I think it is fair to say that few people visiting Colombia have been very impressed with the local cuisine. An I have to agree. For a country that has such a rich and diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat, they should have some of the best food in South America. Unfortunately that’s not the case and I often stumble upon articles and blog posts from foreigners complaining about the local food. Some blogger mentioned ACPM (Aceite Combustible Para Motores or Diesel) as the acronym for the typical Colombian plate, which made me laugh out loud.. Arepa, Carne, Papa and Maduro. Very true.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. For instance, I’m not a big fan of the beans I get served most places, but my mother in-law serves me a portion so good that I keep repeating until eventually I surrender and take a nap on the nearest couch. Made with pork feet and ground beef, it’s almost addictive.
You have to understand that the subject of Colombian food is a very sensitive one indeed. Colombians are very proud people in every sense and I would not be surprised if one of the first questions you’ll receive from new friends concerns your favorite Colombian plate. Beware. Most Colombians think Sanconcho de Gallina is divine dish, when in reality it is nothing more than an old chewy chicken, boiled in water with salt, potato (maybe plantain or yuca), onion and cilantro. Tell them the truth. Tell them that this was not a meal intended for the gods to feast on, and you will quickly be on collision course and on your way to losing a potential friendship. The same goes for the Arepa or Colombian cornbread, which is a sad and doughy excuse for a tortilla. The Colombian will go into defense and tell you that you’ve never tried the “real” Arepa from (for instance) the Coffee District. Yes I have. And they were just as lousy and inedible as the all the other ones. The list goes on.
Anyways, we can all agree that there is a reason that you will not see Colombian restaurants spread all over the world like Italian, French, Mexican, Thai and Japanese restaurants. BUT, the purpose of this article is to show, that there are a few Colombian dishes and a few drinks that are actually very good and worth getting enthusiastic about. Below is my top 10.
1. Carapacho de Jaiba
Crab meat au gratin. Available at many restaurants specializing in food from the Pacific coast.
2. Pescado Encocado
Preferably from filete de corvina which is sea bass. Nice white fish filet cooked in coconut sauce. Another specialty from the Pacific Coast. Corvina taste delicious breaded and fried as well. Just sprinkle with lime juice and you are good to go!
3. Sudado de Camerones
Colombian shrimp gumbo from the Pacific Coast. Eat with Arroz con Coco – coconut rice, it’s yummi!
4. Bandeja Paisa
This is la bomba. A 3.000 calorie plate with beans, rice, fried pork, chorizo, avocado, maduro (sweet over-ripe plantain) and yes even an Arepa although you may discretely hide it under your plate. This is a specialty from the Coffee District.
The better-tasting distant cousin to the Sancocho de Gallina. This soup as much more creamy, tasty and delicious.
6. Trucha al Ajillo
Trout rubbed in garlic and baked in white wine is a specialty from Salento and Valle del Cocora in the Coffee District.
7. Arroz con leche
This is a dessert made of rice boiled in condensed milk with cinnamon. It’s supposedly a Latin dessert, but very common all over Colombia.
A fruit cocktail made of the lulu fruit. Sour and sweet. A favorite treat.
9. Limonada de Coco
A coconut limonado… Need I say more?
And since I couldn’t come up with more, I’m cheating for the last one 🙂
10. The Corral Casera cheeseburger, from El Corral hamburger chain
The hamburger wasn’t quite a Colombian invention but still.. This burger is so good, that I had to put it on the list. Beats any other burger I’ve had on Colombian soil so far and many abroad.
As several bloggers have already pointed out, there are a ton of good eateries in Colombia, especially in the bigger cities, but very few of them focus on traditional Colombian food. My favorite Colombian chef is Michael Lynch (don’t be fooled by the name – he is as Caleño as they come) from Teatro Magico del Sabor in Cali, who does some awesome interpretations of the typical Colombian dishes and gets me genuinely excited about eating Colombian food. I’m sure your city has a passionate soul as well. Search and you shall find.