One of the great joys of traveling is being able to try the traditional food of a country.
Some countries are famed for their food and nowadays people are able to enjoy varieties of Chinese, Italian, French and Indian dishes in some form in their home countries.
Much less well known is Colombian cuisine and most people would find it difficult to name a typical dish from Colombia.
That doesn’t mean however that Colombian food isn’t worth trying; in fact the opposite is true as many of the dishes in Colombia are packed full of flavor.
Colombian cuisine is a blend of European and indigenous ingredients and many dishes include pork, potatoes, chicken, beans, corn and rice.
The main meal of the day is traditionally eaten between two and four, particularly in the countryside.
Lunch is usually three courses, with soup, a main course and dessert.
Dinner tends to be more of a snack, though if it is served as a main meal, it will be eaten around eight o’clock.
Below, Travel Supermarket takes a closer look at 10 traditional dishes to try when visiting Colombia:
Arepas are perhaps the most commonly served food in Colombia. It is the most standard of accompaniments and is also eaten on its own.
Arepa is basically a kind of bread made from cornmeal which is often served with butter or corn.
Anyone who books a holiday to Colombia will quickly become very familiar with arepa when they arrive as it is widely served all over the country.
Another popular dish in Colombia is ajiaco. This is a soup containing chicken, two or three different types of potato, corn, capers, avocado and sour cream.
An essential ingredient in ajiaco is guasca, a herb grown throughout South America.
Ajiaco has a very distinct taste and is ubiquitous throughout Colombia, so you’ll be able to try it in almost any kind of eatery.
3. Bandeja Paisa
Colombia’s national dish is considered to be bandeja paisa. This is a real feast and not for the faint hearted.
It is a platter filled with steak, pork crackling and chorizo sausages served on a bed of rice and red beans. To top it off, there is usually a fried egg and it is often served with slices of avocado and sweet banana chips.
The designation of bandeja paisa as a national dish has been subject to much dispute and there are many disagreements about what should be included. You can find a version of it everywhere in the country.
Lechona is another wonderful dish. This is typical of the Tolima area, which is to the west of Bogota. However, it is served in speciality restaurants throughout Colombia.
Certainly if you are in the Tolima area, you’ll see lechona at any kind of special occasion.
Lechona consists of a whole roast pig, stuffed with rice, peas, onions and a fragrant combination of spices and then cooked in a clay oven for up to ten hours.
Another hearty dish is sancocho. This is based on the Spanish dish cocido and is popular almost everywhere in South America, with some regional variations.
In Colombia, the ingredients vary depending on what is available in the different regions of the country. It can be made with any kind of meat, or fish in the coastal regions, but almost always includes plantains, potatoes and yucca (cassava).
It tends to be served with plain white rice, which can be a side dish or added to the sancocho itself. Sancocho can be found all over Colombia and is often served in simple pavement restaurants as a dish of the day.
Yet another hearty meat-filled dish is fritanga. Served with arepas, manioc or plantain, this is a plate full of grilled meat such as chicken or beef as well as fried cow intestines. It is covered in aji sauce and can be found all over the country in some form.
You could be forgiven for thinking that everything in Colombia is meaty and huge but there are other less daunting dishes available too.
For those looking for lighter food, there is a dizzying choice of fruit easily and cheaply available.
Any visit to the market will introduce you to many fruits you have never seen before, in addition to many different varieties of more familiar fruits such as bananas or mangos.
Colombian food is also great for snacking and there are plenty of stalls selling particular favorites. One such delicacy is empanadas.
This can be found all over South America, but each country has made it its own version of the dish.
The origin of this dish lies back in Spain and Portugal. Empanada comes from the Spanish word empanar, which means to wrap or coat in bread. Basically, the empanada is like a small pasty which is baked or fried.
In Colombia they are usually fried. These treats contain many different fillings that vary according to the region.
For example, in the city of Medellin chorizo-filled empanadas are extremely popular, while in poorer areas they can be filled with cheese and spinach. The variations are endless and all can be sampled on any street corner.
Colombian breakfast, as you can imagine, sets you up for the day. Churros, long pieces of fried dough, are popular.
More substantial is the calentado, which is particularly common in the Andean region of the country and consists of reheated beans and rice from the previous night’s dinner. It is served with arepa, egg, sausage or beef and hot chocolate.
Another Andean breakfast that is also easy to find in Bogota is changua.
This is a rich soup made from milk, water and eggs which are cracked into the soup without breaking the yolk. It is also served with spring onions, stale bread and coriander.
10. Hormigas Culonas
Finally, for those who are particularly brave there are hormigas culonas, which are a kind of ant.
They are collected during the wet season, soaked in salted water and then roasted.
In the north east of the country the ants are thought to have aphrodisiacal properties and are given as a wedding gift.
Been to Colombia? What’s your favorite dish?