Colombian Food: Worst of the Worst

Posted on 30. Jul, 2014 by in colombia

This is a critical article about Colombian food. To see a positive article about the Colombian dishes I miss, see 10 Things to Eat in Bogota.

colombian-cupid-buttonI didn’t understand what “bad food” meant until I moved to Colombia. Bad food doesn’t mean unpleasant flavors. It means no flavor. It means flavorless food at every meal. It means meals aren’t a part of the day to look forward to.

This is something that Colombians are becoming increasingly aware (and sensitive) about in regards to their country. I’m not the only guy saying it. All the expats in Colombia say it. It’s almost unanimous. This guy grew the collective ire of Colombia with his article, 10 Things to Hate about Bogota. From the article:

Food: Guide books will often talk about the great food options in Bogotá: you can get great Italian, Peruvian, Brazilian, French, etc. Notice a pattern there? None of those options are Colombian. Colombian “cuisine”, if you can call it that, consists of unseasoned meat that is fried, or grilled, to within an inch of charcoal, usually. Arepas, those starch-laden, inch-thick answer to the tortilla, are like eating cardboard. The idea of spices is a completely alien one. I once went to a major supermarket and asked for black pepper. They didn’t sell it. Most of the food consists of potatoes, rice, arepas and a paper-thin churrasco of chicken breast or beef (which is usually horribly fatty and gristly.) In truth, there are a few tasty dishes, which I will laud in my next post, but overall, it’s a bland, tough slog through a traditional Colombian meal. No wonder they like juices with every meal: they’re the only things on the table with some flavor.

Enough intro, let’s get into the awful foods of Colombian cuisine.

ACPM

acpm colombia Photo credit: MasterChef Colombia

(most typical meal in Colombia, except the beef would never be that thick or free of fat and gristle, that was the chef’s touch)

ACPM is what Colombians say to describe what they want in a plate: arroz, carne, papa, maduro – rice, meat, potato, fried plantain. The rice is white, cooked without garlic. The meat is bare, maybe a little salt. The potato is unpeeled and dusted with salt. The plantain is fried. It’s a utilitarian plate, and with very little variation is what is eaten in Colombia every day (sub arepa for potato, yuca for rice, etc.).

This is what makes eating in Colombia so bad — the monotony.

After eating ACPM every day, I started thinking about why I was suffering. Why is Colombian food so bad? What could make it better? I came to experiment in my own cooking more than ever before. In the end, I realized that I have to thank Colombia for teaching me a love of food, by taking good food away. Living in the United States and Peru, there is more variety than you can handle. You can eat good food every day without trying. You take it for granted.

But in Colombia, I had to focus. Strategize. Learn. In hindsight I ought to thank Colombia. I owe Colombia for starting the process of my becoming a foodie, which was borne out of necessity given the lack of good food there.

Arepas

arepa colombia

See my article on the most frequently suffered Colombian staple, the arepa.

The most damning case is made by the arepa experience an American expat told me. He went out of town. The day of his flight, he and his girlfriend were running late. They didn’t have time to eat the meals their empleada prepared for them. They left them on the kitchen table as they ran out the door to catch their flight. When they returned a week later, they found that ants had eaten every morsel of food on each plate – except the arepas. In fact, the arepas were completely intact. Two whole arepas remained, and nothing else.

After hearing this story I extended the logic to gringo expats and tourists in Bogota with a riddle. If you threw this arepa out in the street (what else would you do with it?), who would eat it first? Let them guess a few times. Dogs won’t eat them. I’ve tried. Ants won’t either. I doubt a horse would, but horses don’t pass by much. Answer: a human. One of the thousands of bazuceros / indigentes / vagrants that prowl the streets would be the first (and only) thing to eat your discarded arepa.

Patacones

patacon colombia

While I don’t like the other items on this list, I can at least finish them if I try. Patacones, on the other hand, are often so dry, hard, and flavorless that I can’t get them down even if I want to. Colombians lay a little salt on them, but that’s not enough for me. I’ve tried lime juice to no avail. Avocado / guacamole are the best bet. Better to just leave the patacon alone.

Here’s my true story to illustrate how awful patacones are. When entertaining tourists in Bogota, I’ll always bring them to one of the black folks’ fish houses (sometimes called ‘pescado pacifico‘). While the standard black folks’ fish plate is one of the best things to eat in Colombia, it will unfortunately come with a patacon disk. Once the gringo tourist attempts to eat the patacon, I tell him it’s not supposed to be eaten. Its purpose is for safety. In case a fish bone gets lodged in your throat and you begin to choke, you’re supposed to bite off a piece of patacon and chew, which in turn will cause a gag reflex and you’ll cough up the fish bone. They serve it with every plate out of part safety, part superstition.

Are you in Colombia? When you bring tourists to eat fish, tell them this with a straight face. You’ll be amazed at the number of people who believe you. And even if they don’t, they won’t eat the patacon.

Panela

panela-2

Panela is evaporated sugar cane “juice” sold in brick form by the penny. Two bits buys ten pounds. “Brick” isn’t an exaggeration. You can’t cut panela with a knife. Colombians use a special rod or the blunt side of a big knife to hit the panela brick until it cracks. You break off smaller rocks of condensed sugar solids that are sticky in your hands. It needs to be melted down, usually done in water/juice (agua de panela), the milk of arroz con leche, or directly in the mouth. It’s common to eat panela in cube form, as if a large, condensed sugar cube.

The toxicity of sugar aside, panela wouldn’t bother me so much if people didn’t make the claim that it’s healthy. Not only Colombians, I’ve heard gringos claim that it’s “natural” and has vitamins. I’m going to set the record straight for you . Remember this forever:

Panela is to sugar cane as corn syrup is to corn.

Easy to remember, and it will help you look past the pretty name. Before you make a health claim about panela, first test the statement by substituting the words, “high fructose corn syrup.” For example, if you wouldn’t say “high fructose corn syrup has essential vitamins and minerals” or “high fructose corn syrup is good for you because it’s natural,” then don’t say it about panela.

One thing they say which is true and passes the corn syrup test: panela is good for energy. As is honey, molasses, Coca-Cola, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, Snickers bars, etc.

Buñuelos and Pandebono

colombian bunuelos

There are many interesting and unique culinary customs in Colombia. Hot chocoloate with cheese is great (in my opinion). But I couldn’t eat these flavorless balls of bread with the texture of play-do without hot chocolate or coffee. Buñuelos are fried; pandebono baked. Both are always light on cheese, heavy on starch, void of flavor.

Tamales

tamal colombiano

Tamales are often held up as an example of delicious Colombian cuisine. I would only suffer my way through one if I was flat broke. Tamales are great if looking to get fed for 4000 pesos. Or maybe with several years in Colombia and your taste buds have come to abhor bold flavors.

Peruvian tamales are better, and Mexican tamales are the best because neither uses rice. No extra filler crap. But given how utilitarian Colombians are in the kitchen, they use rice.

The Tolimense tamales that have beef or pork inside are OK. But most Colombian tamales you eat will have a chicken thigh inside a mold of rice and cornmeal. Minimal cost, minimum flavor, miserable living.

Colombian Ceviche

san andres colombia ceviche camaron shrimp 2

Peruvian ceviche is my favorite plate in the entire world. Better than anything American, Italian, Mexican, Indian, Arequipan – anything.

Colombian ceviche is shrimp in ketchup with saltine crackers. What you see above is served with saltines. Shrimp. Ketchup. Crackers. FAIL.

Colombian Hot Dogs

Photo Credit: Don't Give Papaya

Photo Credit: Don’t Give Papaya

The Colombian hot dog is the worst imitation of American cuisine I’ve seen in all the world. The problem is there’s about 1/8 pound hot dog which would never be all beef. It’s put in a one-pound hot dog bun and topped with another pound of sauces: ketchup, mustard, mayo, “rosado” (ketchup mixed with mayo), pineapple sauce, fried onion crisps. In this image it’s topped with a quail egg, which is actually an improvement.

The result is a hint of hot dog with a couple pounds of bread and condiments. This wouldn’t bother you much if it were like Colombian ceviche – see no evil, taste no evil. But the Colombian hot dog comprises 90% of what’s available late night. Every gringo rumbero in Colombia has suffered one of these.

Colombian Ketchup

ketchup

In most of Latin America, “ketchup” is translated to “ketchup” in Spanish. In Colombia, however, they ironically use “salsa de tomate.” It’s ironic because in most eateries, what is presented as ketchup and served in a red bottle contains no tomato. It’s red, it’s the texture of ketchup, and it’s sweet … but no tomato whatsoever. You have to taste it to understand.

In Cartagena all the ceviche vendors had their ketchup bottles prominently displayed. I realized the idea was to show off their name-brand ketchup quality – Fruco, San Jorge, Pampero – and isn’t a false ketchup commonly found in Colombia.

I didn’t know which is worse, that Colombian ceviche uses ketchup or that they proudly display their brand-name ketchup to show off that it’s not fake ketchup.

The fake ketchup industry in Colombia – that’s an investigative article I’d like to read. I have a theory about “rosado” sauce (mentioned above). I believe they pre-mix ketchup with mayo to reduce the probability that you realize there is no tomato ingredient in the sauce.

Colombian Soups

rice soup

Colombians are proud of their soups, which I can only explain by thinking most have never left Colombia. Never tasted chili, gumbo, clam chowder, beer cheese coup, French onion soup, minestrone, or the Arequipan heavyweights, chupe de camarones and adobo.

Colombians can be proud of Ajiaco and Sancocho in my opinion. I love Ajiaco, especially when it’s cold and rainy in Bogota, but it’s not good enough to make the menu of the hip “Nuevo Latino” restaurants in the States. And my Peruvian wife actually spit out the Sancocho I prepared (due to her strange aversion to bananas in soup). I know many gringo expats disagree, but I think Colombian changua is interesting.

Unfortunately neither Ajiaco nor Sancocho is what you eat most days in Colombia. For your daily almuerzo corriente, Colombians go really bland, as in sopa de arroz. You read that correctly, rice soup, pictured above but without the cilantro or any morsel of chicken. I’ve also had pasta soup and the worst one, plantain soup, which never has plantains but some kind of green leaves. I wonder if they are plantain tree leaves.

Again, this is a critical article about Colombian food. To see a positive article about the Colombian dishes I miss, see 10 Things to Eat in Bogota.

Support the Kickstarter campaign to fund This Mick’s Life: Addiction and Underworld from Ireland to Colombia. See the Kickstarter page here:

kickstarter.com/projects/expatchronicles/this-micks-life

this micks life kickstarter logo

Tags: ,

73 Responses to “Colombian Food: Worst of the Worst”

  1. Larry Love

    23. Dec, 2015

    A little intro first: I’m American of Dominican descent married to a Colombian woman. I have to say I agree with a good chunk of this, lol. But I do have to point out a couple of things, the arepas shown here are the very bland white ones that are mostly used to accompany fatty meats, they are basically a grease sponge. They are nothing like the tasty stuffed yellow arepas. Those things are tasty and very versatile and convenient. You can have them for breakfast, a snack, a late night snack, etc. Tamales if well prepared and seasoned well are fantastic. My wife makes great tamales but I can totally see how they would be terrible if not well prepared. Also I disagree about pan de bono and bunuelos, I think pastries and breads are actually a strong point of Colombian food. But key point, they have to be fresh, a fresh buneulo or pan de bono is heavenly with a good cup of Colombian coffee. I agree wholeheartedly about Colombian ceviche and I actually feel they are doing a disservice to the word ceviche calling that dish that since it’s basically a poorly prepared shrimp cocktail. Everything else is pretty spot on. Colombian hot dogs can be awesome but the average street corner one is terrible.

  2. Zack E.

    24. Dec, 2015

    Arepa is the worst, its tasteless, its dry, not sure how it became so popular here, its just one of those things here that I never managed to get use to.

  3. Aaron An

    21. Mar, 2016

    I’ve totally lost it at the hot dogs. Heart attack waiting to happen, the arepas, tamales, they were all true and the most terrible things to eat ever! So here is what else I’ve learnt from my 2 month stay in Medellín while I was awaiting my licence with CFA and a pending job offer in the States. (Yes I’ve saved more $3500 by staying here for 2 months than living in New York)

    I do suggest a 50% off on your accomodation renting a studio apartment in a safe neighbourhood like south Boston (frente Ayacucho) or El Poblado for the duration of your stay, they cost around 60-80k pesos per night or 1.2-1.5 million pesos per month and usually have all the necessary amenities that hotels don’t. You can find all types of ingredients and supplies to cook from the nearest Exito strip mall. Fruits, meat and vegetables are exceptionally cheap and they have Habaneros if you are feeling in need of some spicy food. Besides the food, everything else about Colombia is amazing. Don’t even worry about safety, Medellin is much safer than most big cities in the US like Atlanta, NJ, Memphis, Detroit, LA, Houston etc.

  4. Lisa

    17. May, 2016

    Then don’t go to Colombia you TROLL. This article was rude and offensive to say the least. Nobody asked you to live there JERK.

  5. Mike

    17. May, 2016

    This is bull …… I am a chef … And everything you said is garbage …. What a waste of 5 mins…

  6. Diego

    17. May, 2016

    As a Colombian living overseas I have to say that most of Colombian food is fresh, with many local products. Go to a very cheap restaurant (average cost between 2 and 3 USD) and you will get a much more healthier food that cheap food in USA or Australia (that is McDonalds, or Hungry Jacks). That said, I agree Colombian food has not been advertised and internationally acknowledged as much as Peruvian, Mexican or Brazilian food, but for sure it has a lot of potential. This is not only about arepas, sancochos and ajiacos, each Colombian region has a different variation in these foods. For instance, arepas are different between regions!!! how can you say that all arepas are white and without flavor? Go to Boyaca and Santander and arepas take new flavours and colors. Do not expect to generalize about Colombian food if you go to Medellin or Bogota, because tastes changes a lot between regions: Costa Atlantica, Costa Pacifica, Santanderes, Cundinamarca-Boyaca, Pasto… etc etc…

  7. mark

    17. Jul, 2016

    Yes unfortunately Colombia does indeed have the worst food I have eaten in South America. Poor me I live here. Bought fried cows intestines the other night, took a bite and gave it to a dog!

  8. Lily

    28. Jul, 2016

    I agree with you!

  9. Yeeeah

    06. Aug, 2016

    Colombian shit food is awful. Yak.

  10. Corbata Colombiana

    21. Aug, 2016

    In USA 35% of Population suffer obesity. Do I have to say more… You are the right person talking about food. Coja juicio careculo 🙂

  11. Mark

    16. Sep, 2016

    I couldn’t agree more! You missed out a few other classic bad Colombian foods like empanadas, round potato balls, cheese sticks, hamburgers without real meat and a ton of sauces to try to make up for the lack of flavor, fried cows intestines with patacone and so many more! Good job on this page!

  12. Pablo P

    05. Oct, 2016

    You are right!!
    Colombia food sucks!!
    Thank you for writing this article!!

  13. Walter Barone

    03. Dec, 2016

    I agree with everything after visited 28 countries in four different continents
    I have to agree that in colombia you find the worst food and the most easy girls..
    very focus in their beauty and in your banking account…

  14. Pia

    13. Dec, 2016

    You only tried “rolo” food and you dare to call all Colombian food bad… Don’t be such a shit, next time when you are going to give an opinion, get all the information before because you are so stupid.

  15. Nicholas Cardenas

    14. Dec, 2016

    Are your tastebuds bad? You clearly have no idea of what food is. I’m proud to be a Colombian, and the food is AMAZING, unlike you.

  16. Cordelia

    23. Dec, 2016

    The answers from Colombians are so weird… “I’m proud to be colombian”, “nobody asked you to live here”. People we are just saying that in comparison with most countries your food is tasteless. It’s our opinion. Taken from experiences. There are 1.000.000 things you can be proud of but your food is not one of them. We think itS not good if you like it good for you!! It’s an expat blog so others can know what to expect. I WISH I HAD KNOWN! You will never be foreigners in colombia you cannot understand the article. Leave the nationalist bullshit speech behind its about foreigners and food

  17. Dan

    30. Dec, 2016

    I’m getting a kick out of reading the overly defensive comments on this section by Colombians who can’t take any kind criticism no matter how warranted or justified. Colombian food isn’t good at all. Sure, there’s a couple of diamonds in the rough, but not enough. Seriously, Colombia has many things that are wonderful. However, your food, isn’t one of them.

  18. Colin

    20. Jan, 2017

    @ Dan — Thanks for the support.

    Here’s an interesting podcast on a Peruvian who got shouted down when he kind of criticized Peruvian food: http://radioambulante.org/en/audio-en/against-peruvian-cuisine-2

    So the knee-jerk reactionism isn’t confined to Colombia, but in Peru’s defense it’s at least good food which is internationally acclaimed and brings significant tourism.

  19. Dan

    05. Feb, 2017

    Yeah, Peru’s food is legit. However, even though I’ve been in Colombia for a few years, I’m still baffled by the high regard in which Colombians hold their cuisine. Every time I tell a Colombian that in general, their food stinks, they shrug it off and insist that I’m eating the wrong variations of dishes that I’ve eaten time and again, or that wherever I eat must be a bad restaurant because their food is good. I think this lack of self reflection and openness, coupled with a culture that’s pretty much devoid of any immigration, hasn’t forced Colombians to see how bad most of their food is relative to the rest of the world. Seriously, I can’t get over as to just how bad it can be. And don’t even get me started on El Corral!

  20. Dan

    05. Feb, 2017

    Also, if you make it back to Bogota one of these days, you have to try Home Burger. Someone that actually knows how to make a proper burger opened up a restaurant in Bogota. There’s about 3 locations now, and the lines go out the window. Seriously, I searched high and low for a fast/casual place that made a proper Hamburger, and this place is legit! No joke, it could give places like 5 guys and Smash Burger a run for their money. It’s good that Bogotanos have access to a legit burger place. Now that they have had the pleasure of trying a real Hamburger, they’ll stop waxing poetically about the over priced McDonalds like slop, that El Corral serves.

  21. Bob from God

    12. Feb, 2017

    he’s English you dimwit and Colombian food is flavorless, bland and starchy. I lived there for seven years and have travelled to more places in that country than 99% of Colombians I am friends with. in fact often times Colombians would tell me I know more of their country than they do. Food is expensive and of oranges are everywhere why is 1.5 liters of freshly squeezed non imported orange juice more expensive in Colombian supermarkets than it is in the USA? Colombians are ripped off everyday and don’t even realize it.

  22. MARK

    13. Feb, 2017

    After 6 years of living in Colombia I can honestly say that I have tried to like their food, but is food, no more, in the same way as school dinners or prison food. The latter I have no experience. The comments above are true!

    Imagine, after 6 years I have not had a memorable meal, so bland, As a European who has lived many years in France, Spain, then Mexico it hurts. I prefer to cook at home, something with flavour.

  23. Mark2

    17. Feb, 2017

    Couldn’t agree more with Cordelia and Mark.
    First, why Colombians are so aggressive in this blog? This blog is not even for them, and we are just talking about food. If we were criticizing more important things, I don’t want to know what they would answer: would they sue every foreigners that doesn’t find Colombia simply perfect? Well, I’m sorry, Colombia is not perfect as well as any other country in this world. But not, they can’t accept it, this is something that every foreigner should know when they get here (and I’ve been living here for almost 10 years now): be careful, do not say anything bad about Colombia to a Colombian: he/she will get very offended and defensive to the point of being aggressive, as you can easily judge from this blog.

    That said, I’m very happy to be back in Europe for one year. I can finally have decent food everywhere I go, instead of having to cook at home every day (and to cook everything from scratch because you can’t find a huge quantity of ready-made products that are available in many other countries). The variety of food Colombians think to have in their own country is just hilarious when compared to Spain, France or Italy. I’m sorry, it’s not even an opinion, it’s just a fact, whether you like it or not.

Leave a Reply

Use a FAKE EMAIL ADDRESS and your comment may be deleted. Fair warning.