Colombian cuisine is a compound of the culinary traditions of the six main regions within the country (Pacific, Amazonian, Andean, Orinoco, Caribbean, and Insular). Colombian cuisine varies regionally and is particularly influenced by Indigenous Colombian, Spanish, and African cuisines, with slight Arab influence in some regions. Furthermore, being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Colombia has one of the widest variety of available ingredients depending on the region.
Colombian food is a unique blend of indigenous and European traditions with a strong Afro-Caribbean influence. The two largest indigenous groups prior to European conquest were the Tairona, who lived along the Caribbean coast, and the Muisca, who lived in the highlands to the South. Arepas, made from ground corn, are one of the oldest cooked dishes in Colombian cuisine. It is believed that the name derives from the word for corn in the Chibcha languages. Arepas are a popular modern Colombian dish.
In the city of Cali, the most traditional dish is "sancocho de gallina" - a soup composed mostly of chicken, plantain, corn, coriander, yuca root, and other seasonings. Sancocho is usually served with a portion of rice, tostadas (fried plantains), and a chicken leg covered in hogao (a tomato and onion sauce). The city is also known for its empanadas (a fried corn dough filled with potatoes and meat), marranitas / puerquitas (a fried ball of plantain filled with chicharron, also known as pork rinds), pandebono (a delicious cheese bread made with yucca dough), and aborrajados (sweet ripe fried plantains filled with cheese and served with guava paste).
In Bogotá and the Andean region, ajiaco is the traditional dish. It is also a type of soup made of chicken, potatoes, and flavoured with a locally grown herb called "guasca".
In the Caribbean coast, spicy cooking, with fish and lobster, is practiced. Coconut rice is a common dish along the coastal cities. The cuisine of the Caribbean is also influenced by Arab traditions, with dishes such as Kibbeh.
In the Llanos, meat from the barbecue, such as the "ternera llanera" is common, and also typical river fishes like the "amarillo".
In the Amazonas, the cuisine is influenced by Brazilian and Peruvian traditions.
Inland, the dishes reflect the mix of cultures, inherited mainly from Amerindian and European cuisine, and the produce of the land mainly agriculture, cattle, river fishing, and other animals' raising. Such is the case of the sancocho soup in Valledupar, the arepas (a corn based bread-like patty). Local species of animals like the guaratinaja, part of the wayuu Amerindian culture.
In the Tolima region, the Tamales Tolimenses are a delicacy. These tamales are made of a corn dough and feature peas, carrots, potatoes, rice, chicken, pork, and various spices. They are wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled for three to four hours. Pandebono for breakfast with hot chocolate.
On the Islands of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina, the main dish is rondon, a seafood dish made of coconut milk, fish, conch, cassava root (yuca), sweet potato, white yams, and pumpkin seasoned with chili peppers and herbs. They also have a crab soup which is considered a delicacy. It is made with the same ingredients as rondon, without the fish.
Ají picante, a spicy, cilantro-based sauce, is used as a condiment for many dishes and sides, including empanadas, platacones, and soups. This traditional sauce is from the department of Antioquia,
Piqueteaderos are rustic eateries that serve a variety of fried foods and specialties in platters to share. Offerings can even include huesos cerdos (pig bones), tarta de seso (brain pie) as well as fried dishes, morcilla, corn on the cob, and other Colombian delicacies.
Picada Colombiana, chopped specialties served as a combo platter.
Sancocho, is a popular soup originating from the Valle del Cauca region. It combines vegetables and poultry or fish with recipes differing from one region to the other, but usually contains yuca, maize, and is frequently eaten with banana slices.
Tamales are corn or corn/rice “cakes” wrapped in platain tree leaves and steamed. They can be filled with everything from chicken, potatoes, peas, carrots, to rice. The tamales vary in shape and fillings in each region, and almost every region has its own variation. Some well known variations are from Tolima, Santander, Cúcuta, Bogotá and Valle del Cauca; just to name a few.
Fritanga is another popular Colombian dish made of meats, fried plantains, chicharrones, and yellow potatoes with aji sauce eaten throughout Colombia. Milanesa is another common meat dish throughout the country.
On a per capita basis, Colombia is one of the world's largest consumers of fruitjuices, consuming on average more than three quarters of a serving each day.
Aguapanela is made by dissolving panela (a kind of sugarloaf) in water. Lime juice may be added for flavor. It can be served cold or hot. When served hot it is common for Colombians to put cheese in their aguapanela for it to melt.
Champús is a thick drink made from corn, pineapple, lulo, and other ingredients.
Hot chocolate, Colombian hot chocolate is made with milk, water, and bars of semi-sweet chocolate. A special metal pitcher (called a chocolatera) is used for heating and pouring, and a utensil called a molinillo – essentially a stick with paddles at the end – is used for stirring and frothing. Colombian hot chocolate often includes cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.
Colombian coffee is known for its quality and distinct flavor. Though much of the world's quality coffee beans come from Colombia, many Colombians commonly drink instant coffee rather than brewed. It is popularly consumed as a "tinto", meaning black with sugar or panela on the side, or as café con leche, which is a preparation of half coffee and half heated milk. In 2011 UNESCO declared the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia a World Heritage site.
Salpicón (which literally means large splash) made from diced fruit and soda, usually Colombiana or any Kola flavored soda. It can also be a fruit cocktail beverage (often made with watermelon or mandarin juice).
Aguardiente is an alcoholic drink derived from sugarcane and flavored with anise. It is widely consumed at Colombian parties, and ranges in potency from 20% to 40%. It is a variation of the Spanish alcoholic drink.
Biche is an alcoholic drink of Afro-Colombians made up with unripe sugarcane.
Canelazo is an alcoholic version of aguapanela mixed with cinnamon and aguardiente. Sugar is rubbed on the edges of the glass when served.
Hervido is a local variety of canelazo, traditional in Nariño.
Chicha is a formerly forbidden strong alcoholic beverage originally made by the indigenous peoples of the Andes. It can be prepared from virtually everything, but is typically made from corn. The corn is cooked and grounded with panela which is later wrapped in green plantain leaves and left alone for three days until fermented. It is later mixed with water and any chosen flavors such as orange leaves or spearmint.
Guarapo is made from various fruits kept in a large ceramic jar and left to ferment for about 2 months. Within that time, panela is added into the liquid to make the alcohol stronger. Grapes and pineapple are typically used. Guarapo is very similar to Chicha.
Chirrinche, distillated guarapo.
Masato, It is prepared with rice, sugar, water, cinnamon and whole clove (spice); It is strained and the water is preserved and let aside to have a smooth fermentation.
Refajo is a type of shandy beverage made by mixing Kola Hipinto (in santanderian region), Colombiana (in cities like Bogota) or Kola Roman (in the Caribbean region), with beer or rum. This mixture of soda and beer is very popular and seen a lot when it comes to accompany foods that are higher in animal fat, generally at barbecues. The combination of the sweetness of the kola and the sourness of the beer and the additional effect of the carbonated soda helps tolerate the fat of some of the typical dishes without hiding their original flavor.
Sabajón, a sweet and creamy alcoholic drink from the Cordillera Oriental. It is made from eggs and milk with added flavors and juice of fruits and liqueur on half or less concentration.
^Singh, Gitanjali M., et al. "Global, regional, and national consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, and milk: a systematic assessment of beverage intake in 187 countries." PLoS ONE 10.8 (2015): e0124845.