Colombian Food Guide: Bandeja Paisa & local cuisine

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Bandeja Paisa
The Colombian national dish: Bandeja Paisa. This photo was taken by my fellow globetrotter Sami, check out his IG accout: @the_last_samirai

My stay in Colombia was not one of the most balanced ones speaking of food. First, Colombian traditional dishes have their origins in the peasant lifestyle and are mainly made of simple, high-calorie ingredients, so that the farm workers would have high energy level out of a single meal. Second, we were staying at our Colombian friends’ place in Bogotá. Do you know the Colombian people? No? Well, they are very VERY proud of their origins and culture. So during our stay in Bogotá they made sure we tried as much local dishes as humanly possible in a short period of time. And finally, Colombians eat a lot. I mean, their servings are insane,… just sayin’!
So, at last I did the inevitable thing and tasted their legendary national dish: Bandeja Paisa!

Bandeja Paisa, Colombia’s national dish

This popular meal comes initially from the Paisa region, that’s where Medellin is located. In an upsurge of Nation branding, the Colombian government decided in 2005 to name this meal the official national dish.

Shut up and eat!

Let’s get straight to the point: Bandeja Paisa is nothing for lightweights. It’s a high-calorie dish, that’s the least you can say! The meal is usually presented on a big plate and consists of very rich nutrients. It’s the kind of meal that screws with an entire month of dietary effort.

Bandeja Paisa is made of a mixture of rice and arepa (ground maize dough), which come with minced meat, chorizo, black sausage, fried pork rind, plantain (cooking bananas), avocado (YEAY, something green!) and the whole thing is topped up with a fried egg thrown on top of it all that for good measure… Got it?

As our friends handed me the massive plate, I thought “Well, that’s a hell of a serving for 6 people!” Little did I know that this plate was solely and uniquely for me.

Hopelessly, I looked at the plate with the faint feeling of indigestion already creeping up to my stomach. With every forkful I felt my imaginary cholesterol levels soar up and my brain was suddenly in a very happy place. This was good stuff! In the end, I managed to eat one third of the serving and was in siesta mode for the next few hours.

Pollo Asado

Other local and traditional Colombian dishes are:

 

  • Cazuela de mariscos – a seafood stew (very yummy and very filling)
  • Mondongo – tripe soup, for the daring ones
  • Chicharrones – fried pork belly or fried pork rinds. You eat them like crisps (sometimes they are made of chicken or beef)
  • Tamales – made of masa or dough (usually made of maize flour), steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. … Oh man, what I loved those!
  • Arepas – corn cakes as served in the Bandeja Paisa
  • Pollo Asado con arroz – Grilled Chicken with rice

 

On the sweet side, you have Arequipe, which basically is cooked milk and sugar. It’s almost as delicious as the Argentine Dulce de Leche, but only almost (my husband is Argentine, so sssshhhh, I have to choose my words carefully here!) Anyway, the result is the same: you get all giggly and cheery when the sugar rush kicks in!

Drinks, on the side

Coffee! This word filled me with pure joy when I was preparing my trip to Colombia. But I quickly came to the somber conclusion that they must have exported all their drinkable coffee. The brews we tried in the coffee shops around Bogotá tasted more like dishwater. The only cup of joe that lived up to Colombia’s coffee reputation, was the one I had at the local coffee shop chain: Juan Valdez.

Colombians love beer and they have a range of breweries and microbreweries throughout the country. Aguila and Club Colombia just to name a few of their known beer brands. Generally, you choose between rubia (blonde), roja (bitter) and negra (stout), and if you go to Bogotá Beer Company you can even mix it all up to your gusto!

Club Colombia Beer

Finally, there is also the legendary Colombian Aguardiente. It’s an anise-flavoured liqueur derived from sugar cane, that is usually drunk neat and without moderation. Its side effects often include loss of short-term memory, consistent speech and all kinds of self-control and usually lead to an inevitable, dreadful hangover… but that’s a whole different story.

Colombian food is my comfort food

After my Colombian culinary experience, I literally craved for any kind of green leafy salad. It was quite difficult, though to find something green at all in Bogotá (except for the occasional avocado). Colombians are perhaps just not that into salads!

In the end, I think, I would rank Colombian food fairly high in the comfort food and indulgence food paraphernalia. Because I have to admit that to this day, when I have one of those mornings after, I still crave for that good old Bandeja Paisa, I had in Bogotá. The world’s best hangover cure!
So, if you wish to travel to Colombia, be armed with a sense of adventure and a hell of an… Click To Tweet

Buen provecho!

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Oh my! It looks like a trip to Columbia would be horrific for the waistline. I guess if you scheduled plenty of long hikes you could burn off some of the immense calories that they serve. Thanks for sharing this realistic view of your experiences. While it looks overly filling, it also looks like a culinary masterpiece.

  2. Umm… Colombian food. Just love with it. Mouth watering food. Thanks for sharing such a tasty experience. 😉

  3. Columbian food definitely sounds like comfort food! I love how you say it messes with your entire months diet efforts haha. Sounds like my sort of meal though, and very interesting the history behind why it is so high calorie.

    • Haha, yeah it really was a step backwards just before a trip to the beach… but still, I think the bandeja was delicious 😉

  4. Looks delicious! To be honest, I love big portions 😉 And I have to say that dishes high in calories or fat are not always bad for your health. The honest, traditional meals made with natural ingredients are way better than all of those “light” products on supermarket shelves where fat or sugar are replaced with a chemical cocktail. I know that as I come from a small village myself and my ancestors had a simple diet full of carbs and fat – they’d never heard about gluten or bread free diets. And none of them were fat – they were all fit and healthy until old age. So, I do prefer local, generous cuisine and some proper exercise rather than eating western inventions made by greedy corporations 🙂

    • Hi Tom, I totally hear you and agree with you… I love those traditional “granny” meals as well .. but this was just death by overeating!
      Anyway, this post was just about my experience with Colombian Food and didn’t really have anything to do with the greedy western companies you talked about. Though, I hope that you enjoyed reading it 😉

  5. I’m a big foodie so any information and knowledge about food from around the world is greatly appreciated by me. Thanks for all the details about the national dish and it definitely is a hearty filling meal from the look and sound of it. First time hearing about a Colombian Aguardient, and will lookout for it too.

  6. The Columbian dishes all look so rich and decadent! I have no problem in travels indulging and filling myself to the brim with their local specialties. Calories don’t count, right? 😉

  7. I visited Colombia last year and i really appreciate the food there. Especially the fact that there is an yogurt shop in every corner. The shakes and fruit yogurts are amazing. I definitely will love to go back. Thanks for the indepth post

    • Where did you stay in Colombia… my favourite city was Medellin… and the food there was just perfect! I really liked Colombia a lot!

    • Yep, that’s absolutely true… They should organise food tours, with an including siesta time! that would be a great tour! 🙂

  8. I love the Colombian food too but the desserts with arequipe are my favourites. I loved Club Colombia beer so much that I tried to order a couple of cases in the UK but the price was a little high! I also could not drink enough of the passion fruit juice when I was there!

    • Even if you only eat the avocado, arepas and tamales you will not be hungry any more 🙂 You definitely have to try the tamales, they are absolutely delicious!

  9. Thanks for sharing. This was really interesting for me, I always want to experience the food in a new culture, but it can be so calorific that sometimes all I want is an apple and a slice of toast. I’m pretty gutted that I wont make it to Colombia on this South American trip. Not necessarily for the food, but definitely for the coffee! Great post.

    • That’s a shame you won’t make it to Columbia, but then again that gives you a reason to plan another South American trip! 😉 Where are you heading to this time?

  10. Wow! That plate is massive! Bravo for even eating a third from the plate, I maybe eat even less than what you ate. All of the foods piled on the plate looks delicious but I’m more of a salad gal so that might be too much for me to handle. But then on the other hand, comfort foods are the best. I would just have to prepare my stomach, waistline and body for when I go to Colombia.

    • Yeah comfort food is the best… Puts you in a very happy place 🙂 If you want to eat Bandeja Paisa bst is to eat just that dish in a day !

  11. It’s interesting: The Arequipe reminds me of something I recently had in Israel/Palestine. Just there they added rosewater and then you could top it with nuts, coconut, and/or cinnamon.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Happy continued travels!
    C

    • Oooohhh! That’s interesting, then there is something new I have to try when I go to Israel/Palestine! 🙂 So looking forward to that!

  12. You had me at coffee 🙂 I love coffee so much and consider myself a bit of a java snob 🙂 All the food here in Colombia looks yummy as heck and I hope to get there someday to taste it for myself being a huge foodie and all.

  13. What a crazy portion. I’m not a big fan of meat but it’s good to know that the Colombians love it. When I visit, I can prepare myself for some salad hunt, haha. The Arepas and Tamales would be something I would try, though.

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