My Top 7 Favorite Colombian Dishes
I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Southern California. My parents are Colombian and they both like to cook. As a matter of fact, they owned a Colombian restaurant from 2010 to 2013.
My dad is a Bogotano (person from Bogota) and my mom is a Santandereana (person from Santander), therefore, I grew up eating a variety of Colombian dishes. Having been back in Colombia for about seven years now I have experienced many more dishes.
In this post I’m going to go over my top seven Colombian dishes based on taste and nostalgia.
7. Lechona Tolimense
Yep it’s a whole roasted, stuffed pig. What’s it stuffed with? Rice, pork, scallions, peas, chopped garlic cloves seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and azafran. The pig is usually slow roasted for about 10 hours so that the skin comes out nice and crispy.
At my house we never made lechona ourselves, but every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years we’d order one from a Colombian lady that sold them. This dish forever will remind me of the holidays at my parents house in Southern California.
This dish is customary during the holidays, but here in Medellin you can find it year round at theses places:
Oh man there’s nothing like a good sancocho to cure a hangover! When I was a kid we’d go to the lake in our city or to the beach with the whole family and my mom and aunts would bring the big sancocho pot (it’s a big ass pot) and put it on the barbecue. As a teen I’d get embarrassed, but that passed when my friends would want to come just for the food.
Sancocho is basically a big ass stew. The main ingredient, the protein, can be chicken, beef or pork, or all three if you’re lucky. You can also get seafood sancocho, where catfish is the star.
What’s in a Sancocho Colombiano? Other than the meat you have: onions, red bell pepper, garlic, ground cumin. achiote, ears of fresh corn, water, green plantains, white potatoes, fresh yuca (cassava), cilantro, ground pepper and salt.
The best sancocho can be found in Colombian neighborhoods on Sundays. People cook outside and share with their neighbors. Also, any respected Menu Del Dia restaurant in any neighborhood will offer Sancocho at least once a week. I live in Manila, which is a neighborhood in El Poblado, and there are many daily lunch spots within walking distance that make good sancocho.
5. Bandeja Paisa
As you can see the bandeja paisa is a monster of a plate. It’s almost too big…almost. I’m 6’3, 190 lbs, and I can throw down one these giants, with a couple of beers on top, but yeah, I’m stuffed afterwards.
I grew up eating rice, beans and meat. My father loves avocado, therefore, we always had it. In the U.S. my family assimilated to the fast-paced life and lunch became less and less important as the years went by.
But here, in Colombia, lunch is an event. I own a business in Medellin. I have broken down and let my Colombian staff take 2-hour lunches because I know how important it is for them. I don’t take two hour lunches during the week, but I do take them on the weekend and it’s great.
Colombian menudo consists of: beef tripe (mondongo) cut into small pieces, lime juice, baking soda, pork meat cut into small squares, sliced chorizo, tomatoes, chopped scallions, chopped white onion, diced potatoes, diced yuca, salt and pepper, ground cumin, achiote, fresh cilantro, chopped garlic and water.
It is typically served with rice, avocado and a banana on the side. It’s incredible to take a piece of banana and dip it into the soup. The clash of the spices from the soup and the sweetness of the banana is pleasing to the palette.
When I first tried Mondongo it was from a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in downtown Medellin. I loved it so much that I went there for a week straight for lunch (mind you I was living in downtown and it was only a 5 minute walk away.) The restaurant is called El Callejon, and it’s located in Pasaje de la Bastilla. El Pasaje de la Bastilla is basically an alleyway where you can find new and used books. Most books are in Spanish of course, but you can find books in English as well. They’re all super cheap because most of them are bootleg. I love going there! I usually go check out books then have mondongo for lunch at El Callejon, which is across the way from the book mall. This video shows the book mall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd8n8pSDVqY.
Growing up in SoCal I grew up eating Mexican tamales, which are way smaller and less tasty than the Colombian tamales. Mexican food as a whole is awesome, but we Colombians got em’ beat on the tamale end.
The Colombian tamale is a whole meal in a banana leaf. Let’s go over what they’re made of.
There are two main types of tamales that I like, tamal tolimense and tamal paisa.
The tamal tolimense consists of: pork ribs in small pieces, pieces of chicken, pork belly in small pieces, sliced potatoes, sliced carrots, egg, peas and rice.
The tamal paisa is: chopped onions, garlic, chopped red bell peppers, chopped green bell peppers, chopped scallions, ground cumin, azafran, salt, pork belly cut in small pieces, pork meat cut into pieces, bone in pork ribs cut into pieces, diced potatoes, peas, and diced carrots.
The main difference between the two is that the Paisa tamal doesn’t have rice. They’re both tasty and filling.
Whenever I have a tamale craving I usually go to Max Tamal right next to the church across from Poblado Park.
Holy crap! Just thinking and writing about Ajiaco makes me so hungry. Ajiaco is another stew, a shredded chicken and potato stew. The dish is very common in Bogota and since my father is from Bogota we had this a lot growing up. It takes a bit of time to prepare, so it was usually a weekend dish.
Ajiaco is made of: pulled chicken breasts, water, cut ears of fresh corn, salt, pepper, chicken broth, scallions, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, whole papa criolla (Andean Potato), sliced white potatoes, sliced red potatoes, guascas, heavy cream for serving, capers for serving and an avocado for serving.
Whenever I bite into a caper I will always be reminded of Ajiaco. It’s so hearty and delicious.
The best place for an ajiaco near my house is a restaurant called Ajiacos y Mondongos near Parque del Poblado. I highly recommend it.
1. Arroz con Pollo and Calentado
My number one spot is a tie between two dishes, arroz con pollo and calentado.
I could eat a whole bucket of arroz con pollo. I absolutely love this dish. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, it’s pretty easy to make, so my mom would make it often, therefore whenever I eat arroz con pollo it reminds me of my awesome mom and how much I love her. Second, it was the first thing I learned how to cook when I moved out on my own. I remember calling my mom and her telling me how to make it over the phone. Third, you can use the leftovers for breakfast to make calentado.
Arroz con pollo is: pulled chicken breasts, scallions, white onions, garlic, ground cumin, seasoning with azafran, bay leaves, salt and pepper, rice, olive oil, red bell peppers, green peppers, tomato paste, chicken stock, peas, carrots and green string beans.
I usually put hot sauce, ketchup and a fried egg on top. Yeah, this will definitely put you down for a nap. It’s damn good.
I still haven’t found a place in Medellin that makes great arroz con pollo.
Calentado is a breakfast dish and it is basically re-fried leftovers and eggs with an arepa. It’s a great way to recycle what you have left over from the previous day’s lunch or dinner. At my house this was our Sunday breakfast. My dad would take us to play soccer with him and his friends and when we’d get back we’d all take a shower and help cook the calentado. Then we’d all sit in front of the T.V. and watch soccer with him. I miss that very much, makes me want to have kids! Then I realize that I have to get a girlfriend first. Baby steps.
Anyway, calentado consists of arepa, Colombian chorizo, fried eggs sunny side up or scrambled eggs with tomato and onions, hogao, white rice, pinto beans and an avocado for serving.
Again, having grown up in SoCal with all my Mexican people I learned to put hot sauce on everything, so I typically will put hot sauce on my calentado and replace the arepa with tortillas.
Here in Medellin you’ll find calentado in any restaurant that serves breakfast, it’s very common here. Desayunero La 10 is walking distance from my apartment and they have a pretty good calentado, but like all of the dishes I’ve mentioned, the best will always be the one made at home.