If you’re reading this post, you’re ready to brave the Colombian street vendors and get a taste of Colombian street food. Good for you! ?
Before going to Colombia, I received tons of rave reviews from other travelers. Everyone attested to the fact that Colombia was a captivating country full of colorful culture, welcoming people, and incredible history. All who had visited Colombia had completely fallen in love. Actually, out of all the travelers I talked to, Colombia was most people’s favorite stop in all of South America.
BUT, the one thing in this country that no one seemed too enthused about was Colombian food. All the reviews on this front were pretty much the same: “Ehh .. I found food in Colombia pretty bland and boring.” “It’s flavorless.” “Colombian dishes are nothing to write home about.”
Still, as someone who will eat pretty much everything and anything, this only intrigued me further. How could a whole country have nothing to offer food-wise? I was eager to give the local Colombian cuisine a chance to prove the rumors wrong.
So, as usual, when planning my trip to Medellin, I let my taste buds take the lead and one of the first things I booked was a food tour. I decided on La Mesa Food Tour’s Colombian Street Food Tour, first, because it fit into my schedule perfectly, and secondly because it seemed like just the tour to clear up all the confusion about popular Colombian food.
It also happened to be one of the more affordable food tours I’ve seen. I was excited to go in with an open mind and give local food in Medellín a fair try.
Our tour met right before lunch in a charming plaza in Medellín’s Envigado neighborhood. Our tour guide, Laura, led us through the area’s lively streets where we got to try lots of tasty traditional Colombian bites.
We visited several street stalls, took a trip through a colorful local market, sat down for a hearty home-style Colombian lunch, and ended with a mysterious desserty drink. We learned all about the local Paisa culture and were sent home fully satisfied and ready for an afternoon siesta.
It was a wonderful afternoon full of interesting information and tasty treats. The Colombian street foods we tried blew my bland and boring expectations out of the water. As per usual, you can’t believe everything you hear.
In Colombia, it’s all about what you eat and where you eat it, which is exactly why I LOVE food tours like La Mesa.
So, what’s the Colombian street food you need to try?
Traditional Colombian Empanadas
Unless you’re living under a rock somewhere out in Guam, then you probably already know something about Empanadas.
These tasty stuffed pastries are a pretty significant part of Latin culture as a whole and they can be found in countries all over the world. If you somehow didn’t already know, Empanadas are usually semi-circular shaped turnover pies that are eaten as snacks, as quick meals and at special events such as holidays, festivals and celebrations.
Each Latin American country (and sometimes even specific regions within a country) has its own distinct variation of empanadas, whether baked or fried, sweet or savory, meat or vegetarian- the combinations are literally never-ending.
In the case of the traditional Colombian version of an empanada, it’s a pretty classic savory concoction that usually contains potato, beef, onion, and cilantro. They are pan-fried, have a cornmeal dough shell, and are often served with a hot “ají pepper sauce” on the side.
For our first stop of the day, we picked up a few of these spicy crispy little corn pastries at a corner street stall. After months of baked bready empanadas in Chile, these were a very welcome change!
In Colombia, Postobón gives the Coca Cola Company a run for its money. It’s by far Colombia’s most popular beverage brand. They produce a pretty extensive variety of beverages including soft drinks, fruit juices, flavored teas, energy drinks, and even their own bottled water. BUT their most well known fizzy drink is called “Colombiano,” which is like a “cola champagne” with a taste similar to that of cream soda.
With our empanadas, we tried “Manzana Postobón,” a bright pink, apple-flavored soda. At first, we were given a taste and asked to guess the flavor, but the pink color really threw me off. Only one person in our group was able to guess “apple,” and once she said it, the sweet apple taste was unmistakable.
Apparently this rose-colored refreshment has become quite iconic among Colombians and is a top seller in soft drinks!
Arepas de Choclo con Queso
Arepas are a popular type of round bread patty very typical of both Colombia and Venezuela. They are made of corn dough or cooked flour, usually flat, and almost always served with some kind of accompaniment.
Arepas can be baked, grilled or fried, eaten as a snack or for breakfast, lunch or dinner and served plain, with toppings or split in half and stuffed like a pita.
The majority of Colombians eat at least one arepa daily (yes, I said at least), so you can guess they are a huge part of their culture.
In Colombia it’s pretty hard to avoid trying arepas and let me tell you, I tried my fair share. Honestly, for the most part, I was unimpressed. Unless done preciously right, arepas can be chalky, dense, and flat out boring. Thankfully, “arepas de choclo” are no ordinary arepas.
As our second stop on the food tour, we stopped at a small unassuming street stall and were each handed half of a corn arepa fresh off the grill. Immediately, I knew this would be the arepa for me.
Biting into this moist savory corn cake topped with smooth butter and a thick slab of fresh cheese was like sinking my teeth right into heaven. Seriously “divino.” I could definitely eat one of these every day. My mouth is watering just writing about it ..
Colombian Exotic Fruits & Fresh Juices
Colombia is home to some of the world’s most exotic tropical fruits and because of the country’s wide range of climates, there is a crazy array of produce to choose from.
Rare and extremely sought-after fruits are commonplace in Colombia; they’re found at most markets, usually locally grown and incredibly affordable!
For our third stop of the day, we went for a leisurely stroll through the Envigado market, trying a smattering of these exotic fruits and their juices along the way. We admired the interestingly shaped and colored fruit at different stands while breathing in their fragrant aromas and learning about their flavors and origins. Most of the fruits we tried had names I could hardly even pronounce! ?
The fruit juices we tried:
Guanábana- the guanábana fruit has dark green skin and is oval-shaped (sort of resembling an avocado), but with small prickly spikes on its surface. Its insides consist of a white smooth pulp and big black seeds and it has a slightly acidic taste. It’s commonly used to make flavored sweet mixtures like milkshakes, ice creams, and jams.
Borojo– Borojo is from the rainforest and historically was used for a little bit of everything, even as an aphrodisiac. ? It’s round and brown and has a really interesting, kind of strange sweet and sour taste. We had it mixed with milk for a smooth yogurty texture.
Lulo– tangy, citrus-like fruit, native to northwestern South America. Looks like a yellow tomato on the outside and resembles a kiwi on the inside.
The fresh fruits we tasted:
Lulo– see above.
Tomate de arbol– a bitter-tasting yellow or orange mini egg-shaped fruit.
Granadilla– a type of passion fruit, round with a thick yellow outer skin and filled with black seeds surrounded by pulpy membranes. Very sweet!
Yellow Pitaya- known in English as yellow dragonfruit. Vibrant yellow spiky skin with a white sweet inner flesh and small black sesame seed looking seeds. Yellow dragonfruit is known to have many health benefits such as being good for digestion and is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants!
Uchuva- a small yellow fruit that looks like a cherry tomato. Has a creamy pulp that you suck out from the skin and can be tart, sweet, or even extremely sour.
Zapote- native to rainforest climates and tastes very similar to papaya.
After all of our previous tastes and samplings, we head over to a local restaurant for the main event, a traditional Colombian home-style lunch.
The main course of the meal was two immense servings of Bandeja Paisa, the ultimate Colombian comfort food. This dish is named for the region of its origin, “Paisa,” and for its tendency to take up the entire surface of a platter, which in Spanish is “bandeja.”
Bandeja Paisa is a feast fit for a king and one heavy helping of food sure to leave you satisfied.
Bandeja Paisa is served as a sort of sampler with any combination of a variety of meats including “powdered meat,” chorizo, fried pork belly, grilled steak, and “morcilla” or blood sausage. It also traditionally includes a fried egg, a bed of white rice, baked plantains, and a side of Paisa style pinto beans.
You’ll also find that Hogao sauce (a tomato, garlic, and onion mixture), avocado, basic arepas, and sliced limes are typically served with the dish. I told you it was a feast!
This dish is be shared and eaten as a midday meal to allow adequate time for digestion, and because you may very well need a siesta immediately afterward!
Bandeja Paisa is delicious, but it’s also quite a feat. Go ahead and dive in, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Just when I thought I was ready to pop, we went to an ice cream parlor for some Salpicón. Salpicón is a very typical “desserty” beverage in Colombia that is pretty much a fruit cocktail on crack.
Just like any fruit cocktail, salpicón starts with a base of assorted fresh fruits- commonly some combination of pineapple, mango, apple, bananas, grapes, strawberries, papaya, watermelon, or whatever other tropical fruits you happen to have on hand– but that’s where the similarities end.
This Colombian dessert makes a bold move with the addition of fizzy Postobón, a dollop of vanilla-flavored ice cream, some sweetened condensed milk, a rolled wafer and, to top it all off, a sprinkling of shredded mild white cheese.
The flavor was a bit crazy and definitely very interesting at first, but after a few bites, I have to admit that salpicón really grew on me. We had the option to order it with or without the shredded cheese, but I figured ‘when in Colombia’ and just went for it. Surprisingly, the cheese was a really nice touch!
See! Not all Colombian food is boring! Actually, it’s quite the opposite! It’s all about knowing WHAT to eat and WHERE to eat it!
As for the where- that’s where La Mesa Food Tours comes in! I highly recommend a tour with La Mesa, because as I always say- there is so much more to food than just its ingredients. Cuisine = culture.
Learning about local eating practices is such a meaningful and significant part of travel! La Mesa’s Colombian Street Food Tour is fun, informative, and super affordable, so don’t miss out on experiencing Paisa culture through your taste buds!
La Mesa’s Colombian Street Food Tour in Medellín
- When: Monday to Saturday @ 10:00Am or @1:00Pm
- Where: Through Medellín’s Envigado neighborhood.
- Price: $58 for adults and $20 for children 6-10, Children under 6 are FREE! All food and drink included!
- Reserve your Colombian Street Food Tour here.
- La Mesa also runs a coffee crawl in Medellín and tours in Bogota and Cartagena!
*Note that the tour includes a lot of meat and is not particularly vegetarian or vegan friendly.
Looking for more things to do in Medellín? Check out my One Day in Medellín Guide, where I narrow down the city to the best of the best!
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Disclaimer: La Mesa graciously invited me as a guest on their Colombian street food tour for purposes of this post. Still, as always, all opinions expressed are my own. I would only recommend something that I genuinely felt would benefit my readers.
Have you ever done a street food tour? Which of the above foods would you like to try? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!