What to eat in Colombia for breakfast, lunch and dinner

When I think about Colombia, I think first about food. Said no one, ever. Colombia is famous for a few things (three seasons-worth so far) but in terms of South American gastronomy, Peru usually hogs the limelight. The vibrant food scene of Colombia might not be top of mind, but that is fast-changing. While the country still struggles to shake off a shady reputation, it has become a must-visit destination for travellers looking for adventure, culture and – increasingly – world-class cuisine.

We spent six wonderful weeks eating our way around Colombia, taking in its majestic landscapes and meeting some wonderful people. There’s so much to see and do, it’s hard to know where to start. But, wherever you go, you’re gonna need some energy. Hearty breakfasts for fuel. Triple-carb lunches for sustenance. Deep-fried donuts for…. well, because why not? Who am I to judge?

What to eat in Colombia

Colombians take their food pretty seriously. Their mantra is:
Eat like a King for Breakfast, a Prince for lunch and a Pauper for dinner. We love this philosophy, especially because it’s a good way to save money. Lunch menus are often cheaper than dinner,  so you’ll have more money for beer cultural tourist activities.

A lot of Colombian food, especially street food, comes deep fried. Combined with the ginormous portions, it can be a bit heavy – especially if you try to match the locals whose appetite is ferocious!

Each department, or district, in Colombia has its own traditions when it comes to food, but a common theme runs through them all; meat and carbs. What’s not to love?

Keen to get a taste of local life, we took a culinary tour with La Mesa Food Tours. David, our guide, took us to some of the most famous spots in Envigado, a quiet city just outside Medellin, to indulge in the best local food Colombia has to offer. Check out some of our favourite recommendations for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Colombia.

Breakfast in Colombia

Breakfast traditions around the world are fascinating. Whether it’s a cappuccino and a corneto in Italy, a full fry up in the UK or rice and octopus in Indonesia (yes, really), breakfast is the most delicious, yet potentially controversial meal of the day. A typical Colombian breakfast, at least in Medellin, comprises deep-fried empanadas made with corn and filled with ground beef, potato and onion. Like a Cornish pasty, but smaller and more lethal.

Crispy deep-fried empanadas
Anyone fancy a breakfast empanada?

If this isn’t hearty enough to start your day, fear not. Empanadas are usually accompanied by arepas – corn or flour patties that are fried or baked and sometimes stuffed with meat or cheese. Arepas are a cornerstone of Colombian cuisine, appearing in pretty much every meal of the day. To be considered a Paisa, the nickname given to people from Medellin, you need to eat Arepas three times a day. Our favourites were Arepas de Choclo con Queso – corn Arepas with cheese. They tasted like semi-sweet pancakes and the cheese provided a cool and creamy consistency to complement the warm and fluffy arepa.

Warm, fluffy Arepas

Warm and fluffy Arepas
Warm and fluffy Arepas with cooling creamy cheese

To wash it all down, breakfast is typically served with warm sugar-cane juice, pink apple juice or a cup of good Colombian coffee.

Lunch in Colombia

This really is the main event for Colombians. It is not uncommon for Colombian people to have a two-hour lunch break during which time they will eat, spend time with family and friends and catch a cheeky siesta. Lunch options vary across the country, but meat and carbs prevail. The most famous Colombian dish is the Bandeja Paisa.

The beast that is Bandeja Paisa
Gloria’s Bandeja Paisa; beastly but brilliant

Bandeja Paisa is to Colombia what ceviche is to Peru. An institution. A national treasure. An absolute JOY.
The Bandeja Paisa is a beast of a meal. It’s an interpretation of the best food, all on one plate.

Because why wouldn't you make a Bandeja Paisa into a work of art?
Because why wouldn’t you make a Bandeja Paisa into a work of art?

Local variations exist, but the version served up to us by the infamous Gloria at her self-named restaurant ‘La Gloria de Gloria’ (amazing, right?) is not to be missed.

The fabulous and sassy Gloria
The fabulous and oh-so-sassy Gloria

It features – get ready for it – avocado, rice, a fried egg, ground beef, chorizo, pork belly, lettuce, tomato, and fries. That’s not all. No Bandeja Paisa is complete without morcilla (blood sausage) and a bowl of beans in a thick, beany sauce. Oh, and a side of arepas. Obvs. I need a nap just thinking about it.

Morcilla, or blood sausage might not be everyone's cup of tea
Morcilla, or blood sausage might not be everyone’s cup of tea

Bandeja Paisa is most commonly eaten at weekends, as a special family meal, but even the day-to-day lunch offering is pretty impressive. The corrientazo is a cheap meal including some meat, double-carbs and a side salad. There’s often a meaty soup and a drink to accompany it. We enjoyed a corrientazo with some locals at a humble road-side restaurant on the way back from a weekend trip to the beautiful Villa de Leyva. Not quite as filling as the Bandeja Paisa, but delicious and amazingly cheap at only £2 a portion.

A typical corrientazo
A typical corrientazo

Juices are also a staple of the Colombian diet. With an abundance of fresh fruit at their fingertips, they whip up all sorts of concoctions such as Lulo, Guanabana and Chontaduro y Borojoro which is said to have aphrodisiacal properties. During our tour, David introduced us to lots of fruit we’d never heard of which was… interesting!

Dinner in Colombia

In keeping with their mantra, dinner is a quieter affair. Arepas, again, are commonplace. A typical dinner time treat is hot chocolate with cheese. Yes, you heard right. Chocolate. And cheese. They really love their cheese. We didn’t get the chance to try this delicacy, but were assured it was ‘muy rico’.

Desert and other tasty snacks

If, after all that, you are still hungry (what is wrong with you?!) you can indulge in some sweet treats.

Salpicòn, a traditional Colombian desert made with cheese and ice cream
Salpicòn, a traditional Colombian desert made with cheese and ice cream

Salpicòn is a typical Colombian desert made with ice cream and cheese. It’s like a booze-less English trifle, with cheese on top. Pieces of mango, banana, strawberry and papaya soaked in a rich fruity juice. Topped with vanilla ice-cream, strawberry sauce, a wafer and the all-important cheese shavings. I told you they love their cheese.
Deep-fried donuts are also delicious, and can be found on every street corner. If you are fond of your clear arteries, then perhaps the Caribbean delicacy of breadfruit is more appealing. It is savoury, similar to a potato, and can be scalloped, boiled, fried or mashed. We enjoyed simple breadfruit chips from San Andres, a super cool corner of the world.

Delicious, healthy breadfruit
Delicious, healthy breadfruit
What to eat in Colombia for breakfast, lunch and dinner
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With so many delicious meals to choose from, you definitely won’t go hungry in Colombia. We’d love to hear what some of your favourites are!

 

 

27 thoughts on “What to eat in Colombia for breakfast, lunch and dinner

  1. I am going to Colombia soon. Can’t wait to try every single one of these when I get there! 🙂 Love this post! Andrea (@itsaTravelOD)

  2. WOW! That Bandeja Paisa looks amazing (but somewhat intimidating for a solo traveler like me, haha). I’m also intrigued by the breadfruit – I’ve never heard of anything like it! Can’t wait to try these mouth-watering dishes for myself one day!

  3. Hahahah I love the video of you trying all the local fruits! Your reactions are amazing. I would probably have the same as I’m not a HUGE fan of sour fruits. The local mantra “Eat like a King for Breakfast, a Prince for lunch and a Pauper for dinner” is awesome. I can definitely get behind that. Although I feel like I’d have to really amp up my workout routine to maintain any kind of shape if I’m going to be eating like a King, Prince and Pauper every day!

  4. Oh there’s a Columbian restaurant near me here in Vienna called Salpicon but I didn’t know it was a certain dessert! I will have to try it out. And that hot chocolate and cheese sounds kind of gross, but looks amazing. It seems like Columbia is a good place to go for an appetite like mine ! 😋

  5. Omg! Now I’m hungry!! Who knew Columbia had so much?!? I love empanadas…but hot chocolate with cheese!! Sign me up! I love doing food tours…I feel like you can scratch so much more than just the surface!

  6. The arepas in Medellin looks very interesting, I would love to try different varieties. For the hot chocolate with cheese? I love chocolate and cheese but I’ve never had them together.

  7. oh wow all this food looks glorious!!! Bandeja Paisa is just my thing!! I don’t know much about South American food – I don’t think I have ever really come across restaurants with Colombian specialities (and it seems that is a shame!) I’d skip the blood sausage though 😀

  8. Columbia would be an incredible country to visit. I’m a little worried about how safe it is to travel here though. The food looks delicious, but very fattening. I think I would stick to the juices!

    1. Colombia is safe, despite common misconceptions. Obvs you need to be careful – like in any major city – but we felt totally safe there.

  9. Oh my – hot chocolate with cheese? I feel a heart attack coming on! The breakfast empanada looks and sounds absolutely delicious, and Gloria looks seriously sassy. I’d love to eat my way through Colombia and will have to look into going on a food tour here as well!

  10. I’m a food lover and always try to taste as many local cuisines as possible wherever I travel to! It’s true that not many people know much about Colombia’s dishes, so your post is totally an eye-opener! I’d definitely try the Bandeja Paisa if I have the chance to visit Colombia.

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