letting you choose ingredients and flavors according to your preferences.
Popular Street Food Dishes in Colombia
“Fritos”, or foods cooked in oil, are one of the most common forms of street food, as they are prepared quickly and give a crunchy touch to the food. Some of the main fried foods in Colombia are:
Buñuelos are popular Colombian dough balls, especially enjoyed during Christmas but available year-round. Made with flour, cornstarch, and cheese, they’re commonly eaten for breakfast or as afternoon snacks with beverages like oatmeal.
Recently, filled variations with ingredients like guava paste and chocolate have become widespread, with specialty stalls in cities offering diverse options.
Chicharrón is a highly popular recipe in Colombia, featured in many local preparations such as bandeja paisa and picada. It consists of pieces of pork skin that are boiled, then fried and seasoned. It is often served as an accompaniment to other meals, as mentioned before.
Chicharrón can be found in both restaurants and street food stalls. This dish is also enjoyed in other countries such as Mexico and Guatemala.
Colombia’s popular empanadas, originally of Arabic origin, have embraced local ingredients over time.
These cornmeal dough pockets, filled with proteins and vegetables, are either fried or baked in crescent shapes.
Enjoyed with sauces, chili, and drinks like juices or sodas.
This dish, typical of Colombia, has its origins on the Atlantic coast.
Made from cooked potato dough, it is filled with ingredients such as meat, cheese, hard-boiled egg, rice with chicken, etc. It is often accompanied by sauces or homemade chili, much like empanadas. It is primarily consumed during breakfast and afternoon snacks, known as “onces,” the meal between breakfast and lunch.
Similar to the potato cake, carimañola is also a preparation native to Colombia, especially in the Caribbean region.
It is made from yuca or cassava dough filled with ingredients such as meat, chicken, rice, and egg. It is then fried and served with condiments or homemade chili.
Also known as “picada”, fritanga is a Colombian dish from the Andean region, featuring criolla potatoes, longaniza, rellena, plantains, pork, ribs, chorizo, chicharrón, and assorted meats.
Enjoyed at family lunches, birthdays, and gatherings, fritanga is a staple in meat restaurants and “piqueteaderos.” Prices vary, but the consistent feature is its high-fat content.
Salchipapa is a popular fast food dish in the country, not confined to street stalls but now a specialty in restaurants. In Colombia, there are many variations, and locals debate the best region.
The main ingredients, as the name suggests, are French fries and chopped sausage, often served in its basic version with frying and serving. However, over time, salchipapa has been accompanied by many more ingredients such as chicken, beef, corn, cheese, chorizo, and more.
Grilled food is also popular in Colombia because it is quick to prepare and preserves the flavor of these foods even better. People also serve it with other ingredients to offer a complete dish.
Choriperro, a popular Latin American dish, varies across countries like Argentina and Chile.
In Colombia, it mimics an American hot dog, featuring grilled chorizo on buns with customizable toppings like matchstick-cut potatoes and sauces.
Mazorca asada (Grilled Corn on the Cob)
The concept of this food is simple, as it involves grilling corn on the cob with butter and salt. In Colombia, less sweet corn is used for this dish, which is commonly sold at fairs and public places.
Hamburgers and Hot Dogs
Originally from the United States, these dishes have gained global popularity, including in Colombia. In Bogotá, numerous street vendors offer these foods. Although their preparation stays true to tradition, some restaurants incorporate local sauces and various meats.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that in street establishments, the meat quality may be lower, leading to affordable prices.
Chorizo is a pork sausage with varied preparations, recognized globally and adapted to different regions. In Colombia, it is called ‘Antioquian chorizo’ as it originates from the Antioquia department. Santa Rosa de Cabal, a municipality within the department, is renowned for producing the famous Santarrosano chorizo.
Seasoned with cumin and added with bacon, onion, and meat pulp, it can be accompanied by various other ingredients such as chili, cilantro, oregano, and sauces. It is commonly served with the Paisa arepa and lime.
Dough-Based and Bread Products
This type of food is more elaborate, but can be seen in the streets and some establishments, the most common in Colombia can be:
Arepas are a representative dish of Colombian gastronomy and come in many presentations with various ingredients. Their origin is currently debated, as they were present in many South American locations, mainly in Venezuela.
These are commonly eaten for breakfast, and there are many types of arepas such as filled, Paisa, egg arepa, and Boyacense, which are highly appreciated by the people.
Arepa rellena (Filled Arepa)
This arepa is made from corn and filled with ingredients such as chicken, meat, chorizo, vegetables, etc.
The Paisa arepa is a thin corn patty grilled on a barbecue. It is consumed with other ingredients such as cheese, chorizo, ham, among others, as its flavor is quite plain.
This arepa is native to the Boyacá department. Filled with cheese and cooked over wood, it is considered the sweetest of Colombian arepas and one of the most enjoyed in the country.
Arepa de huevo (Egg Arepa)
The egg arepa is a local dish in Colombia, especially typical of the Caribbean region. However, it can also be found in other regions of the country. This arepa comes with a whole egg inside, which cooks when the arepa is fried.
These arepas can be prepared in different ways, with the most common variations being the Paisa-style arepa, with scrambled eggs. The egg with arepa can be found in cafes and street stalls.
Envueltos, a popular Colombian dish with origins dating back to indigenous tribes like the Muisca, has adapted throughout the country.
Found in shops and cafes, vendors often travel on motorcycles or small vehicles offering envueltos.
Made from corn and cheese dough, cooked with raisins in water, and wrapped in bijao plant leaves, it is a customary breakfast or lunch option in Colombia, often enjoyed with coffee or hot chocolate.
Almojábanas, a popular Colombian bread, especially in the Andean region, derive their name from the Arabic ‘al-muyabbana,’ meaning “the one made with cheese.” These cheese-infused dough delights, comprising flour, butter, milk, and egg, are widely available in bakeries and cafes, and conveniently packaged in local stores.
Enjoyed for breakfast or as afternoon snacks, almojábanas pair perfectly with beverages, be it hot chocolate or cold oatmeal, often served alongside country-style cheese.
Pandebono, a renowned Colombian bread celebrated for its texture and flavor, hails from the Valle del Cauca region. Widely available in cafes and bakeries across the country, this beloved bread is crafted from cassava and corn starch, enriched with cheese and eggs, and baked to perfection.
Pandebonos can feature delightful fillings such as cheese or guava paste, making them a versatile treat. Enjoyed during breakfast or afternoon snacks, they are commonly paired with beverages like oatmeal or chocolate.
Fruits can also be found in various forms at street stalls, either in beverages or as whole fruits. Some of the common fruit preparations in Colombia include:
Mango biche is a popular street food throughout Colombia. It is a fruit found in many parts of Latin America, not exclusive to Colombia.
The mango is consumed while still unripe, chopped or grated, and served with ingredients like salt, pepper, lemon, and sometimes condensed milk or other sweet toppings. It is often enjoyed during afternoon snacks.
Salpicón and frutas
Salpicón de frutas is a typical Colombian beverage found in cafes, fruit shops, or street fruit salad stalls.
The preparation includes various fruits, some sweet and others more acidic, such as papaya, pineapple, melon, strawberry, banana, grapes, and others, depending on the location. These fruits are diced and mixed with a liquid, either artificial fruit drink (frutiño), or natural watermelon or orange juice, sometimes enhanced with Colombian soda.
Similar to salpicón, guanabanazo is a refreshing beverage found on the streets and in mobile stalls.
Its preparation involves a few ingredients: soursop (guanabana), an exotic fruit from the country, milk, and additional ingredients like Milo or condensed milk. The drink is consumed cold and sometimes with ice.
Cholado is a cocktail containing different fruits, well-known in Colombia and typical of the Valle del Cauca region, especially in Cali. They can be found in fruit shops and mobile stalls.
Ingredients include pineapple, lulo, banana, green apple, passion fruit, strawberry, mango, and shaved ice, sometimes accompanied by condensed milk. It is a very refreshing drink.
Desserts are also very popular as Colombians have a sweet tooth, and each region has its representative desserts. Some of these include:
Mazamorra, a thick corn drink from Colombia’s Paisa region, is not just famed for its taste but also for its unique mobile sales approach. Sold from tricycles or motorcycles with megaphones, it’s a common sight in cities like Medellín and Bogotá.
Made by cooking corn grains with milk, water, and cornstarch, Mazamorra can be enjoyed hot or cold. It’s a popular snack, often personalized with additions like cheese, guava candy, or powdered panela. In the coffee region, it’s a common post-“bandeja paisa” lunch dessert.
Arroz con leche (Rice Pudding)
Arroz con leche is a recognized dessert throughout Latin America, with different versions. Just like with some cafes, it is also sold on motorcycles or tricycles in the style of mazamorra.
Its main ingredients are, as the name suggests, rice and some type of milk, including whole milk, lactose-free milk, and powdered milk. Other ingredients or toppings such as grated cheese, cinnamon, grated coconut, raisins, powdered panela, etc., can also be added
Obleas are a very thin type of cookie made with wheat flour and water, usually eaten as a sandwich with other ingredients. They are very popular throughout Latin America, and their preparation varies depending on the country.
In Colombia, they are always accompanied by “arequipe” (a sweet, caramel-like spread) and grated cheese. However, other sweet toppings and ingredients such as blackberry jam and grated coconut can also be added.
The municipality of Floridablanca in Santander prepares a type of large wafers that are served with a generous amount of arequipe, cheese, blackberry jam, and other ingredients, making them popular in the country.
Recommendations for Eating Street Food
Sometimes, this type of food can raise concerns as it is found in places that may not meet basic requirements for preparation and sale. So, you should consider some factors if you are going to visit any of the street food stalls in Colombia.
- Hygiene: Make sure the establishment is in a clean place. Observe how the food is prepared and if the cooking utensils are handled properly. Also, observe if the vendor uses hygiene items such as gloves, hairnets, aprons, etc.
- Contamination: Check if the establishment is not located near main roads, where the food may be exposed to vehicle smoke and other substances. Make sure the food is preserved in a place that is not contaminated and suitable for consumption.
- Comfort: Often, these places on the street do not have comfortable furniture for consuming food. It is advisable that, when buying, you go to a stall where you can eat more comfortably, whether it’s in a park or near a public dining area.
Cities Where You Can Enjoy Street Food in Colombia
In some important cities in Colombia, there are specific places where this type of food is popular and frequented by both local residents and foreign tourists.
This city has a wide range of restaurants offering all kinds of food, including street food. Some areas to taste this food include:
- La Candelaria: This sector is located in the center of Bogotá. It is famous because it is the historic center of the city, making it an important tourist site. There is a wide variety of street food available, such as burgers, hot dogs, arepas, empanadas, etc.
- Carrera Séptima: Along Carrera Séptima, many restaurants offer street food alternatives, as it is one of the most important roads in Bogotá. Likewise, you can find multiple stalls selling affordable street food like burgers and hot dogs. One of the bustling places is Parque Nacional.
- Plaza de Paloquemao: Paloquemao Market is one of the most recognized places for buying food in the city. There, you can find not only exotic and common local fruits but also fast-food establishments selling empanadas, arepas, sausages, among others.
Medellín is not only one of the most important cities in Colombia but also a major tourist destination. Therefore, it is famous not only for its neighborhoods and tourist routes but also for its great gastronomic offer. Some places to try typical street food are:
- Plaza Botero: Located in the city center, this square is famous for its sculptures by Fernando Botero and also for street food. You can find empanadas, arepas, sausages, and more.
- Parque Lleras: In the heart of El Poblado, Parque Lleras is a popular place to go out at night, but there are also various street food stalls offering arepas, “patacones” (fried green plantains), and other snacks.
- Mercado de la Playa: This market is known for its fresh fish and seafood, but you can also find delights like ceviche, corn arepas, and empanadas.
- La Minorista: This is one of the largest markets in Medellín and an excellent place to try regional dishes and street foods such as empanadas, arepas, “buñuelos” (fried dough balls), and local snacks.
- Parque Berrio: Near the Parque Berrio metro station, you’ll find street vendors offering a variety of typical Colombian foods, such as stuffed arepas and wafers.
The city of Cali, also known as the “branch of heaven,” is the birthplace of many recognized foods in the country and also offers various cultural activities to its visitors. Some places to enjoy fast food in Cali are:
- Mercado Alameda: This market is a popular place to try local food. You can find a variety of dishes such as “pandebonos” (cheese bread), empanadas, arepas, tamales, “cholados” (shaved ice with fruit), and much more.
- Carrera Quinta: Carrera Quinta is one of the main streets in Cali and is often filled with street vendors offering delicious snacks such as “salchipapas” (french fries with sausage), churros, natural juices, and arepas.
- Plaza de Caycedo: In the city center, Plaza de Caycedo is a popular place to enjoy street food. Here, you can find stalls selling empanadas, stuffed arepas, wafers, and other snacks.
- Calle de la Gula: This street is located in the Ciudad Jardín neighborhood and is known for its gastronomic offerings, including street food such as cheese arepas, sausages, and “buñuelos.”
More about Colombian Culture and Events
- Colombia’s 45 Best & Biggest Festivals in Detail
- Complete Colombian Slang Guide: Essential Words for Your Trip to Colombia
- The 7 Most Terrifying Legends of Colombia
- How Holy Week is Celebrated in Colombia: Unmissable Traditions and Places
More guides about the culture of Colombia
- 31 Colombian Dishes and Food From All Regions You Should Try
- Colombia’s Most Popular Street Foods
- Discover 36 Traditional Breakfasts of Colombia
- The 30 Best Desserts in Colombia by Region
- 22 Colombian Fruits and Their Culinary Applications in Local Cuisine
- 16 Traditional Colombian Soups You Must Try
- Colombian Drinks: 16 Refreshing and Delicious Beverages to Try
- Colombia’s Crave-Worthy Snacks: 35 Bites You Can’t Miss