Colombian Cuisine: Arepas, Lechona and Bandeja Paisa

We are less than a couple weeks into Colombia and have already spent some time in Bogota, Santa Marta, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Medellin. The cities, beaches, mountains and jungles have been great, but the food has been fantastico! Colombia’s treats, while heavily influenced by the Spanish, certainly have a style of its own that reflects the local fruits, vegetables and spices.  They embrace the pig down here which always makes for some interesting and tasty dishes. Local supermercado’s bake their own bread fresh every night. And the fruit is just off the charts.  Fruits are picked from the tree or bush ripe (and are not grabbed green so they can ripen in the back of a truck for 2 weeks). And there are so many  varieties that are not found in the States.

We spent a morning in Bogota exploring the local market in Plaza de Mercado Paloquemao, where locals buy a lot of their produce, meats and fish for the week or month. The market is a frothy mix of wholesale buyers, locals, and tourists muscling their way through the tiny corridors to find the best fruit, meat or other goods. It is also the site of a giant flower market where an incredible number and variety of flowers are sold every morning.




We arrived early in the morning so it made sense to sample the local breakfast.  We sampled pan de yucca which is a staple for breakfast here and washed it down with some avena, another local favorite. Pan de yucca comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes but is generally a sweet bread with some warm fruit compote in the middle and queso (cheese). Avena is an oat-based drink that is a rich and creamy (with a touch of cinnamon) and simply delicious with the pan. Also common for breakfast is arepas which are typically fried maize flour with some cheese or sweets (like chocolate) in the middle.

Pan de Yucca
Sue digging in to some pan de yucca and avena.  Perfecto!


Grilled arepas.  Muy bueno!

Fruit is a main staple in Colombia. Throughout the cities, vendors are selling fresh fruit and juice. Out in the jungle and on the trails, we constantly ate fresh watermelon, mango, and pineapple. At the market, we tried so many different, delicious fruits including mangostina, uchava (a sweet ground cherry), higo, pitaya (similar to jackfruit), freijoa, lulo (which they often juice), and the king of the fruits – gunabana.

Purple Mangostinas
A blurry higo.
and a blurry freijoa.


Gunabana from the outside
Gunabana from the inside


The fruit sampling at the market was fantastic, and we have been eating these exotic varieties all week.

While not a fruit, the star of the market visit was the lechona, a dish made by stuffing a whole pig with pork, rice, peas, and spices and then slow cooked for typically 8 hours. It is served with crackling on top. This could be one of the best pork dishes we have EVER had. For sure, it will kill you, but sooo tasty.


Another dish which we enjoyed in Bogota was ajiaco, a hearty soup of chicken, potatoes and corn served with giant, ripe avocados, monster capers, and some sour cream.  We have actually been making this dish in Seattle for years (Food and Wine recipe) but, of course, it was much better here in Colombia.

In Medellin, the specialty is bandeja paisa, which is a platter of food usually including pork, rice, beans, chorizo, a fried egg, and avocado.  Sopa de mondongo,  a hearty stew of pig or cow stomach also seems to be popular here in Medellin (it is also popular in the Philippines) . We have had it at restaurant named Mondongo where there is only a handful of dishes but all of them are capable of quickly putting you in a food coma.  We have limited our ingestion of these dishes to lunch where we can follow the feeding with a light dinner later in the evening.

For desert or just for an afternoon street snack,  obleas are popular. They are a thin waffle or crepe stuffed with cheese and jam or chocolate.  Every street corner in Bogota had someone selling them from a cart and more than a few were leveraging the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger’s recent visit to Bogota for some additional marketing.


Beer seems to be the way to wash all these dishes down.  Club Colombia is a popular brand. It is a pretty standard pilsner but is perfect for the heat and humidity of Medellin and Santa Marta.


We will be eating here in Medellin for a few more days and then we are off to Cartagena for some sun and seafood.  For our other ramblings on Colombia, check out our posts here.