When discussing cultural differences of a place, one simply cannot ignore the food. Colombia has some very interesting and different foods that also vary within different regions of the country.
First, the fruits. There are some crazy fruits found in Colombia. Well, crazy to a gringo, that is. No Colombian meal is complete without a pitcher of freshly made fruit juice. In the coast, I drank juice of pineapple, mango, blackberry, passion fruit, guava, strawberry, orange, mandarin, lulo, corozo, tomate de arbol, guanabana, and many others. There are even more unusual fruits that are not commonly made into juices. My favorite is definitely tomate de arbol. It’s sort of like a citrusy tomato juice—think V-8 Splash, not the regular V-8.
My two favorite foods from Colombian are arepas and patacones. An arepa is made from either white or yellow corn flour mixed with a little butter, water, and salt and then either deep fried in oil, lightly fried in a pan, or grilled. The ones made from yellow corn flour are called arepas de choclo and are a little bit sweeter, most common to Medellin. You can eat them with a little butter and/or cheese on top or in the middle or filled with egg or meat.
Patacones are, in my opinion, even more delicious than arepas. They are very easy to make, all you need are plantains, a little salt, and oil to fry. First you cut the plantain into thirds, depending on the size, and fry the pieces. Then you take them out and squish them into a pancake-like shape and toss them back in to continue frying. When they are a bit crispy, take them out and add salt. They are delicious with queso costeño—cheese from the coast—or hogao, a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and oil. Delicioso.
Now for the regional foods. The three major cities in Colombia are Bogota, Medellin, and Barranquilla, and they are all quite different. Barranquilla is located in the Northern Caribbean coast, Medellin is approximately between Barranquilla and Bogota and is warm and green, and Bogota is in the center of the country and is cold and urban.
In Barranquilla, comidas rapidas, or fast food, can be found on every corner. The typical menu of a costeño (coastal) fast food place will consist of hot dogs—but with many more topping choices than in the US, pizza, and chuzo, which can be different meats on a stick, or you can have chuzo desgranado, which is bollo, lettuce, cheese, potato straws, meat, and sauce on a plate. The vegetarian version of this is picada de bollo, which has all of the same stuff minus the meat and costs about 75 US cents. Bollo is made from either corn or yucca and looks sort of like a small piece of lightly boiled potato. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.
From Medellin, the typical dish is bandeja paisa. You can find it all over Colombia, but it is originally from Medellin, whose inhabitants are called paisas. Bandeja paisa consists of rice, red beans, chorizo (sausage), ground meat, chicharron (pork rinds), morcilla (blood sausage), fried egg, fried plantain, a small arepa, and avocado.
Bogota’s traditional food is a soup called ajiaco. It is made with three kinds of potatoes, pieces of corn on the cob, herbs, and chicken. (Although as a vegetarian, I always eat it without the chicken.) It is served with capers and cream, if you so choose to add them.
A classic Colombian dessert will often have something to do with arequipe, which is a bit like caramel but a thousand times better and not as thick and sticky. It is also known as dulce de leche. You can have arequipe ice cream, cake covered in arequipe, or you can just lick it straight from the spoon (my favorite method).
One last Colombian treat worth mentioning is buñuelos, which are customarily made at Christmas time, but can be found all year round. They are either bite-size or palm-size balls of dough with a bit of cheese in them and lightly fried. They are not really sweet or salty but in-between, and a must-have if you ever have the chance to visit Colombia.
To finish, aguardiente. Aguardiente, or guaro, as it is more commonly called, is an anise flavored alcohol made in various parts of Colombia. It’s both traditional and the cheapest liquor you can find. Not my favorite, but definitely worth tasting. You can drink it straight, or you can drink what is called canelazo, which is a hot drink made of aguardiente, agua panela (a natural sugarcane water drink), and cinnamon. It is the perfect drink on a cold day in Bogotá.
There are other excellent foods missing from my commentary, but these are some of the most important when it comes to Colombian cuisine. Hopefully now, Dear Reader, you know a little more about what we are eating in Colombia.