This post on traditional Colombian food and drink is from travel blogger Emily Cedar of The Scientist & The Hustler.
You’ve made your way to Colombia and landed in Medellin, now what? You hear your stomach growl and realize it’s time to feast on authentic traditional Colombian food and drink. Where do you start? There’s a wide variety of cuisine in Colombia for all ranges tastes and palates. Whether you’re looking to splurge on some deep fried goodness or ride the health train, Medellin, has a lot to offer. While the following dishes can be found all over Colombia, since I’ve decided to plant myself in Medellin, I’ll give you a few specific places in the city where you can find my favorite traditional foods. Let’s chow down!
Let’s eat traditional Colombian food
Empanadas, tasty, deep fried pastries, snacks or full out meals if you find the right vendor, come with a variety of fillings including chicken, potatoes, beef, veggies, and cheese. Are they going to help you squeeze into those size four skinny jeans you’ve had your eye on? Not exactly. Are they delicious and worth trying during your time in Colombia? Absolutely! My favorite place to eat empanadas is El Machetico because I can dowse their beef and potato filled empanadas with as much fresh lime and spicy tomato salsa as I want! This delicious combination will cost you less than 2000 COP, or roughly 65 cents USD. Empanadas are a great mid-day snack and a must-try traditional Colombian food.
Arepas is another traditional Colombian food you’ll find on street corners, restaurant menu, and grab-and-go shop in Colombia. An arepa is basically a corn pancake, but with unlimited diversity. They can be made savory or sweet, and are eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Generally, they come with cheese or butter on top, but you can also find arepas filled or topped with meat, eggs, and guacamole. Whether you’re traveling to Medellin on a business trip, or as a backpacker, be sure to get your hands on an arepa. Like empanadas, this dish is extremely light on the wallet. A delicious arepa from a street vendor will cost the equivalent of 20 cents.
Natural Fruit Juices
If deep fried, cheese filled snacks aren’t your jam, fear not. It’s incredibly easy to find fresh fruit, especially in the form of juice, around Medellin. You’ll find “jugos naturales” in just about every restaurant, cafe, or bar that you enter. The best part about these “natural juices” is that they are actually natural! Meaning, they aren’t made with preservatives, syrups, or sugar (generally speaking, of course). I was astonished by this when I arrived in Colombia because I am so used to American juices that are loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. No worries, health fiends, these juices come in many flavors such as mango, lulo (a small, citrus-flavored fruit resembling an orange tomato), watermelon, orange, papaya, blackberry, passion fruit, strawberry, guava, and my personal favorite, limonada de coco (lemonade made with coconut juice!) If you’re feeling super health conscious, be sure to order these drink sin azucar (without sugar) just to be sure absolutely no sugar is added to your drink.
Get out your stretchy pants and skip breakfast for this meal. This traditional Colombian food is probably the most popular in the country, especially in the Department of Antioquia and the Paisa region (hence the name). If you order this dish, and I seriously hope you do, it may include all or most of the following components: rice, beans, avocado, plantains, hogao ( a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, salt, pepper, garlic, and cumin), ground meat, fried egg, chorizo, pork, arepa, and lime. The dish shown in the photo is from Mondongo’s which is an excellent restaurant located in El Poblado section of Medellin. My meal included fish and probably wasn’t the same level of authenticity that you might get from a restaurant in the city center, but nevertheless, it was an incredibly tasty and filling meal.
Obviously, you cannot come to Colombia without getting a caffeine fix. The coffee here, as you would expect, is the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s fresh, cheap, and is found literally everywhere. You can order lattes and Americanos like you would anywhere else, but if you want a traditional Colombian coffee, order a tinto. I like a little bit of milk in my coffee so my daily order is a tinto con un pocito de leche. There are loads of cafes that will serve you awesome coffee, however, my two favorite cafes in Medellin (maybe on earth) are Cafe Ubicuo and Como Pez en el Agua, both located on the same street (Carrera 35) in Parque Lleras. Cafe Ubicuo has a much wider range of coffee choices and you can purchase bags of fresh ground or whole bean coffee there. Como Pez is a really great place to enjoy fresh coffee, tarts, pastries, cakes, and other goodies. There is little that is better in life than pairing a traditional tinto with a freshly made passion fruit cheesecake at Como Pez.
Buñuelos are essentially fried dough balls. How can you go wrong, right? You can find these little snacks at any panaderia (bread shop) in the city. Enjoy a buñuelo plain or with fillings (such as cheese) and toppings (such as custard or pudding). To savor your buñuelo to the max, pair it with a hot chocolate or coffee.
I hope that you are able to try all of the above dishes. They’re all extremely different and unique in their own delicious ways. Medellin is an incredibly welcoming and friendly city. If you’re unsure of the ingredients or ways in which the dishes are prepared, initiate a conversation with your waiter, waitress, or barista. I’ve found that starting a conversation (in English or fumbling my way through Spanish) has only resulted in friendly exchanges and sometimes, even lasting friendships.
What are your favorite traditional Colombian foods?