Colombians are blessed with a fertile country: fish and plantain on the coast; legions of delectable tropical fruit; coffee, chocolate and dairy in the mountains; and cheap, fresh vegetables and meat everywhere. The collective cuisine is known as comida criolla (Creole food).
While Colombia may not be known for gourmet food, the country's contemporary dining scene is evolving. Creative Colombian chefs are finally beginning to resurrect and reinvent the country's cuisine from within, bucking the traditional idea that gourmet dining means canard à l'orange or osso buco and beginning to appreciate native ingredients and culinary ideas. Buen provecho!
Colombia's eating options range from high-end fine dining to street stalls serving arepas (corn cakes). It's best to make reservations at top restaurants in Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena several days in advance.
- Restaurants Colombia's restaurants range from low-key, family-run establishments serving home-style cooking to Michelin-starred restaurants in the capital.
- Cafes Typically open until early evening, and good for breakfast, lunch or a cup of coffee.
- Street stalls and vendors Some operate during the day, while others fill town squares in the evening, selling everything from corn on the cob and arepas to empanadas, marranitos (deep-fried, filled plantain balls), fresh fruit juices and more.
While Colombian cuisine can't boast the international recognition of Peru or the diversity of Brazil, it's a truly wonderful place to eat.
Colombia offers high-standard, stomach-filling food at great prices. There are plenty of budget places serving meals for COP$12,000 to COP$15,000. Lunch is the easiest: known as comida corriente (literally 'fast food' but used to mean a set lunch menu), this two-course meal will consist of soup followed by rice, beans, a choice of meat, a token salad and a glass of tropical fruit juice. Midrange restaurants (COP$25,000 to COP$45,000) tend to be a step up in quality and service, and meals in top-end restaurants generally cost more than COP$45,000.
Don't miss uniquely Colombian specialties ajiaco (an Andean chicken soup with corn, potato, cream and capers) and bandeja paisa (the 'paisa platter'), a gut-busting mound of sausage, beans, rice, egg and arepas (ground corn cakes) – Colombia's de facto national dish despite controversy that its prevalence rarely strays from Antioquia. On the streets nationwide you'll find savory arepas of all ilk (with cheese, with ham and eggs, with chicken), mazamorra (a corn-based beverage), empanadas, and fresh-squeezed orange juice and fruit salads. Regional options include llapingachos (fried potato cakes with meat) and helado de paila (ice cream whipped in a copper tin) in Nariño, ceviche on the Caribbean coast, and tamales in Tolima and Huila. There's also plenty for your sweet tooth: obleas con arequipe are thin wafers doused in milk caramel, while cuajada con melao is fresh cheese with melted jaggery.
In terms of fruit, there's zapote, nispero, lulo, uchuwa, borojo, curuba, mamoncillo. Confused? You will be. Don't try and translate these fruits – they're native to Colombia and you won't find them in many other places in the world.