If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, you aren’t alone. In 2020, this country was the 83rd most popular tourist spot and the 11th most popular place to visit in South America.
Before you jet off, you may be wondering: what kind of food is in Colombia? Colombian food has influences from many different global regions. You’ll find flavors from Africa, Spain, and Asia in Medellín.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the top Colombian dishes you need to try. Plus, we’ll tell you our favorite spots for each of these traditional cuisines.
Colombian Food You Must Try While in Medellín
Medellín is a city located in the department of Antioquia in Colombia. Think of departments as the Colombian equivalent of US states. Antioquia is in Northwest Colombia, and Medellín is its capital.
This city is the second-largest in all of Colombia, coming in behind Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá. The people of Medellín and other northwestern departments call themselves Paisas. And Paisas are Colombian foods’ biggest fans.
Here are some dishes you need to try if you want to eat as Paisas do.
Arepas are popular Colombian street food. Paisas eat arepas with every meal and as snacks, too. They consist of a maize flour cake fried or grilled in butter.
Paisas traditionally eat arepas with cheese, though there are many different ways to eat these delicious fried bites. Top your arepa with more fresh cheese and sweetened condensed milk if you want to eat your arepas like the locals.
Bandeja Paisa is a traditional dish of the Antioquia department. It translates to “the Paisa Platter.”
Like many unique regional dishes, Bandeja Paisa originated as peasant food meant to fill the belly for a full day of work. Today, everyone eats Bandeja Paisa, but it’s more commonly a shared dish instead of a meal for one.
Reminiscent of a full English breakfast, this plate includes red beans, shredded meat, pork (called chicharrón), black pudding (called morcilla), and a fried egg. This dish gets a Colombian twist with the addition of white rice, chorizo, plantain, avocado, and, of course, an arepa.
When you order Bandeja Paisa, you may also see mazamorra on the menu. That’s because Paisas often enjoy a cup of mazamorra with Bandeja Paisa, especially at lunchtime.
Mazamorra is a porridge-like drink made from crushed maize. Paisas crush the maize and soak it in water and lye. Then, the mixture goes into a pot and gets cooked with local fruits until the maize is soft and sweet.
Try your mazamorra sweetened with panela. Panela is a sugar cane candy that Paisas use as a topping for mazamorra. Or you can top your mazamorra with brown sugar or even caramel.
Another well-known Colombian street food, empanadas are a staple in Medellín. Paisas eat empanadas as snacks and alongside meals.
Empanadas consist of fried dough on the outside and pork or potatoes stuffed inside. They’re traditionally served with a lime wedge and tomato salsa.
If you love soup and tripe, mondongo is the dish for you. This lunchtime classic is served all over Latin America. The Colombian version differs because it uses beef tripe.
Cilantro and an array of colorful veggies round out this soup. You’ll find carrots, onions, celery, peas, bell peppers, and tons of cilantro in your mondongo. Rice, ground meat, banana or plantain, and avocado also come with this soup.
One of the only Medellín dishes that are rich in vegetables, mondongo is the perfect dish to eat if you’re feeling weighed down by Colombia’s traditionally heavy food.
Ajiaco is yet another traditional soup you can’t miss while you’re in Medellín. This dish will give you a break from the red meat that’s in almost every Colombian dish. It consists mostly of chicken, corn, and potatoes.
Like many Colombian soups, ajiaco comes with a side plate consisting of rice and an arepa. You’ll also get capers, avocado, banana or plantain, and cream on the side, which you can add to your soup.
Buñuelos y Tinto
Buñuelos y tinto translates to “fritters” and coffee. And we couldn’t have made a complete list of Colombian food to try in Medellín without mentioning coffee, too.
Tinto actually translates to “red” in English. The name comes from the joke that people who couldn’t afford to drink red wine would drink coffee instead.
In Colombia, the most common way to prepare coffee is tinto. Tintos are essentially brewed black coffee. But don’t think of this drink as a drip coffee you can get in the US— it’s tasty enough to drink sans milk and sugar.
You can also get long black tinto at fancier espresso bars. Here, baristas pull long espresso shots into hot water. These drinks are quite similar to the americano espresso drink.
Buñuelos are little balls of fried dough that Paisas eat with your tinto. You can find these snacks all over Latin America. In Mexico, they’re sweetened with cinnamon and orange peel, but Buñuelos Colombianos are savory and flavored with cheese.