10 interesting facts about Colombian food

Key things you need to know about Colombian food.

4 September 2019 / Jamie G. / Bogota

Colombia rarely makes it to the top of culinary leader boards when it comes to ranking food from around the world, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a rich and varied gastronomic culture in the country.

Whether it’s a bandeja paisa or ajiaco in Bogotá, Colombian food is a treasure trove of delicacies and delicious titbits. Here’s a rundown of what to eat in Colombia, as well as some choice facts about Colombian food for good measure. However, if you really want to get to grips with the culinary scene there's nothing better than our Bogota food tour.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

There’s a saying in Colombia - “Desayunar como un rey, almorzar como un príncipe, y comer como un mendigo” (“Eat breakfast like a king, eat lunch like a prince and eat dinner like a beggar”). As such, don’t be surprised to see hearty platefuls of food at the day’s outset.

Unsurprisingly, there's lot of choices for breakfast spots in Bogota, but you can't got wrong with Pastelería Florida. The bakery has an extensive list of breakfast fare including an excellent changua, a soup made from milk, poached eggs and coriander.

The national dish is a gut buster

The bandeja paisa is Colombia's national dish. It's a serious gut-buster. Consisting of steak, sausages, pork rinds, ground beef, beans, a fried egg, plantains and an arepa (fried dough patty), the dish was generally what farmers feasted on before an exhausting day in the fields, but is now more commonly responsible for food comas.

You can find plenty of good bandeja paisa around Bogota, but the excellent version at Casa Vieja is one of the best. Clear your schedule though - you can't do much after a full plate of bandeja paisa.

Coffee is life

Did you know that Colombia is the third biggest exporter of coffee in the world, behind only Brazil and Vietnam? The country produces over 810,000 metric tonnes of the good stuff every year, and not all of it is sent abroad. The most common variety you’ll see on the street is tinto, a bitter but high-strength shot of lower-quality beans that is sold from stalls for a few pennies.

For some of the best coffee in Bogota, try Varietale (particularly the branch along Calle 41) whose in house roastery and variety of brewing methods have made it a firm favourite among locals.

A side of cheese with that?

A common way to drink hot chocolate is alongside a slab of cheese. The variety of cheese differs between regions but it's almost always fresh queso fresco which patrons are encouraged to dip into the piping hot drink. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Almost every cafe will serve cheese with their hot chocolate (or coffee), but for the most satisfying try the combination of salty white queso fresco and sweet hot chocolate from La Puerta Falsa.

Soup is a staple, no matter the temperature

Normally served as a starter before the main dish but also available on its own, soup is a staple of the culinary landscape in Colombia. One of the most popular varieties is ajiaco, a Bogotá favourite of chicken, corn, capers, avocado and sour cream in a thin broth that’s made using a herb called guasca, which sets it apart from regional variations in other countries.

Swing by La Antigua Santafé in the heart of the old town. This old restaurants cooks up what has been called 'the world's best ajiaco'.

Line your stomach with stomach lining

Another popular soup is mondongo, which is found all over the continent but all varieties of which are based on the same base ingredient: the stomach lining of a cow or pig. Alongside the tripe, Colombians also add onion, peas, carrots and coriander for a filling meal that’s actually very tasty once you get your head around its unpalatable (to some) ingredients.

A warming bowl of mondongo is the house special at Mar Carbón y Mondongos just north of the old town.

Stuffed pork, anyone?

So the idea of stuffing a suckling pig is not in itself too unusual or unique to Colombia, and here the ingredients of onions, rice, peas and spices aren’t that outrageous either. But the presentation of lechona is where this dish comes into its own, with the entire animal (head and all) served up at a barbecue, in a restaurant or at a store. Dig in.

There's a cluster of lechona joints along Avenue Caracas south of the old town. Try Lechoneria Donde Pacheco which makes the best in town.

Unripe mangoes are all the rage

One of the more publicised facts about Colombian food is the sheer number of tropical fruits on offer in the country, but did you know that they’re not always eaten once they’ve achieved full ripeness? Unripe mangoes in particular are hugely popular street foods, served doused with lime, salt and pepper. The first bite might seem overly sour, but they’ll grow on you. We promise.

For all the fruits under the sun including unripe mangoes make a beeline for Paloquemao, one of the largest food markets in the country.

The national sport involves beer as standard

While football is wildly popular in Colombia, the national sport is actually tejo. The game involves throwing metal discs (tejos) at a clay pit target into which pouches of gunpowder have been embedded. If the tejo makes contact with the gunpowder – kaboom! What’s more, beer is such a standardised component of the sport that many tejo halls don’t charge by the hour or game, but rather by the crate of beer. Game on.

There are a few tejo halls scattered around the city, but the most famous is Club de Tejo La 76 just north of the old town.

Rock stars dine at street stalls

Several years ago Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones visited a street stand selling obleas, a street dessert made from sticky, sweet arequipe sandwiched between two wafers. The entrepreneurial street vendor went on to change their name and has become a raging success ever since.

To be fair, the obleas are no different from those sold on street stands across the city. But who doesn't want to eat at the same street vendor Mick Jagger has? See if you can't get some satisfaction.

So, there's our run down of interesting facts about Colombian food. They aren't the only ones though. To find out more, hop on this Bogota food tour and navigate around the city's food scene with the help of an expert local guide.

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