Colombia is full of surprises. This is true not only about its diverse landscapes but about its gastronomy as well. Since taking our first steps on the Colombian soil, we were keen to have a taste of the local cuisine. Because we love munching on street food several times a day, the flock of food carts and little shops kept attracting our eyes constantly. I know you are curious as much as we were: what are those yummy things locals keep nibbling all day long? Here’s a list of Colombian snacks you’ll often see on the street and you should try at least once.
For one thing, Colombians absolutely LOVE their cheese: they stuff it in all their snacks, as a side to basically any food, and even as a filling for bread! (We once entered a bakery in San Agustín that didn’t sell any type of bread without cheese inside.) That cheese is not the yummiest, it’s mainly there as a decoration. So don’t be surprised to find plenty of cheesy dishes on this list.
Popular Colombian food to snack on
Arepa with cheese (arepa con queso): the number 1 Colombian snack
Arepa with cheese is the number one street food in Colombia, so it deserves to be mentioned right at the beginning of the list. Shall I recite an ode about arepas? It’s a thick disk-shaped dough usually made of corn flour and filled with cheese that melts inside the dough. They’re sold at every street corner and there are different types.
Señoras grill this delicious snack on the street stove and wrap them into aluminium foil. The cost varies from city to city, and of course, at a touristy or more popular area, it can go up to shocking levels. We didn’t pay more than 1500 COP (around 40 cents) for an arepa.
Fun fact: arepa is such a staple food in Colombia that they incorporated it into a cute saying “Cada arepa tiene su queso.” (Each arepa has their own cheese), meaning that every person will find someone fitting for them. Isn’t it sweet?
By the way, we list more Colombian sayings in our post about Colombian Spanish.
Almojábana ended up being my all-time favourite Colombian snack. I tasted it for the first time in a bakery in Pasto where we rested after crossing the border from Ecuador, although it’s rather a speciality from the north of the country.
This savoury pastry of corn dough mixed with cheese (of course) is about the size of an orange, and again, the quality varies from place to place. Although the ingredients are the same as in the arepa, it tastes different. Its name comes from the Arabic meaning “the cheesy one”.
Those who know the Brazilian pão de queijo will agree with me that they’re really similar; only that almojábana is bigger in size (which only makes it even better). Make sure you always ask to have it warmed up a little: it tastes 3 times better!
You might have heard of the Peruvian ceviche, a small plate of raw marinated fish and onion. We were very happy to discover Colombia’s vegetarian snack version of it, the ceviche de mango. It’s made with all raw ingredients: mango, bell pepper, red onion, lemon, coriander, vinegar and sweet chilly sauce. We tried it at a Couchsurfer’s granny and loved it so much that I jotted down the ingredients for a future date when I make this at home.
Sugarcane water with cheese (aguapanela con queso)
I said cheese was used in every dish, didn’t I? It even often accompanies this refreshing drink of sugarcane water, called aguapanela.
Colombia is the home of sugarcane, the unrefined, healthier alternative to white sugar. They sell it in big blocks –called panela– that need to be smashed at home (mostly with a hammer). They use this block of sugarcane to make aguapanela, essentially sweet water of a soft brown colour. But the taste is not even comparable with simple white sugar in water!
Aguapanela is very easy to make: put on water to boil, throw some pieces of panela in it to sweeten. When the sugar has melted and the water boiled, add either lime (a lot of lime) or milk. Never both. The lime version is really refreshing in hot weather if let to cool down, while I prefer the milky version on chilly evenings. And here we go for the local touch: true Colombians eat cheese on the side.
Add aguardiente (strong liquor) to your aguapanela to make a reinvigorating canelazo.
Only checking out the food or are you planning a trip? Get useful travel tips for your backpacking trip in Colombia.
Top local Colombian breakfast snacks
Have you heard of plantains, the thick, non-sweet bananas used for cooking? It’s a kitchen staple in many Latin American countries, and it’s used for sweet-savoury food and even for drinks! Patacones are the Colombian version of fried green plantains snacks. First, the plantain is cut into thick rolls that are softly pressed down so that they don’t break apart. They are then fried in oil twice and served as a common breakfast item in Colombia.
Craving for more of those? Check out the Peruvian style plantains
Buñuelos: eat like a local
These fried cheese balls are fairly similar to almojábana, but I found that the dough was a touch less cheesy and a tad sweeter. They have amazingly round shape and it feel less oily than the empanaditas, so they make for a (slightly) healthier breakfast. We’ve seen them absolutely everywhere: at street sellers, in cafes. A great way to munch on the go like the locals.
Bollo de coco, bollo de mazorca y queso (corn rolls with cheese)
These are very authentic Colombian snacks and typical breakfast foods, among the healthiest in this list, given that they are cooked and not fried. A thick paste prepared with either type of corn, wrapped in the plant leaves. Maximum sustainability! The best is to enjoy it with a piece of Colombian white cheese. We tried this snack in Cartagena and found that it was similar to what other countries call humita.
Empanaditas or empanadas de pipian
Empanadas are as popular in Colombia as they are in other countries in South America, although their size is somewhat smaller. That’s why they are called empanadita, with the diminutive -ita/-ito at the end meaning “little”.
They are half-moon shaped pastries filled with various fillings, and fried in oil (so not the healthiest, I’m afraid). The vast majority of Colombian empanadas are filled with meat (chicken and beef are the most common); but in Popayán –south of the country– we ate veggie-filled empanaditas. The one we had there was filled with peanuts and potatoes and was absolutely delicious!
Find out how empanaditas compare to yummy Argentinian veggie empanadas
How about Colombian desserts?
Chola(d)o from Cali: an authentic calory bomb
I must say I have never seen the likes of this dessert anywhere else. It goes like this: Prepare a fruit salad with a wonderful selection of local fruit, such as mango, berries, lulo and guanábana. Add crushed ice to cool down during those warm summer nights. Pour condensed milk on top for a bit of cheeky flavour. Come on, you can add more. Okay then, now top the whole up with ice cream!
Does it sound like a diet killer? It is! Cholado –cholao, or also called raspao– is a typical street food in the region of Cali, and actually we haven’t seen it anywhere else in the country. You can take a small or a big one, and it’s best to enjoy directly at the street sellers’ table, watching other people around you enjoying their sugar rush.
Freshly pressed juices, as a liquid Colombian snack
To close our list with the healthiest item, here’s a very important recommendation: enjoy the fruit of Colombia. The best place to experience the richness and the variety of Colombian fruit is at the market. As we got used to in other South American countries, the downstairs part of the market is used to sell fruits and veggies, while the 1st floor houses a canteen with rows of sellers.
As a kind of a rule, every market has a row of juice sellers too. They offer juices made on the spot in front of your eyes with all kinds of fruit growing in Colombia. And there are loads, so make the most of them! Anthony got so inspired by these delicious juices, that he organised a #JuneJuice challenge on Twitter where he posted a different juice every day.
Which of these delicious Colombian snacks make your mouth water?
Share your favourites in the comment section below!
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