Before travelling to Colombia, we did plenty of research on the best Latin American foods. We looked up what and where to eat in each country throughout South America. And oddly enough, in most of the articles we read, Colombia got the shaft. “Not well seasoned,” some articles sneered, “there’s just not really a Colombian cuisine identity,” huffed others. Well, let me assure you: they’re all wrong. Colombian food is delicious and well seasoned, especially typico Colombian cuisine. While travelling through Colombia for a month, we got to sample some incredible soups, street food, fruit, and meat. Here are our recommendations for what to eat in Colombia!
The Best Soup in Colombia
Soup is first on our list of what to eat in Colombia. Surprising? It shouldn’t be! Sopa is a classic traditional/typico Colombian food, and it’s the BEST Colombian food in our opinion. Seriously, the soup in Colombia is bomb. From the fish soups on the Caribbean coast of Cartagena to the heartier fare high up in the frigid mountains of Bogota, each region has its own specialty. Soup was always the best typico Colombian fare that we had!
Ajiaco / Chicken, Corn and Potato Stew
Ajiaco is native to Bogota, and it is warm and hearty to compliment the chilly mountainous city. It is made with 3 kinds of potatoes, one of which can only be found in this area. The rich flavor of this soup comes from guasca, a Colombian herb, and from the giant capers which are cooked into the soup and sprinkled on top along with a generous dollop of crema. You will also find giant hunks of corn on the cob and chicken in your soup. Ajiaco is best when you add aji picante, avocado, lemon, and extra capers!
- Region: Bogota
- Our Favorite: The best ajiaco I had was at a hole in the wall place near Bogota’s Museo de Oro called Coma Parilla. Also, the self proclaimed Mejor Ajiaco del Mundo in the Candelaria neighborhood was fantastic.
Sancocho de Pescado con Coco / Fish and Coconut Stew
There are many variations of fish soup in the Cartagena area. Most of them are coconut milk based, which makes the soup creamy and thick, much like a chowder. Fish and coconut are perfect tropical complementary flavors. You’ll find these soups served with coconut rice, avocado, and crispy plaintain as well as tiny green lemons that taste almost coconutty themselves.
- Region: Cartagena, the coast
- Our Favorite: The best versions I had were at La Casa de Socorro and Cocina de Pepina
Read more about the best food in Cartagena in our spotlight post: What & Where to Eat in Cartagena!
Sancocho / Chicken Soup
Sancocho is widely served throughout Colombia. It consists of a clear, flavorful broth, in which giant chunks of yuca and plaintain are boiled along with hunks of corn on the cob and huge pieces of chicken – usually an entire leg quarter will be served in each bowl! Best when served with salsa de hierbas, which could be any kind of herb sauce that is sort of a cross between spicy salsa and chimichurri – every restaurant will differ. Also comes with rice and avocado. I like to add lemon as well.
- Region: Served everywhere, especially south of the coast
- Our Favorite: The best Sancocho I had was in a random stop our bus made somewhere between Medellin and Salento. Any hole in the wall typico Colombian stop will have good sancocho.
The Best Street Food in Colombia
One thing we’ve learned in our travels: always trust street food vendors. It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s delicious. Colombia is no different: street food is definitely a must on our list of what to eat in Colombia! Here are our favorite Colombian street foods.
Chuzos de Res o Chuzos de Pollo / Beef Skewers or Chicken Skewers
Oh meat on a stick. The things you’ve given us…the ability to eat and talk with our hands simultaneously, messy shirts at carnivals, backyard barbecue eye poking accidents. Most cultures have some form of it, and Colombia is no exception. The reason it gets a mention here is the price. For 2.000 COP (like 70 cents), you can get a delicious smoky meat skewer with a tiny fingerling potato on top. As an added bonus, you can typically purchase grilled, buttered sweet corn cobs for cheap too.
- Region: Bogotá, anywhere inland
- Our Favorite: Parque Nacional in Bogotá
Mango Biche con sal y limon / Unripe Green Mango with Salt and Lemon
I love mango. I can eat mango spears all day. I’ve always like them more than Mango Aguillera. I’ve made that joke before, admittedly. Guess I should say “Oops I did it again.” Anyway, in Colombia one of the most delicious street foods you can get is actually unripe mango. They squeeze lemon juice on it and sprinkle on some salt (pepper too if you ask for it). This snack is the perfect mix of sweet, savory, and sour. Ripe mangoes have a tremendous amount of sweetness, but these guys are only slightly sweet.
- Region: Possible to find them all over, but they’re most common in the northern coast
- Our favorite: Cartagena
There are some things America really screws up: healthcare, treatment of minorities and women, gun control, and ceviche. Before our fateful dance with Colombian ceviche, Lia was convinced ceviche was rubbery shrimp with some sort of weird cold tomato soup and hella veggies. Moments after having the delicious unripe mango in Bocagrande, a man wheeled a cart passed us selling ceviche. I took him up on it. It was the best shrimp we’ve ever had.
- Region: Cartagena, anywhere on the coast
- Our Favorite: Bocagrande, Getsemani, or the Walled City, Cartagena
This sweet treat is sold all over Bogota, Colombia. It consists of two wafer cookies (like a stroopwafel, if you’re being European) and a choice of fillings: caramel, blackberry jam, chocolate, nuts, shredded coconut. We built one with arequipa, – incredibly sweet Colombian caramel – nuts, and shredded coconut. Delicious!
- Region: Bogotá
- Our Favorite: A the street cart with the Rolling Stones logo on it, in Bogotá. That’s the one.
Arepas are basically cornmeal pancakes. You will have them with pretty much every meal. Sometimes the included arepas are totally plain, which is tasteless and a disservice to superior arepas (and the country of Colombia, IMO). However, the street arepas are really good. Often the ones on the street are stuffed with cheese. I’ve seen others that had fried eggs, meat, chocolate, or veggies. In San Gil we had one with ham, cheese, mayonnaise, and a hard boiled quail egg. It doesn’t get much more Colombian than arepas!
- Region: All over
- Our Favorite: Arepa con Queso in Centro Historico, Cartagena
The Best Meat in Colombia
Wander through any Colombian village and you’ll see cows, goats, sheep, and chickens happily grazing and roaming free. Without having to ask for it, the meat in Colombia is all locally sourced, farm fresh, and pasture raised. AKA, they lived a happy life, so you can feel less guilty about eating them. And you can taste the difference in quality! Colombian meats are cooked differently in different regions. Here are our favorite Colombian meat dishes.
Cabro or Cabrito Santandereano / Goat or Baby Goat, Santander Style
I’m not a goat person. When I see goat on the menu, it’s always the last thing I want to order. But trust me – you want to try the goat in the Santander region of Colombia! It’s marinated until tender and flavorful and grilled until smoky. Typically served with pepitoria, a delicious rice dish made with the juices and other parts of the cabrito that were cooked along with the entree portion. This meal, pictured above, was hands down the best food we had in Colombia.
- Region: Santander, San Gil, Barichara
- Our Favorite: El Compa in Barichara, which was also one of the best typico places we went in Colombia!
Carne Oreada / Sun-Dried Steak
This delicious thin marinated steak has incredible flavor and a chewy consistency that is not unlike beef jerky. The more you chew the meat, the more flavor is released! Unlike any steak I have ever had, this Santandereano classic food is usually served with fresh boiled yucca
- Region: Santander, San Gil, Barichara
- Our Favorite: El Compa in Barichara yet again. We ordered a giant mixed platter for 25.000 COP ($8.50 USD) which included cabro, pepitoria, and carne oreada.
Posta Negra Cartagenera / Cartagena Black Beef
A classic Cartagena dish: tri-tip is marinated and slow cooked in a sauce that reminded us of a dark, syrupy, spicy mole – but there is no chocolate in this dish. One recipe said to use Coca-Cola. Another said orange juice. What we ate had just a hint of sweetness, perfectly balanced with acid, spice, and a deep, rich robustness. This is a must-try while visiting Cartagena.
- Region: Cartagena de las Indias
- Our Favorite: Cocina de Pepina
The Best Fruit in Colombia
Colombian food is probably most famous for the incredible variety of exotic native fruits. There are so many unique fruit species that grow native here, many which can’t be found anywhere else in the world! Although we developed a taste for our favorites, you should try EVERY exotic fruit you encounter in Colombia! You can go to any local market and ask for una muestra, a sample. Before you know it you’ll be bringing home guanabana, pitahaya, and lulo for dessert!
Mark Twain once said “Cherimoya is deliciousness itself.” And no, I didn’t just make that up. I had been looking forward to trying this fruit the whole trip and it did not disappoint. There are several varieties. The one we had most of was antemoya. It looks like a shriveled up artichoke. Opening it up doesn’t help either: it looks like alien brains on the inside. But this fruit is worth powering through. Some people say it tastes like banana mixed with pear. I’ve also heard pineapple mixed with papaya. But most intriguing is some say it tastes like straight up bubble gum. I’d have to say it tastes like bubble gum and honeysuckle. The texture is like a custard with seeds. It turns out you can get them in California for a big price, but get some down here for laughably cheap.
- Region: We had the most luck finding them inland
- Our favorite: The produce market in San Gil was selling them for 2,000 COP a pound.
Granadilla / Sweet Passion Fruit
We love passion fruit, but we had no idea there was a sweeter variety until we came here. The inside looks a lot like passion fruit, but the jelly around the seeds is a pale yellow. Granadillas can be ripped open with your hands to have the seeds sucked out. Instead of the mouth pain you get from the sour maracuya/passion fruit, granadillas are very sweet with a slight tartness from the crunchy, chewable seeds.
- Region: Everywhere
- Our favorite: All of them
Cousin to the lychee, these little guys look like limes, but grow like grapes. They’re a labor intensive fruit that are actually fun to eat. Break the very thin skin with your teeth and a fuzzy little citrussy fruit pops in your mouth. The tough thing about this fruit is the pit is so large, and the fruit surrounding it doesn’t come off easily. You basically have to suck on the pit to get the fruit, then you spit it out when you’ve gotten it all. It will leave your hands sticky, but it’s worth it. Wink wink.
- Region: More common in the coast
- Our Favorite: Get a bag in the old Walled City, Cartagena for cheap! Bring a napkin.
Have you been to Colombia? What was your favorite food? Leave us a comment and let us know!
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