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Colombian Food Guide: Bandeja Paisa & local cuisine

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…
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Buen provecho!

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Colombian Food Guide: Bandeja Paisa & local cuisine


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