Colombian Flavors: From Cooking to Coffee in Medellin

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Coffee Beans
Coffee Beans (photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja Paisa (photo: by Cvanda)

Most holidaymakers fall in love with Colombian cuisine after a few days in the country.

Typical dishes include everything from Ajiaco, a soup made from chicken and avocado, to fried ants which are eaten in some remote north-eastern areas of the country (although many Colombians from elsewhere wouldn’t fathom eating such things!).

However, it’s dishes such as Bandeja Paisa – a plate consisting of grilled steak, chorizo sausages, fried pork rind, red bean rice and topped off with a fried egg – and empanadas – stuffed pastries filled with beef, chicken or cheese and rice and coriander – that often prove to be a favorite with the tourists.

There a several places in Medellin where you can learn to recreate some of Colombia’s most popular dishes.

The INSARC runs occasional courses on Colombian cookery, whilst IPSA run a course which pairs learning to speak Spanish with Colombian cooking lessons.

The informative course can stretch from a week to a month and consists of fifteen lessons per week. Students are taken to typical Antioquenan restaurants and taught to cook under the guidance of local chefs.

Students taking the course should consider staying in one of Medellin’s rental apartments or cheap hotels with self-catering facilities, such as Egina or the Estelar Apartmentos, so that they can practice recreating the dishes on their own in the evenings.

Coffee beans
Coffee beans (photo: by Edans)

While the food in Colombia can be fantastic, the country is best known for its coffee.

The most popular brand in the country is Juan Valdez. However, many of the locals still like to drink their coffee in the traditional pool halls, where it always served with a china cup and saucer.

One of Colombia’s smaller coffee plantations, Fredonia, is located just a short distance away from Medellin.

Travellers can take a tour to the region with an English-speaking guide through the company Tours by Locals.

The company can arrange pick up from many hotels in Medellin then drive 34km south of the city to the thriving coffee farm.

Coffee Beans
Coffee Beans (photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The trip begins with a brief overview of the many processes that take place when coffee is harvested.

Afterwards there’s the option of taking a horse-riding tour up to Cerro Bravo, where a traditional Colombian lunch will be served.

A tour around the local area takes place after lunch where travellers will visit sites of interest such as the bullring, before being taken over to the coffee mill to sample some of Colombia’s finest delights.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I have to say, first off, Colombian food is rather bland, especially if you’re coming from North America or Asia. Zero spicy factor. Be it chicharron and chorizo or rice and beans, it can get heavy and greasy. You can get some really nice steaks here though. And the beans are underrated. I’ve learned to really enjoy them. There’s a new style of cooking that seems to be increasing in popularity, where Colombian and Chinese cuisine are mixed. Interesting. Mis Aloces (I think) is one chain restaurant where you can try this.

    Juan Valdez is definitely not the most popular brand of coffee here. You’ll find those in the supermarket. Sello Rojo and Nescafe are among the contenders. IMHO Juan Valdez is a McDonaldized version of real Colombian coffee. Stear clear. Get the real stuff at a small cafe by ordering a tinto. Or try some of the specialized coffees from the Eje Cafetero (coffee growing region). These can be hard to find.

    Fredonia is actually a couple hours from Medellin IIRC. And the road is very bad. It’s a nice little town, but be prepared for a bumpy ride.

    • I thought you would have compared Juan Valdez with Starbucks, which make a bit more sense in my opinion. I have to disagree with you : get the real stuff at as small cafe by ordering a tinto…and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get a cup of watery not that good coffee! The same goes for Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico….
      I will not stear clear of Juan Valdez like I’ll stear clear of Starbucks for two good reasons : Juan Valdez represents the vast majority of all colombian coffee producers, it’s a cooperative and you can buy an amazing range/choice of coffees from all over the country. And apart from the fact that they are serving you coffee in paper cup, IMHO their coffee is delicious!
      I believe Juan Valdez is making justice to the real colombian coffee and it was about time!

    • I’m not a life long coffee drinker, but I do enjoy my daily cup of Juan Valdez while living in Medellin. Tintos off the street def feel like you’re drinking like a local though.

  2. Most holidaymakers fall in love with Colombian cuisine

    Thanks- I needed a good laugh. On a more academic note, any stats/sources/polls/magic 8 ball consultations to back up this lead? ,

    • Agreed, that’s a stretch. While there’s certain foods I do love, like Ajiaco in Bogota, and ceviche and fried Pargo (red snapper) on the coast, it’s not as if Colombia’s cuisine is on par with Thailand or Italy.

  3. “Most holidaymakers fall in love with Colombian cuisine after a few days in the country”

    Well…not at ALL ! I really wonder what makes you write that but colombian cuisine is rather poor in taste and choice..Especially (for me) after two years in Mexico!

  4. Hi Dave, I have recently moved to Medellin to live and love to cook. I love the concept of cooking and Spanish classes combined. Can you send me the name of the company that runs these? My mum is also visiting from Australia for a month and a half until Christmas and I’m looking for bilingual things to do.. Any suggestions would be awesome. Thanks Jes
    P.S great blog

  5. I love Juan Valdez coffee, and all the foreigners I know compare it to Starbucks. I’ve also had very good Colombian style tintos around the city – but rarely. I now know the best places to go and am satisfied with my 800 peso tintos.

    And although Colombian cuisine can’t be compared to the best cuisines in the world, it still is among the best in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  6. Hi David, I’m planning on visiting Medellin next week and am hoping to visit a coffee plantation. What one would you recommend for young travelers on a budget? (anything between $25 and $100 USD?)

  7. I will be visiting Medellin from July 21 through 27. I would like to take a cooking class while I’m there but I haven’t been able to find anything on line. Does anyone know if such a class exists?

    Thank you.