Dec 02

Colombian Street Food: the Good, the Bad and the Strange

If you travel to Cartagena, Medellín, Bogotá, Cali, or many more of the big cities in Colombia, you’ll find yourself inundated with international cuisine. In Bogotá you can even find a Serbian restaurant. But there’s nothing quite like getting to know a country’s culture by eating its street food – and street food is everywhere in Colombia.

Some of it is delicious, some of it is satisfying, some of it is so bland you won’t even notice you ate anything and some of it is… Well, wrong (I’m looking at you hot chocolate with cheese). If you’re in Colombia, it’s all an essential experience, so grab the man on the corner dispensing tintos from a thermoflask and wander down the street with a coffee in hand, searching for your nearest food-seller. You’ll never feel more Colombian.

Arepas

Arepas, anyone?
Arepas, anyone? (Photo by William Neuheisel – http://www.flickr.com/photos/wneuheisel/5638759779/in/photostream/)

Arepas are the staple of the Colombian street food diet. You’ll find them almost everywhere in Colombia, although with slightly different variations. Your standard arepa is made of pre-cooked corn flour or corn dough which is then mixed with water and salt. The mixture is then kneaded into the familiar flat, round shape you’ll see all over Colombia.

Variations include the arepa de huevo, which is a popular snack on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. A single egg is placed in the arepa before it is deep fried, resulting in a quick and tasty snack.

Arepas are kind of love ’em or… you’re-so-indifferent-to-their-blandness-that-you-end-up-hating-them. But pretty much the whole nation loves them, so what do we know?

Empanadas

Delicious, quick, cheap. The empanada. (Photo courtesy of eddy milfort - http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddymilfort/5661038471/sizes/m/in/photostream/)
Delicious, quick, cheap. The empanada. (Photo courtesy of eddy milfort – http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddymilfort/5661038471/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

Empanadas are popular all over Latin America, but Colombians have their own distinct spin on the classic recipe. Instead of the bread-based doughy exterior you’ll find in, say, Argentina, the Colombian empanada is made of cornmeal. They can be deep fried or baked, but either way they’re delicious. Depending on what region of Colombia you’re in, you can find a variety of different fillings. In Bogotá the most popular is meat and potato but in Medellín they’re huge lovers of chorizo-filled empanadas.

Perros Calientes / Hamburguesas

Delicious or revolting? I'll try it and tell you. (Photo courtesy of Joshua Heller - http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshuaheller/3095465017/sizes/m/in/photostream/)
Delicious or revolting? I’ll try it and tell you. (Photo courtesy of Joshua Heller – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshuaheller/3095465017/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

Hot dogs and hamburgers are everywhere in Colombia and, though not exactly an example of local cuisine, Colombians ensure that their hamburgers and hot dogs are suitably large and delicious. They usually come with an abundance of fillings, including pickles, bacon, ham, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, maize, chorizo and more. Frankly, there’s often so much filling that you can’t fit the whole thing in your mouth.

Fruit

Fruit stall (photo courtesy of Eric Baxter - http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldwidewandering/1304011599/)
Fruit stall (photo courtesy of Eric Baxter – http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldwidewandering/1304011599/)

There’s a huge range of fruit in Colombia that you may not even have heard of: carambola, tomate de arbol, guarambola and lulo are just some of the fruits that you won’t come across easily in the English-speaking world. Aside from the variety though, the real attraction of Colombia’s fruit selection is its freshness, and this freshness isn’t compromised when eating street food. In fact, often some of the best fruit you’ll find will be from a man pulling along a wheelbarrow.

You will also find plenty of street vendors selling cups of melon, pineapple and papaya. Delicious and healthy.

Obleas Colombiana

Ordering obleas (photo courtesy of William Neuheisel, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wneuheisel/5597072308/sizes/m/in/photostream/)
Ordering obleas (photo courtesy of William Neuheisel, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wneuheisel/5597072308/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

This unique snack isn’t found everywhere in Colombia, but it’s worth seeking out. They’re pretty much large, round communion wafers, which might seem a little plain at first, but once you smear some arequipe (Colombian caramel sauce) between two and make yourself a little sandwich, you’ll soon be craving more and more.

Be warned, an oblea with everything (con todo) could upset those that don’t enjoy eating caramel and cheese together.

¡Buen provecho!

Paul

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3 thoughts on “Colombian Street Food: the Good, the Bad and the Strange

    Michelle on

    Great article! All of my favorites! True Colombians have their hot chocolate with cheese and some even put bits of bread in as well…..I know it may seem weird but when you’re raised on certain things, it’s not so weird. lol

    You’ll grow to like it – even if you don’t love it. Keep up the great work. Love reading about mi tierra querida.!

    Reply

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