Colombia is full of traditional clothing, music, customs, and of course traditional drinks, and meals. When traveling through this very diverse country you can discover many traditional and authentic dishes that may be unique to that region. Below, and in no particular order, you’ll find 15 traditional meals of the Eje Cafetera (Colombian Coffee Axis).
Tray paisa –lunch
Found in almost every restaurant in Colombia, and a Colombian national dish, if not a Colombian national icon is the Bandeja Paisa. Originally from the Colombian Coffee Zone, but now available almost everywhere, Bandeja Paisa is a very large meal, and not for the weak-kneed among us. Containing ground beef (sometimes steak), chicharron (pork belly), chorizo, patacones (plantain in a thick pancake), avocado, arepa (flatbread made from cornmeal), Frijoles (beans), and rice. It is truly massive and often not finished.
A very filling traditional Colombian soup containing a bit of almost everything. The base is made of diced tripeto which is added several vegetables such as peas, carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, along with garlic, cilantro, and chicken, beef, and/or pork.
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Ajiaco soup – lunch
Probably found in almost as many restaurants as Bandeja Paisa, Ajiaco is another very filling dish popular in the Colombia Coffee Zone. TO potato and chicken-based soupit is generally accompanied with avocado, corn on the cob, capers, and of course some sour cream drizzled on top.
Another traditional meal found in the Eje Cafetero (Colombia Coffee Zone) is the thick soup of Sancocho. Also very filling, as many Colombian dishes are, Sancocoho has many components and is generally made with a base of chicken, beef, and/or pork (sometimes all three). From there many ingredients are added such as potato, yucca, plantain, corn, onion, carrot, cilantro, cumin, and sometimes cabbage and/or bell peppers are added as well. In addition to all of these ingredients in the soup, it is also usually served with avocado, rice, and a hot sauce.
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suckling pig – lunch / dinner
Pork is extremely popular throughout Colombia, and a dish that is very favoured, especially at large gatherings is Lechona. This dish consists of a whole boneless pig roasted and stuffed with rice, peas, onions, garlic, cumin, diced pork meat, and slow-baked for around 10-12 hours. Generally, it is served with a side of potatoes or an arepa (see below)
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Beans – breakfast / lunch / side
A robust dish made with a base of pinto or red beans. Frijoles are normally cooked with diced pork or pork hocks, carrots, corn, platano, and sometimes bacon as well. Generally, this dish is also served with rice and avocado. It’s often used as a side dish, and always included within the Bandeja Paisa meal.
Tamales – breakfast / lunch / dinner
Tamales are found throughout Colombia, and with different variations to the same dish within each region. Although the presentation can also vary depending on the region, a tamale is always wrapped in plantain or banana leaves and steam cooked. The basic ingredients you’ll find in the Tamales from the Colombian Coffee Zone are pork and/or chicken, rice, peas, potatoes, and yellow pre-cooked cornmeal.
Lentils – lunch
Lentils (Lentil soup) is a standard meal in many Colombian kitchens and is probably one of the simpler to make. Although once again this dish has variations the basic method is to soak the lentils over a course of a couple of hours before adding chopped onion, garlic, and sometimes diced or grated carrots. It is then served with avocado, rice, tomato, and sweet plantain.
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Rib broth – breakfast / lunch
Known throughout Colombia as one of the best hangover cures. Caldo de Costilla (beef soup) is often eaten at breakfast and served with rice, avocado, and a hot sauce. The main ingredients of Caldo de Costilla are beef ribs, potatoes, carrots, and herbs.
Petacones – snack / side dish
A simple side dish that can accompany almost any meal Patacones is simply Green plantain pressed into a thick pancake and deep-fried. Often served as a snack with a guacamole or tomato salsa at parties or a starter in a restaurant.
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Empanadas – snack/street food
Available in almost every street corner and in many restaurants, Empanadas are small fritters, made with a mixture of shredded meat, of pork, beef, or chicken. Potatoes are then added, and it is encased within a cornmeal dough before being deep-fried. Usually served with one or more hot sauces, and often at large family gatherings.
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Arepas – snack / side / street food
Also available throughout Colombia an Arepa is a type of flatbread made from cornmeal. It is grilled and served hot with butter and/or cheese. Often used as an accompaniment for breakfast with eggs, lunch, or dinner, it’s also popular to order a Hot Chocolate with an Apepa con queso (arepa with cheese) at any time of the day.
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Arepas de Choclo – breakfast / snack / street food
This is basically the deluxe in Colombian Arepas. Starting with a thick Arepa which is buttered and grilled. At this stage more butter is lathered both on top and within the Arepa before a thick piece of fresh white cheese is placed on top or inside the Arepa. Often served with a hot chocolate or a tintico (black coffee) for breakfast, or as an afternoon snack.
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Fritters – breakfast / snack / street food
These are little deep fried balls are made up of a mixture of cornflour and Colombian white cheese. Popular all year round (especially at Christmas) and usually accompanied with a nice cup of Colombian coffee, they’re best served hot and fresh from the fryer (although I also love them when they’ve cooled down).
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Mazamorra – dessert / drink / side / snack
Depending on who you are speaking to Mazamorra is food or a drink. The base of this dish is corn, which is soaked and slowly cooked in water until very soft. During cooking, Panela is often sprinkled into the liquid. Once it’s cooled this very refreshing and creamy dish, including the maize is ready to serve with chunks of Panela added. Often served with bocadillo (a jelly-like sweet made from guava paste) and extra milk.
*Of course – drink
Claro is a very refreshing cool drink created especially for those not wishing to eat the maize that’s included within Mazamorra. The maize is simply removed from the Mazamorraa touch of ground Panela is added, and just like that, Claro is ready to be served.
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