Brace yourself, ladies and gents, because this is the post you’ve been waiting for—where I delve into the wonders and intricacies of Colombian grub. But before another person asks me how the enchiladas are down here, let me get one thing straight—there is a HUGE difference between Mexican food and Colombian food. In fact, most Central and South American food couldn’t be more different than Mexican food.
Now that we’ve cleared up that little misconception, let’s continue with your crash course in Colombian cuisine. Although the following is not a complete compendium of Colombian cuisine, I’ve tried to include the most commonly consumed comestibles.
Also, I apologize for all the alliteration.
It’s just one of those days.
Ready? Here we go…
|Some delicious-looking grilled arepas.|
If you spend time in Colombia, chances are you will sooner or later cross paths with an arepa. Arepas are flat, round patties made of cornmeal that can be grilled, baked or fried. Although arepas vary from region to region, in Bogotá they are usually baked or grilled with melted cheese inside. Breakfast arepas are typically stuffed with scrambled or sunny-side-up eggs and lunch and dinner arepas have chicken or beef stuffed inside. Think of an arepa as a cross between an English muffin and a pancake that you can stuff with whatever your heart desires.
Known as plantains in English, these wanna-be bananas are often sliced and pan fried in oil until golden-brown and served as a side-dish. Although they look like bananas, don’t be fooled—eaten raw, these babies are bitter and generally mistreat the taste buds. Plátanos are best served either baked or fried as part of a main dish. But, if bitter is your thing, have at it raw.
This dish should sound familiar—it is commonly sold in the United States. Empanadas are stuffed bread or pastries that are baked or fried. The name actually comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. The dish originated in Spain and was brought to the Americas by conquistadors, which is why today it can be found in nearly every Latin American country. Empanadas are made by folding a dough or bread patty around a particular type of stuffing, which usually consists of some kind of meat, vegetables or even fruits. Picture a pizza pocket minus the pizza. When you are enguayabado, these babies will save your life. Trust me on this.
Although this plant sounds a lot like what a four-year old might say when pressed to eat their greens, it deserves as much respect as the potato receives in North America. Like the potato, yuca (also called cassava), has white flesh encased in a thick, brown rind. Indigenous to South America, yuca was an important staple food for pre-Columbian cultures and after European colonization became the single most important staple crop on the African continent. Today, yuca continues to play an important role in South America and comes standard with any traditional Colombian meal.
Although it may look like plain old caramel, arequipe exists on a whole other plane of deliciousness. Often called dulce de leche, arequipe is prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product deriving its taste from caramelized sugar. In Colombia, arequipe is often found in brownies and cakes, but is most commonly enjoyed all on its own from the top of a spoon. If you don’t like arequipe—I’m sorry—but we can’t be friends.
|Yeah, it's kinda cute. And yeah, I kinda ate it.|
Chiguiro are animals indigenous to South America and is the largest living rodent in the world. They have heavy, barrel-shaped bodies and short heads with reddish-brown fur on the upper part of their bodies. Although they look like overgrown guinea pigs, they taste like chicken and their meat is considered a delicacy in Colombia. About a month ago, I ate Chiguiro thinking it was chicken. When someone showed me a picture of what I had just digested, I was slightly taken aback, but figured when it comes to eating rodents, there could be worse choices.
|If Satan took food form, this is what he would look like.|
This abomination is every gringo’s worst nightmare. Although this traditional Latin American soup may seem innocent enough at first glance, the unassuming vegetables that float in the broth are only there to avert your attention from the dish’s fiendish intentions. See that white meat bobbing in the broth? Yeah, it’s not chicken—it’s tripe—also known as cleaned stomach of cow. If you’re not allergic to mondongo, you’ll wish you were. It’s the devil’s nectar.
|A typical Colombian meal.|
So, there you have it—a quick overview of what Colombians like to eat. Although some of these foods might seem exotic, a typical Colombian meal is actually quite simple—meat with rice and vegetables. The types of meat and vegetables vary from region to region, but this is pretty much the standard formula for Colombian cuisine.
No burritos here.