Main Colombian Dishes to Delight You
Ahhh the wonderful memories I have of sharing typical foods with friends and family. For many it is surprising to find out that Colombian gastronomy is very diverse.
To understand Colombian cuisine we should look at Colombia’s geography. Different topography characterize five main regions that make up the incredible variety of our cuisine along with foreign influences that blend into the recipes like magic.
Different Regions Different Foods
We can divide Colombian food according to its main regions. The Atlantic region is hot, humid, and has contrasting topography. It has extensive flat lands around the mouth of the rivers, perfect to raise catle that produce meat and milk; high mountains next to the sea, and desserts like the one in La Guajira.
The Atlantic coast of Colombia has influences from the Middle East (lots of Lebanese and other Arabs settled here), Africa (slaves that the Spaniards brought), and the indigenous people.
The proximity to the Atlantic ocean makes sea food a staple. It includes shrimp, lobster, crab and oysters. Fresh and salt water fish include snapper, Spanish mackerel, sea bass, mojarra, and bocachico, a small mouthed fish.
Other popular foods are plantains, guineo (small green plantain), corn to make arepas and tamale masa, and white rice.
Patricia McCausland-Gallo, one of my favorite Colombian cooking experts and author of the “Secrets of Colombian Cooking” book told me that the Atlantic region’s most representative dishes are sancocho de bagre a soup made of this fish, viuda de pescado, fried bocachico, arroz con coco, cocadas, and buñuelos de maiz or corn fritters.
Also, people in the Atlantic coast, specifically La Guajira, eat carne de chivo or goat meat in small pieces.
I remember stopping alongside the road to “La Costa” or the Atlantic Coast for fresh fruit juices made of oranges, bananas, lemons, mangoes, guanabana, pineapple, watermelon, etc. Also having suero, a kind of sour yogurt you put on yucca, fried plantains or arepa.
The Andes Region is the continuation of the South American Andes that give the zone a climate diversity ideal for agricultural richness.
In this region you can find snowcapped mountains and volcanoes, highlands, natural forests, thermal waters, and many rivers that flow through the different regions of Colombia.
It is in the Andes region where Colombians produce their famous coffee, flowers, cacao, and varied fruits. Chicken, pork, and steak are very popular. Many use the grilled beef, pigs feet, ribs, pork sausage, liver or intestines to make the famous fritanga.
This region is rich in potatoes of many kinds, corn to make yellow and white arepas, arepas de choclo or sweet corn arepas. White rice, lentils, avocado, cabbage, peas, and habas are common foods.
Beverages like hot chocolate with cinnamon, or fruit juices made of blackberry, strawberry, guava, passion fruit, breva, and tomate de árbol or tree tomato are common
The most representative dishes of this region are Bandeja Paisa and Ajiaco. The first one is a dish that includes grilled steak, fried pork rind called chicharrón, red beans, rice, chorizo, a fried egg, and an arepa. It goes along with sweet fried plantains and a slice of avocado.
Ajiaco Santafereño is another important dish made with several kinds of potatoes, corn and chicken, and served with heavy cream and capers.
Desserts in this region include milk made arequipe, bocadillo made from guava paste, brevas con leche, fresas con crema or strawberries with cream as well as the merengues con crema or meringues with cream.
The Amazon and Oriental Plains or Llanos Orientales region is dominated by big rivers amongst them the Amazon, tropical forests, and the plains which are perfect for raising cattle.
The Amazon region is rich in fresh water fish specifically Cachama. Chicken, bananas, rice, cacao, plantains, and exotic fruits are also grown in the region. The Llanos Orientales are famous for its meats, specifically baby cattle and beef.
Colombian food in the Pacific Region is heavily influenced by African slaves that Spaniards brought to the region to cook and work for them, as well by the proximity to the Pacific ocean.
In this region, Patricia McCausland tells me that the use of coconut is widespread, although it is also used in the Atlantic region.
The cazuela de mariscos a sea food soup, ceviches which are citrus-marinated seafood appetizers, all the sea food in general, conchitas negras which are like little black clams, and chontaduro the fruit of a type of palm called Bactris Gasipaes are very representative.
Towards the south of Cali you can find dulce de leche, a syrup or candy that is prepared by heating sweetened milk. In the city of Pasto we have the peanut influencing many dishes. Ají de maní is a peanut sauce made with chiles we serve with tamales de Pipián, which are made of a yellow potato mixture.
As you can see we have lots of diversity in Colombian food. If you are visiting Colombia I recommend you try the dishes included here. They are popular in nature and easy to find in small mom and pop restaurants in the regions. If you have questions about Colombian food please contact me via my contact page, I’ll be happy to answer you.
Picture at the top From The Book Secrets of Colombian Cooking. Hipocrenne Books, INC.