Updated on 02/16/2024
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!,
Colombian gastronomy is one of the many reasons why Colombia is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in South America. Among its many options, there is a growing availability of vegetarian or vegan dishes. Therefore, today I will tell you about how and where you can find them.
Historical Context of Colombian Cuisine
Colombian cuisine is a vibrant mosaic of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences that have merged throughout history. Its roots trace back to pre-Columbian cultures that cultivated corn, yuca, and potatoes. With the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, ingredients like rice, wheat, and beef were introduced.
African influence is reflected in the diversity of dishes with ingredients such as plantains, coconut, and seafood.
Some iconic Colombian dishes are:
- Bagre en salsa
- Bandeja paisa
- Chuleta valluna
These typical dishes are a fascinating blend of flavors and textures that allow you to taste Colombian history and its local ingredients. But what do they have in common? They all contain animal-derived ingredients.
However, as vegetarian and vegan alternatives have gained ground in Colombia over the years, many restaurants have created variations of these typical dishes with plant-based and grain ingredients.
Exploring the Popularity of Vegetarian and Vegan Cuisine in Colombia
Vegetarian and vegan dishes have gained popularity in Colombia due to a combination of factors, from health reasons to environmental and ethical concerns.
The good news is that more and more adaptations of typical Colombian dishes made from plants are available. In many cases, animal-derived ingredients are replaced with:
- Plant-based protein (textured soy)
- Plant-based milks and cheeses
For example, to adapt a typical dish like ajiaco, it’s as easy as not adding chicken but making a flavorful vegetable broth for the base. Similarly, in the case of tamale, chicken is omitted, and more boiled eggs are added. This way, this traditional dish becomes vegetarian.
It’s also common to replace shredded meat (a shredded cut with sauce) with sautéed mushrooms or mushrooms with balsamic vinegar and soy. Its taste is very similar to meat, and due to its texture, it is very versatile.
Regarding desserts and pastries, animal-derived ingredients are replaced with vegetables. For example, instead of using butter, margarine (vegetable fat) is used. Likewise, ice cream is prepared with fruit juice or plant milk. And in vegan pastry, egg is often replaced with aquafaba (chickpea water), chia seeds, chickpea flour, corn flour, among others.
In summary, you can find typical dishes like ajiaco, tamale, and arepas, as well as desserts such as ice cream, cookies, and bread in their vegetarian and vegan versions.
So, you probably have the question of where you can find vegetarian or vegan food in Colombia? Below, I will tell you about the Colombian cities where you will find this type of cuisine.
Where to Find Vegetarian and Vegan Food in the Regions of Colombia
Colombia is divided into six geographical regions, each of which has a main city serving as the economic, political, and cultural center of that region. It is also the perfect place to discover and taste local cuisine, including its vegetarian or vegan versions.
In the Andean region, potatoes are a fundamental ingredient used in various preparations, such as Bogotá’s ajiaco. Similarly, corn, stems, and arracacha are used in its dishes, and the many variants of arepas are present throughout this region.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in Bogotá
Bogotá has a wide range of restaurants offering all kinds of national and international cuisine. So, throughout the city, you will find various vegetarian and vegan dishes, such as vegan ajiaco, vegan tamales, chocolate with vegetable cheese, and burritos with vegetable cheese.
- La Candelaria: This area is located in the center of Bogotá. It is famous for being the historic center of the city and an important tourist site. So, there are numerous restaurants with gastronomic alternatives.
- Plaza de Paloquemao: Paloquemao market is one of the most recognized places to buy food in the entire city. There are also establishments offering typical dishes, and you can order their vegetarian or vegan variants.
- Carrera Séptima: Along Seventh Avenue, you can find many restaurants that offer alternatives to typical dishes.
- Zona T y Zona Rosa: These are areas known for being an important entertainment and shopping center. In this area, you will find a large number of restaurants and bars that offer plant-based dishes. Usually, restaurants in this area offer signature cuisine, quite unique proposals to step out of the comfort zone.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in Medellín
Medellín is a city famous not only for its tourist attractions but also for its vast and varied gastronomic offerings that incorporate ingredients like white corn and beans. For example, arepas, sweet corn soup called mazamorra, and the delicious bandeja paisa. It’s an enormous dish featuring beans, rice, ground beef, fried sweet plantains, arepa, chicharrón, blood sausage, and chorizo.
Apart from these typical dishes, you’ll find vegan and vegetarian options for main courses, beverages, and desserts. For example, corn arepas, vegan bandeja paisa, and fruit salad.
- Plaza Botero: A square located in the city center known for having sculptures by Fernando Botero. Many places here sell various dishes, desserts, and drinks.
- La Minorista: One of the most frequented markets in Medellín, where you can taste countless typical dishes and their vegan or vegetarian versions.
- Plaza Lleras: Located in the El Poblado area, an ideal place to enjoy delicious and varied typical dishes without meat or animal products.
Caribbean cuisine is celebrated for its use of fresh fish and seafood. Additionally, coconut is a star ingredient. Coconut rice and fried plantains are common in the region. Another typical dish is fish sancocho, a soup that reflects African influence in the region.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in Barranquilla
As a highly touristic city on the Colombian coast, Barranquilla offers a wide gastronomic variety of dishes, beverages, and desserts, including egg arepas, coconut rice, cocadas, and patacones.
- Barranquilla Market Square: Here, you can buy typical foods and ingredients. There are also establishments offering typical dishes, and you can order their vegetarian or vegan variants.
- El Gran Malecón: The Malecón along the Magdalena River offers a series of restaurants and bars with beautiful river views. It’s a popular place to enjoy Caribbean dishes and their plant-based versions.
- Barrio El Prado: This neighborhood has a wide selection of restaurants, from high-end establishments to more casual options.
- Vía 40:This avenue along the Magdalena River is known for its restaurants and bars with water views. It’s a popular place to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as Caribbean food.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in Santa Marta
Santa Marta’s cuisine is a fusion of indigenous, African, and European influences. Due to its geographical location near the sea, you’ll find a variety of dishes with fish and seafood. However, it’s possible to find vegan or vegetarian dishes, such as coconut rice, patacones, cocadas, and water ice creams. Alternatively, you can order typical dishes and omit the ingredients you don’t consume.
- Parque de los Novios: This place has many restaurants and bars, offering options for all tastes, from local food to international dishes.
- San Juan Market: Ideal for trying local food and typical regional dishes with very fresh ingredients.
- El Rodadero: A coastal area on the outskirts of Santa Marta with numerous restaurants and food stalls offering Caribbean dishes. It’s a very famous place to enjoy food by the sea.
In this region, hunting and fishing are common practices. Therefore, dishes often include meat from animals like chigüiro. Another traditional dish is mamona meat (from a very young lactating cow), usually accompanied by potatoes and yuca.
Vegan or Vegetarian Food in Arauca
Although it is a relatively small city, there are some gastronomic areas and restaurants in Arauca where visitors and locals can enjoy their delicious cuisine, desserts, and drinks. For example, corn arepas, vegan sancocho, and patacones.
- El Malecón de Arauca: The Malecón is an area along the Arauca River where several restaurants offer regional dishes. You can find options without meat.
- Calle 20 de Julio: This central street houses various restaurants and food stalls where you can try typical regional dishes like empanadas and arepas.
- Plaza Bolívar: Plaza Bolívar (Bolívar Square) often features local food stalls selling traditional dishes with their vegetarian and vegan versions. You’ll also find regional snacks.
Vegan or Vegetarian Food in Villavicencio
Gastronomy in Villavicencio stands out for its tradition in meat-based dishes, especially beef, reflecting the influence of llanera culture. However, there are some dishes, desserts, and drinks that are vegetarian or vegan, such as corn arepas, vegan sancocho, and boiled yuca.
In the islands of the Insular region, the food has Caribbean and African influences. Therefore, a fish stew with coconut and plantain is a famous local delight. Fried fish is another iconic dish.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in San Andrés
San Andrés is a Colombian island in the Caribbean Sea known for its natural beauty, white sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters. The gastronomic offering in San Andrés focuses on Caribbean dishes, such as pineapple colada, coconut rice, fried breadfruit, cocadas, and water ice creams.
- San Andrés Downtown: The downtown area of San Andrés, locally known as North End, is an ideal place to enjoy a variety of restaurants offering plant-based dishes from Caribbean and international cuisine.
- Market Square: San Andrés Public Market is an interesting place to try local food. Here you can find traditional dishes, tropical fruits, and other Caribbean delights.
- Cays: In addition to the main island, San Andrés includes several cays, such as Johnny Cay, where you’ll find small beach restaurants serving fresh dishes and typical drinks.
In the Pacific region, fish and rice are cooked with coconut and aromatic herbs to create dishes such as encocado, fish or shrimp stew in coconut sauce. Fish with rice is another typical meal, and fish-filled empanadas are popular.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in Cali
- San Antonio Neighborhood: Famous for its gastronomic offerings of dishes, beverages, and desserts, San Antonio offers a wide range of restaurants serving everything from local typical dishes like vegan sancocho, champús, and vegetarian empanadas to international options. It’s an ideal place for a dinner in a picturesque setting.
- El Peñón: Near the iconic Cerro de los Cristales, you’ll find restaurants offering dishes with fresh ingredients and a panoramic view of the city.
- Cayzedo Square: The heart of Cali’s historic downtown, where you can find food stalls and local restaurants serving traditional dishes like empanadas.
- Juanchito Neighborhood: Known for being a salsa music epicenter, this neighborhood also offers a variety of restaurants serving typical dishes like “aborrajado” (plantain filled with cheese) and more.
- Calle de la Gula: Located in the Ciudad Jardín neighborhood, this street is known for its diverse gastronomy.
- Mercado Alameda: A famous market to try local food, drinks, and desserts, where you can also find vegetarian and vegan alternatives.
Vegan or Vegetarian Food in Buenaventura
Gastronomy in Buenaventura, Colombia, is a fusion of indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and coastal influences, giving it a unique and distinctive flavor. Due to its location on the Pacific coast, Buenaventura’s food is characterized by its abundance of fish. However, you can also find vegan or vegetarian dishes such as coconut rice, patacones, vegan sancocho, and pipián tamales.
In the Colombian Amazon, typical food incorporates the flavors of exotic fruits such as copoazú, açai, camu camu, and star fruit.
Vegetarian or Vegan Food in Leticia
In Leticia, there are various areas where you can find vegan and vegetarian options for dishes, beverages, and desserts, such as vegetable soup, bowls, and cassava casabe.
- Leticia Market Square: Often an outdoor place where farmers, fishermen, and other local producers sell their food products and fresh produce directly to the public.
- Leticia Main Park: In Santander Park and its surrounding streets, you’ll find different restaurants and hotels that will prepare delicious meatless dishes.
- Malecón: Along the Malecón, on the banks of the Amazon River, you can also find places to eat with scenic views.
Tips for Finding Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Colombia
Finding vegan and vegetarian food in Colombia can be an interesting experience, as options have been increasing in recent years due to growing interest and the country’s variety of fruits and vegetables. Here are some tips to find it:
Research Online: Use restaurant review apps and websites to look for places with vegetarian or vegan options in the cities you plan to visit. For example, Happy Cow is a website and app that helps you find restaurants focused on this type of food, including reviews of dishes and menus.
Order Adapted Local Dishes: In traditional restaurants, there might not be a dish explicitly “designed for vegetarians or vegans.” However, you can order locally adapted dishes to be vegetarian or vegan. For example, you can replace meat with plant-based proteins like legumes or order the dish without animal products you don’t want to consume.
Explore Local Markets and Fairs: Markets and marketplaces usually offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, and fresh local products that are vegetarian and vegan. You can also find stalls serving vegetarian food like corn arepas or fresh fruits.
Learn Some Spanish Terms: If you don’t speak Spanish, learning some useful terms can facilitate communication in restaurants. For example, “vegano,” “vegetariano,” “sin carne,” “sin leche.” Also, specify that when you say “no meat,” it includes chicken, pork, and fish, as Colombians typically refer to “carne” as beef.
Shop at Vegetarian or Vegan Supermarkets: These supermarkets provide a variety of vegan and vegetarian foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and plant-based products. This can be useful if you’re cooking for yourself or need snacks during your trip. These supermarkets exist in major Colombian cities.
Research, Read, or Ask About Ingredients: Typically, Colombian traditional dishes contain meat or animal-derived products. When ordering food, especially desserts and processed dishes, inquire about the ingredients to ensure they don’t contain meat, eggs, milk, or animal-derived components.
Check Packaged Product Ingredients: Many foods, even if they are vegetarian or vegan, are processed in factories where animal products are processed. Therefore, they may contain traces. Additionally, some ingredients may be confusing in terms of their animal or plant origin. For example:
- Glycerin: Usually extracted from coconuts or soybeans but can sometimes be of animal origin.
- Collagen: A common component in skincare products and supplements, often derived from animal tissues like skin and bones.
- Carmine: A red dye obtained from cochineal insects. It is of animal origin, although its use has decreased.