Eating and drinking

Like many Latin American countries, cuisine is not one of Colombia's main draws. But the food is better than in most countries and there are some delicious regional specialities, which you will surely wish to try. Colombia's food used to vary greatly from one area to the next. Now, however you will find regional food available in all the major cities, though local variations do creep in.

Some of the standard items on the menu are:
sancocho
, a meat stock (may be fish on the coast) with potato, corn (on the cob), yucca, sweet potato and plantain.
Arroz con pollo
(chicken and rice), one of the standard Latin American dishes, is excellent in Colombia.
Carne asada
(grilled beefsteak), usually an inexpensive cut, is served with
papas fritas
(chips) or rice and you can ask for a vegetable of the day.
Sobrebarriga
(belly of beef) is served with varieties of potato in a tomato and onion sauce.
Huevos pericos
,
eggs scrambled with onions and tomatoes, are a popular, cheap and nourishing snack available almost anywhere, especially favoured for breakfast.
Tamales
are meat pies made by folding a maize dough round chopped pork mixed with potato, rice, peas, onions and eggs wrapped in banana leaves (which you don't eat) and steamed. Other ingredients may be added such as olives garlic, cloves and paprika. Colombians eat
tamales
for breakfast with hot chocolate.
Empanadas
are another popular snack; these are made with chicken or various other meats, or vegetarian filling, inside a maize dough and cooked in a light oil.
Patacones
are cakes of mashed and baked
platano
(large green banana).
Arepas
are standard throughout Colombia; these are flat maize griddle cakes often served instead of bread or as an alternative.
Pan de bono
is cheese flavoured bread.
Almojábanas
, a kind of sour milk/cheese bread roll, great for breakfast when freshly made.
Buñuelos
are 4-6 cm balls of wheat flour and eggs mixed and deep-fried, also best when still warm.
Arequipe
is a sugar-based brown syrup used with desserts and in confectionary, universally savoured by Colombians.
Brevas
(figs) with
arequipe
are one of the most popular items to take home with you.

Bogotá and Cundinamarca

Ajiaco de pollo
(or
ajiaco santafereño
) is a delicious chicken stew with maize, manioc (yuca), three types of potato, herbs (including
guascas
) and sometimes other vegetables, served with cream and capers, and pieces of avocado. It is a Bogotá speciality.
Chunchullo
(tripe), and
morcilla
(blood sausage) are popular dishes.
Cuajada con melado
is a dessert of fresh cheese served with cane syrup, or
natas
(based on the skin of boiled milk).


Boyacá

Mazamorra
is a meat and vegetable soup with broad and black beans, peas, varieties of potato and cornflour.
Care
(or
mazamorro
in Antioquia and elsewhere) is a milk and maize drink, which, to confuse matters further is known as
peto
in Cundinamarca.
Pucherois
a stew based on chicken with potatoes, yuca, cabbage, turnips, corn (on the cob) and herbs.
Cuchuco
, another soup with pork and sweet potato.
Masato
is a slightly fermented rice beverage.
Longaniza
(long pork sausage) is also very popular.


Santander and Norte de Santander

Mute
is a traditional soup of various cereals including corn. Goat, often served with
pepitoria
(its innards) and pigeon appear in several local dishes.
Hormigas culonas
(large-bottomed black ants) is the most famous culinary delight of this area, served toasted, and particularly popular in Bucaramanga at Easter time. Locals claim they have aphrodisiacal powers.
Bocadillo veleño
is similar to quince jelly but made from guava. It takes its name from Vélez, but can be found elsewhere in Colombia.
Rampuchada
is a north Santander stew based of the fish of the Zulia river which flows into Venezuela.
Hallacas
are cornmeal turnovers with different meats and whatever else is to hand inside, typical of neighbouring Venezuela, like an oversized
tamal
. Dishes featuring chickpeas and goat's milk are popular in this part of Colombia.
Carne oreada
is salted dried meat marinated in a
panela
and pineapple sauce and has the consistency of beef jerky.


Cartagena and the north coast

Fish is naturally a speciality the coastal regions. In
Arroz con coco
, rice here is often prepared with coconut.
Cazuela de mariscos
, a soup/stew of shellfish and white fish, maybe including octopus and squid, is especially good.
Sancocho de pescado
is a fish stew with vegetables, usually simpler and cheaper than
cazuela. Chipichipi
, a small clam found along the coast in Barranquilla and Santa Marta, is a standard local dish served with rice.
Empanada
(or
arepa
)
de huevo
, which is deep fried with eggs in the middle and is a good light meal.
Canasta de coco
is a good local sweet: pastry containing coconut custard flavoured with wine and surmounted by meringue.


Tolima

Lechona
, suckling pig with herbs is a speciality of Ibagué.
Viudo de pescado
is a dish based on small shellfish from the Opía (a local) river.
Achira
is a kind of hot biscuit.


Antioquia

Bandeja paisa
consists of various types of gut-busting grilled meats,
chorizo
(sausage),
chicharrón
(pork crackling), sometimes an egg, served with rice, beans, potato, manioc and a green salad; this has now been adopted in other parts of the country.
Natilla
, a sponge cake made from cornflour and
salpicón
, a tropical fruit salad.


Cali and south Colombia

In contrast to most of Colombia, menus tend not to include potato (in its many forms). Instead, emphasis is on corn, plantain, rice and avocado with the usual pork and chicken dishes.
Manjar blanco
, made from milk and sugar or molasses, served with biscuit is a favourite dessert.
Cuy
,
curí
or
conejillo de Indias
(guinea pig), is typical of the southern department of Nariño.
Mazorcas
(baked corn-on-the-cob) are typical of roadside stalls in southern Colombia.


Eating out

In the main cities (Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín and Cali) you will find a limitless choice of menu and price. The other departmental capitals have a good range of specialist restaurants and all the usual fast food outlets. Only in the smaller towns and villages, not catering for tourists, will you find a modest selection of places to eat. Watch out for times of opening in the evenings, some city areas may tend to close around 1800 (eg La Candelaria in Bogotá), and times may be different at weekends. On Sundays it can be particularly difficult to eat in a restaurant and even hotel restaurants may be closed.

The basic Colombian meal of the day is at lunchtime, the
almuerzo
or
comida corriente
, with soup, main course and fruit juice or
gaseosa
(soft drink). If you are economizing, ask for the
plato del día
,
bandeja
or
plato corriente
(just the main dish). This can be found everywhere, many restaurants will display the menu and cost in the window.

The cheapest food available is in markets (when they are functioning) and from street stalls in most downtown areas and transport terminals. The problem is whether it is safe and also if it will agree with you. The general rules apply: keep away from uncooked food and salads, and eat fruit you have peeled yourself. Watch what the locals are eating as a guide to the best choice. Wash it down with something out of a sealed bottle. Having said that, take it easy with dishes that are unfamiliar especially if you have arrived from a different climate or altitude. On the other hand, you may find that fresh fruit drinks, wherever prepared, are irresistible in which case you will have to take your chance!

Restaurants are more difficult to evaluate than hotels because, as everywhere, they come, change and go. We try to give you a tested choice at all available price levels. Food is generally good, occasionally very good. Note that more expensive restaurants may add a discretionary 16% IVA tax to the bill.

Most of the bigger cities have specific vegetarian restaurants and you will find them listed in the text. The
Govinda
chain is widely represented. Be warned that they are normally open only for lunch. In towns and villages you will have to ask for special food to be prepared.


Drink

Colombian coffee is always mild.
Tinto
, the national small cup of black coffee, is taken at all hours. If you want it strong, ask for
café cargado
; a
tinto doble
is a large cup of black coffee. Coffee with milk is called
café perico
;
café con leche
is a mug of milk with coffee added. If you want a coffee with less milk, order
tinto y leche aparte
and they will bring the milk separately.

Tea is popular but herbal rather than Indian or Chinese: ask for (
bebida
)
aromática
, flavours include
limonaria
,
orquídea
and
manzanilla
. If you want Indian tea,
té Lipton en agua
should do the trick.
Té de menta
(mint tea) is another of many varieties available but you may have to go to an upmarket café or
casa de té
, which can be found in all of the bigger cities. Chocolate is also drunk:
chocolate Santafereño
is often taken during the afternoon in Bogotá with snacks and cheese.
Agua de panela
(hot water with unrefined sugar) is a common beverage, also made with limes, milk, or cheese.

Soft bottled drinks are universal and standard, commonly called
gaseosas
. If you want non-carbonated, ask for
sin gas
. Again you will find that many of the special fruits are used for bottled drinks. Water comes in bottles, cartons and small plastic packets: all safer than out of the tap.

Many acceptable brands of beer are produced, until recently almost all produced by the Bavaria group. Each region has a preference for different brands. The most popular are
Aguila
,
Club Colombia
,
Costeño
and
Poker
.
Club Colombia
won the prestigious Monde Selection 'Grand Gold Medal with Palm Leaves' in 2008, marking it out as one of the best beers in the world. The
Bogota Beer Company
has its own small brewery in Chapinero and has several bars around the city serving delicious draught beer modelled on British and German ales.

A traditional drink in Colombia is
chicha
. It is corn-based but sugar and/or
panela
are added and it is boiled. It is served as a non-alcoholic beverage, but if allowed to ferment over several days, and especially if kept in the fridge for a while, it becomes very potent.

The local rum is good and cheap; ask for
ron
, not
aguardiente
. One of the best rums is
Ron Viejo de Caldas
, another (dark) is
Ron Medellín
. Try
canelazo
cold or hot rum with water, sugar, lime and cinnamon. As common as rum is
aguardiente
(literally 'fire water'), a white spirit distilled from sugar cane. There are two types, with
anis
(aniseed) or without. Local table wines include
Isabella
; none is very good. Wine is very expensive, as much as US$15 in restaurants for an acceptable bottle of Chilean or Argentine wine, more for European and other wines.

Colombia has an exceptional range and quality of fruit - another aspect of the diversity of altitude and climate. Fruits familiar in northern and Mediterranean climates are here, though with some differences, including:
manzanas
(apples);
bananos
(bananas);
uvas
(grapes);
limones
(limes; lemons, the larger yellow variety, are rarely seen);
mangos
(mangoes);
melones
(melons);
naranjas
(orange; usually green or yellow in Colombia);
duraznos
(peaches); and
peras
(pears).

Then there are the local fruits:
chirimoyas
(a green fruit, white inside with pips);
curuba
(banana passion fruit);
feijoa
(a green fruit with white flesh, high in vitamin C);
guayaba
(guava);
guanábana
(soursop);
lulo
(a small orange fruit);
maracuyá
(passion fruit);
mora
(literally 'black berry' but dark red more like a loganberry);
papaya
; the delicious
pitahaya
(taken either as an appetizer or dessert);
sandía
(watermelon);
tomate de árbol
(tree tomato, several varieties normally used as a fruit); and many more.

All of these fruits can be served as juices, either with milk (hopefully fresh) or water (hopefully bottled or sterilized). Most hotels and restaurants are careful about this and you can watch the drinks being prepared on street stalls. You will be surprised how delicious these drinks are and the adventurous can experiment to find their favourite. Fruit yoghurts are nourishing and cheap;
Alpina
brand is good;
crema
style is best. Also,
Kumis
is a type of liquid yoghurt. Another drink you must try is
champús
, a corn base, with fruit and lemon.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Colombia Handbook

From its vibrant and lively cities to snow-capped volcanoes and white-sand beaches, Colombia offers...

South American Handbook 2016

South America is epic. Home to the world's highest waterfall, the longest mountain range and the...

Cartagena & Caribbean Colombia

Bursting with colour, history and fine colonial architecture, Cartagena is the emerald in...
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!
Read more...