International Cooking: Food from Colombia

I was happy to return to another South American country this week! I was sure the food from Colombia would be good, and I got some great suggestions from Colombians on Reddit.


Colombia is a South American country inhabited by indigenous people since at least 12,000 BCE. Although the Spanish colonized the country in the 16th century, there are still many influences remaining from the native people, especially when it comes to food.

Panama was once a part of Colombia, but it seceded in 1903. Colombia is still quite a large country and includes many islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Colombia has the second-highest level of biodiversity in the world, meaning its territory includes all kinds of regions including rainforests, highlands, grasslands, and deserts. I was sure this meant the country would enjoy a wide variety of food.

What Do People Eat in Colombia?

Colombian cuisine is a mix of indigenous and Spanish cuisines, with some African and Arab influences on some regions. There is a wide variety of ingredients available because of the country’s biodiversity.

Some of the more popular ingredients include plantain, beans, rice, corn, potatoes, sausages, and various types of meat. This can change depending on which part of the country you’re in.

On the Caribbean coast and on the islands, coconut and many types of seafood are common.

In the Andean region, the traditional dish is a chicken and potato stew called ‘ajiaco’. Guinea pig is also traditional, stemming from Inca cuisine.

The other parts of the country all have their own traditional dishes, but they share more similarities with each other and with neighboring countries.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Colombian dishes I didn’t make!

Bandeja Paisa (Meat, Beans, and Egg Platter)

Bandeja paisa

This dish comes from a part of Colombia called Paisa, which is where it gets its name (it translates to ‘Paisa Platter’. Farmers used to eat this for breakfast before going out to work for the day, but now bandeja paisa is considered Colombia’s national dish and is found in restaurants all over the country.

The dish typically consists of rice, beans, beef, chorizo, pork belly, fried plantains, fried egg, and an arepa (see further down). Often there will also be avocado and hogao, a sauce made from tomato and onions.

I omitted the beef for my bandeja paisa because that was more food than I needed. And for the plantains, I used patacones (next dish). I’m sure that’s not traditional but they were a dish I wanted to make and this was the easiest way to fit them in. I also didn’t really want to eat plain fried plantain.

This was a great combination of foods, though it’s obviously a pretty big meal! I used this recipe from Travel Food Atlas as a guide.

Patacones con Hogao (Fried Plantain with Sauce)

Patacones

Patacones are slices of plantain that have been fried, smashed so they’re flat, then fried again. They can be served plain, but they are often accompanied by hoago, a Colombian sauce made mostly of tomato and onion.

These were really good, but of course most things do taste better fried. I enjoyed the hogao too.

I got the recipe from Familia Kitchen.

Arepas (Flat Cornmeal Cakes)

Arepas

Arepas are kind of a mix between a tortilla and a pancake, and are made from cornmeal. They were first made by the native people of what is now Colombia and Venezuela. They are often served as part of a meal, and they can also be filled with cheese. The version I made had mozzarella in the dough, which seems to be quite common.

I did run into a problem. I didn’t realize the cornmeal used, masarepa, was so different from regular cornmeal. Masarepa is a kind of precooked cornmeal used for arepas, and I didn’t buy it. When I made my dough with regular white cornmeal I found that it was way too liquidy. I ended up adding more cornmeal as well as some flour in order to get a consistency that I could flatten in my tortilla press and transfer to my skillet without it falling apart. So, I did end up with something like arepas, but I will have to try again some time the right way!

I used the recipe from Hispanic Kitchen. These tasted alright, but I bet they would have been better had I used the right cornmeal.

Huevos Pericos (Scrambled Eggs with Tomato and Green Onion)

Huevos pericos

Huevos pericos means ‘parrot eggs’, and probably gets its name from the red and green of the tomato and green onion mixed into the eggs. In some other Latin American countries, this is made with tomato, green bell pepper, and onion, but in Colombia it’s usually made with tomato and green onion. I didn’t use a recipe for this; I just sauteed the vegetables then added the eggs and a little cream and scrambled. This is usually served with arepas.

Calentado (Colombian Breakfast)

Calentado

Calentado simply means ‘warmed’ and it’s a traditional Colombian breakfast. It consists of a mix of rice, beans, and hogao, which would usually be left over from the previous night’s dinner. Chorizo, arepas, eggs, and avocado are typical additions. I didn’t include avocado because I don’t really like it, but I did add everything else. This made for a great breakfast!

This isn’t something that really requires a recipe, but I used this one from My Colombian Recipes as a guide.

Empanadas (Cornmeal Pastries)

Empanadas

I’ve made empanadas before when I cooked food from Argentina, but I decided to make the Colombian version because they are quite different. They are made with masarepa rather than flour and the filling is made of mashed potato, ground beef (can also be pork), and vegetables.

Instead of the masarepa I used a combination of cornmeal and flour that worked out alright, and although these are typically fried, I baked them in the oven. I thought they came out tasting pretty good, though I’m sure they would have been better fried. These are usually served with aji, a Colombian salsa, so that is what I did (next dish).

This recipe was from My Colombian Recipes.

Aji (Salsa)

Aji

This is a popular sauce in Colombian, served with empanadas and patacones and used to flavor soups and stews. It has a white vinegar base, with some salt, sugar, lime juice, and oil. Then chili, cilantro, parsley, scallions, and tomato are added. This was delicious on my Colombian empanadas but I can see it tasting good on all kinds of things.

The recipe I used is from My Colombian Recipes.

Sancocho de Gallina (Chicken and Vegetable Soup)

Sanchocho de gallina

Sancocho is a popular dish in many Latin American countries. There are many varieties, but typically it consists of large pieces of meat, corn cobs, and chunks of vegetables including potato and plantain.

I made a chicken sancocho and took the chicken off the bone after cooking to make it easier to eat. I left the corn on the cob for the picture so it wouldn’t just look like any other soup, but for the leftovers I just cut it all off and stirred it in. For the vegetables, I used plantain and potato. There was meant to be yuca too, but since I don’t really like that and can only buy it in large amounts I just used extra potato. The soup is flavored with aliños, a Colombian seasoning paste consisting of bell peppers, onion, scallions, garlic, and a little cumin.

The recipe I used is from My Colombian Recipes. I used bone-in chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken, and I adjusted the cooking time for the corn and plantain. I added the plantain a bit before the potatoes, and I added the corn about 8 minutes before I planned on serving. I thought they would be overcooked otherwise.

  • Ajiaco – soup made from chicken, potatoes, and a local herb called ‘guasca’. This is most popular around Bogotá and the Andean region.
  • Mote de queso – a soup made from yams and cheese, mostly eaten in the Caribbean area of the country.
  • Cuy asado – broiled guinea pig, a remnant of Inca cuisine.
  • Natilla – a dessert made from sweetened milk, thickened with cornstarch, and flavored with cinnamon. The consistency is a bit like custard or pudding.

Final Thoughts

This was a good week! I liked everything, but I think the patacones were my favorite. So far, they are my favorite way to eat plantains.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Comoros.

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