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What to eat in Colombia - Street Food Edition

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Colombia has some of the most beautiful and unique dining experiences of anywhere I've been. I highly suggest any foodie make it a point to go there, and if you do here's your hit list for fine dining in Cartagena - other cities coming soon.

If you're looking for a delicious but particularly affordable meal, however, look no further than the street food carts. Offering everything from traditional dishes to international favorites, these carts are a great way to sample some of the local cuisine on a budget before you commit to the brick & mortar eats. And with prices starting in the sub-$1s, you can't go wrong.


Here are some of the most popular dishes served at street carts in Colombia:


Colombian street food - empanadas

Empanadas are like little turnovers made with dough and filled with all sorts of different things, from meats and vegetables to cheese and fruit. They're usually fried, but you can also find them baked or boiled. These stuffed pastries are a Colombian favorite and can be found at street carts all over the city.

Arroz con Pollo

Colombian street food - arroz con pollo

Literally "rice with chicken." Great option if you're looking for something hearty, filling - and familiar.

Pescado Frito

Colombian street food - pescado frito

Fried fish. It's a staple in Colombian cuisine. Usually served with a side of patacones (fried plantains) and salsa verde.

Bandeja Paisa

Colombian street food - bandeja paisa

This dish is hearty. It's meant to fuel the workers before they go out into the field to do manual labor all day so it's full of energy (see: calories). It's a Colombian classic; made with rice, beans, pork rinds, chorizo, avocado, eggs, and whatever other things are on hand. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, or dieters.


Colombian street food - arepas

These corn cakes are a staple in Colombia and much of Latin America. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and can be filled with anything from cheese to chicken to beef to anything you want - the sky is the limit in the world of arepas. Arepas de choclo, for example, are made with maize flour and served with butter, cheese, and ham. Crazy, I know. My favorite arepas I've ever had are in Cartagena. It's a streetcar lady in Getsemaní and she serves them super soft with an egg inside and she has hot sauce, which just really seals the deal for me.


Colombian street food - sanchocho

This is a stew made with meat (usually chicken), potatoes, yucca, and other vegetables. It's kind of a festival/gathering food, reminiscent to many Colombians of their Sunday brunch with the family, since it's usually cooked in a large pot to serve a lot of people.


This sausage is made with pork and spices, and it's a popular ingredient in many Colombian dishes. Its a fairly common food item everywhere in the world but what sets Colombian chorizo apart from the others is the way it is prepared: They use a BBQ grill and a blowdryer. This way the chorizo gets cooked very slowly (over 6-8 hours with up to 12 chefs taking turns) so that it is super tender.

Colombian street food -woman blowdrying chorizo

If you're wary of street meats like I am - try this one out toward the end of the night when your inhibitions are in a resting state.


Colombian street food - tamales

These are steamed packets of dough filled with meat or vegetables. They're usually wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks before being steamed. I find the unpackaging of tamales to be very soothing, and sometimes ceremonious, depending on how hungry I am.


Colombian street food - ajiaco

Not really as much of a street food as just a super traditional Colombian dish, ajiaco is basically chicken potato soup with a buffet of toppings, including avocado, cilantro, banana, aji sauce, rice, arepa, capers, and cream. Ajiaco is a popular dish in Colombia and can be found in both restaurants and homes throughout the country. It's kind of a comfort food and is named after the ajiaco de olla, a type of pot in which it is traditionally cooked.

It might sound basic but it's my favorite Colombian dish. Pro tip: The Medellin version is better than the Bogota version.


How to stay safe while eating street food

I get it, street food is scary. And I'm not going to tell anyone to ignore your intuition, but for some of us, the goose is worth the gander.

Here are a few tips in case you decide to roll the dice:

1. Make sure the food is cooked through. Avoid anything that looks or smells raw.

2. Avoid anything that's sitting out in the sun, since heat aids bacteria growth.

3. Stick to well-known street food stalls. Avoid the dodgy guy in the alley who seems to be as popular with the street cats as he is with the tourists.

4. If you're not sure what something is, ask the vendor what it is and how it's made. If you can do it in Spanish that's even better.


Street food is a big part of Colombian culture, and you can find carts selling all sorts of dishes throughout the country. And none of these dishes is ever going to cost more than $5.

Whether you're looking for a taste of traditional Colombian cuisine or something more adventurous, you can find it on a cart somewhere.


If you have any questions or want specific recommendations leave them in the comments and I’ll respond.

And for more info on planning your trip to Colombia check out this Guide to the Perfect 10-day Colombia trip.

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