Colombian Food: Worst of the Worst

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.

I 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, meal after meal, day after day. 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 gripe about it when they get together. It’s unanimous.

Below are the main reasons why eating in Colombia every day is No Fun.

ACPM

acpm colombia Photo credit: MasterChef Colombia

Above is a version of ACPM, the most typical meal in Colombia, except the beef would neither be that thick nor so free of fat and gristle … that was the MasterChef’s touch. I also had to Photoshop out (actually I use Paint) a little ramekin of sauce he had on the plate. You’d never get that with your ACPM in Colombia, it’s FAKE NEWS!

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 a little variation this is what you eat in Colombia every day (mix and match arepas, yuca and patacones for the potatoes and banana, but always white, garlic-free rice).

This is what makes eating in Colombia so bad — the monotony instead of variety and lack of flavor in the few items you eat every day. That’s why everybody drools over the juices in Colombia. The juices are the same throughout the continent, but in Colombia the juice was the best part of the meal!

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 to learn and love food … by taking good food away.

I had lived in the United States and Peru, where there is more variety and flavor than you can handle. You can eat good food every day without really 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 (instead of the trash as you usually would), who would eat it first? Let them guess a few times.

Dogs won’t eat them (I’ve tried). Ants won’t either, according to the anecdote. I doubt a horse would, but horses don’t pass very frequently (but they do).

Answer: a HUMAN. One of the thousands of bazuceros / indigentes / vagrants that prowl the streets would be the first (and only) living 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 (“pescado pacifico” in Spanish). 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.

When the gringo tourist tried 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.

Do you live 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 customs for breakfast in Colombia. Hot chocolate with cheese in it is great in my opinion.

But these flavorless balls of bread with the texture of play-dough are not great. Buñuelos are fried; pandebono baked. Both are always light on cheese, heavy on starch, void of flavor. The best description is maybe a glazed donut with no glaze, no sugar. Just plain.

I’ve seen groups of Colombians — professionals in a corporate headquarters up north — get all excited when a box of these got brought in. They were rubbing their hands together in anticipation of eating the plain donut balls. ¡NO GRACIAS!

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 you need to fill your belly for 4000 pesos. Or maybe with several years in Colombia and your taste buds have come to resist bold flavors.

Peruvian and Mexican tamales are better 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 actually not bad — almost “good.” 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 Soups

rice soup

Colombians are proud of their soups, which I can only explain by thinking most have never left Colombia. Whenever you’ve cornered them about how there is so much flavorless foods and the few good items aren’t really that good, they’ll throw out their soups.

And I assume they’ve never been outside 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 liked Ajiaco when it was cold and rainy in Bogota, but it’s not good enough to make the menus of the hip “Nuevo Latino” restaurants in the States.

And my Peruvian wife actually spit out the Sancocho I prepared one night when she tasted the banana. Then she called her mother to tell her that I had made a soup with banana in it! She added that this soup was from Colombia, which most Latin American women equate with cocaine and hookers. They wonder if there is something wrong with me. Does it mean I’m going to leave her for Colombia? Then they hang up and the mother calls her sisters to tell them that I made soup with banana in it. I really don’t think it’s that bad.

I know many gringo expats disagree, but I think Colombian changua is interesting. And Caldo de Costilla, yeah sure because there’s nothing else with protein for breakfast worth eating, you know?

Unfortunately Ajiaco, Sancocho, Changua and Caldo combined don’t make Colombia’s soups as a whole “good.” They are OK before being dragged down by the much more common soups you get with your daily lunch.

For this the Colombians go really bland, with stuff like sopa de arroz. You read that correctly: RICE SOUP. Pictured above but imagine it without the cilantro leaf or any morsel of chicken. Others include PASTA SOUP, but the worst is PLANTAIN SOUP. It’s not bad because it has banana in it, it doesn’t. It has some kind of green leaves, which I assume are plantain tree leaves.

So when you consider them all, Colombian soups are not average. They FAIL.

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 lime and onion, served with saltine crackers. What you see above is served with saltines. Shrimp. Ketchup. Lime. Onion. Crackers. ¿Donde es el restaurante peruano, por favor?

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 the hard-to-find 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

You’re thinking, “Come on, Colin, you’re going to criticize the ketchup?” Yes, I have to, it’s indicative! It shows you what you’re dealing with here!

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 Colombian eateries, what is presented as ketchup and even served in a red bottle contains no tomato. It’s red, it’s the texture of ketchup, and it’s a little 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 – Fruco, San Jorge, Pampero – these guys are showing off their authentic ketchup bonafides as opposed to the 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. But before we get ahead of ourselves, what kind of country would have a fake ketchup industry? What is so fucking expensive about ketchup that you have to falsify it? And ketchup is not that great to begin with — only for burgers, dogs and fries — so any false ketchup would taste so bad that nobody would eat it, right?

WRONG.

Because Colombian food sucks …

… and Colombians don’t seem to mind.

Good Colombian Food?

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.

UPDATE: I originally wrote this post to drive traffic to the Kickstarter campaign to fund the writing of a book about Christopher Kavanagh, in Irishman who did three years in La Modelo prison and has been teaching English in Bogota ever since. The book is written. Check out Mad Outta Me Head: Addiction and Underworld from Ireland to Colombia.

Support what Expat Chronicles is all about. Leave a tip to keep the laughs coming (and the news, insight and other stuff too).

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169 comments

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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…

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  5. 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!

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

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  7. 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!

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  8. 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…

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

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  11. 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

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    1. Exactly. The Colombians who responded were often (not always) extremely rude and foul-mouthed. Also, Colombians *are* getting obese from all that grease-fried food and sugar. Even fresh-made juices have added sugar unless you ask them not to.

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  12. 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.

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  13. I am so sorry you are so narrow-minded and ignorant. Who knows what kind of restaurant you were frequenting but I am sorry for you. I couldn’t disagree more, I have lived in Canada and USA for 15 years and Colombian food is by far the best I have tried. Colombia has so much diversity that you cannot even generalize a dish. Arepas are so different from region to region, Tamales as well. Maybe you stayed in a poor neighbourhood with very low resources.
    I can only imagine how boring your life may be that you have so much time to spend criticizing instead of living! How low of you is to spend so many resources being negative about other people’s traditions

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  14. 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!

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  15. 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.

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  16. 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.

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  17. 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.

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  18. Yeah we don’t eat the healthiest food we are a poor country and gastronomy is not the local strong suit. That being said we love our food for us there is nothing better than an arepa con quezo y sal with a coffee in the morning. Just like English people eat spotted dick and blood patty and eggs and calories on top of calories. Those dishes all taste as bad as dog shit but you guys like them becuase that’s what your people have been eating for an eternity! If you don’t like it don’t eat it but I love the food of my country because simply I love my country! What’s so wrong about that!:) if you don’t want to go to Colombia and enjoy the culture and the food then don’t go! You don’t have to focus your energy on it ! We are happy and we don’t care if you don’t like our food ! We love it and everyone eats it so that means that millions of Colombians and open minded people from the world enjoy it ! people are into it! be happy and positive there is actually a lot of tasty Colombian foods!! Have you tried patscones con hogao? It’s such a flavorful dip! Green onions, tomato, garlic paste, salt, pepper and cumin! Or have you had empanadas con limon? And dip de ají??

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    1. We also have the best juices in the world for a reason!!! In the states and England all you people get fat on sodas and beer! That’s killing yourself ! Haha you should all get some world in your life and attitudes. Colombia is beautiful and we love our cuisine and we love our country. That’s something we are never gonna change .

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      1. And we don’t eat processed shit like people in the states do… most Colombian foods are fresh if you are cooking it homemade and I’m sorry that you can’t cook for yourself and you end up eating cheap Colombian restaurant food (have you noticed how poor Colombia is by chance friend??) !! Just shows how little you know about preparing a dinner.

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      2. Like Colombians don’t load their shopping carts with Aguila beer and 3 gallon jerricans of Postobon and Coke? In fact, the Colombian invention “refajo” is a mix of soda and beer. Uggh.

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  19. Hi everyone. I’m colombian, and reading this blog was a little sad. I lived outsite my country and I should say what I missed the most was my food. I agree maybe we don’t have the healthliest, but unlike what you think, colombian food is really teasty.

    I want to clarify somo points:
    1.The pictures showed here maybe are not the best and can’t leave to aprecciate how the food really is.

    2. The description of our food there is not complete, there are a lot of ways to eat these products and they are not
    alone, usually they are very well accompanied. For instance, we eat arepas with butter, cheese, ham, eggs…or with chicken, meat and more. It coud be accompanied by guacamole, and hogao (stew)…in this way the arepa is very tasty and is not dry. The same goes for patacónI can assure!!

    3. The way of preparation may vary depending of the colombian region, the place where you eat it, and the price/quality of the food.

    I have a lot of foreign friends, and they love our colombian food!! when they come to Colombia, I recommend them our typical plates and food and they are always amazed! Even, when I was outside I cooked for them bandeja paisa, soups, platains and more!

    Well, that was my opinion. I know each person is different but I just hope you can try a good colombian food well advised 😉

    Regards!! 🙂

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  20. Dear Colombian people, you can like your food and your country as much as you want. Nobody said here you can’t. No one is trying to have the last word on whether Colombian food is good (except some of you, apparently). Simply, many foreigners (not every foreigner!!!) think that Colombian food is bad. We’re neither saying that Colombia is a bad country nor Colombian are bad people. We’re just saying that we don’t like Colombian food. Did you get this or not? Nationalistic claiming are totally out of place here. What the hell statements such as “if you don’t want to go to Colombia and enjoy the culture and the food then don’t go!” have to do with it. Another example: “We love our country. That’s something we are never gonna change.” This is really crazy! Did someone of us tried to change the opinion Colombians have about their own country? (btw, it would be as unfair as worthless)
    There are many reasons why people live abroad and there are many things foreigners might not like about they country they live in. E.g. Chris seems not to like English cuisine (I can’t blame him for that), so he can open a thread titled: “English cuisine: the worst of the worst”, if he wants.
    Now can we keep saying that we don’t like Colombian food?

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  21. Yeah, i have most of this article and the accompanying comments…..and everything seems to be in just about perfect order. The food here is “OMG” – but not in a good way. I am constantly trying to tell my Colombian wife that she has no what “good food” tastes like. Reading the defending comments from Colombians here reminds about backwoods Americans that say “Woo America is the Best” but have never traveled more than 2 counties over nor had the pleasure of experiencing another country to compare with. As for a couple of those listed above, I have searched high and f$%&g low for anything that remotely resembles the quality of what can be eaten only a few blocks from your house in the US. That said, I have finally found 2 great arepas….the others I recieve accidentally in a take out order I tried to give to the dog and she wouldn’t touch it either. But Ohhhh those cheesy ones that I found – ACTUALLY HAVE CHEESE! I almost cried. Took me two years to find them. The burgers, meh. They can’t even get it right at Burger King in Bogota but there’s a place called Burger Grill in Boyaca that made me home sick for Hamber Hamlet or 5 Guys – BANGIN’ ass hamberger….and the fries were pretty awesome too. Can’t find that anywhere here. I want to chime in about the pizzas here too…WTFF….mediocre is about as good as you can ever find but after 2 years now have finally found 2 places, but AICH, the prices are insane compared to the level of earnings here for regular folks! Compared to going for a lobster of shrimp dinner when I went out in the US. I can say one thing however especially nice. On 2 seperate occassions after countless times trying to good the sub par steak meat found in the butchers or suffering carpel tunnel syndrome trying to cut the shoe leather they serve in “resturants” here, my inlaw cooked some beef that was truly amazing….about what I would get in the US but since I can’t ever get it here, I was in shock and devoured it. The other occassion was a co-worker cookout whereby he cooked it in a adobe(?) oven outside….OMG, I couldn’t walk away from the area as they kept periodically ofering me more as the next 10 lb. batch came out of the oven. Why can’t these cheap ass restaurants do that in their place of business. Cheapness and extraaaaaordinary level of complacency are the 2 no. 1 reasons why you can’t get good food here. No one cares to INVEST in something really good and make a reputation that will serve them in the future. “Meh” seems to be the business philosophy here. And to top it off I couldn’t even find Tofu in 2 of the biggest store here in Boyaca! Please, someone with some money and vision come and take over the food industry here! Most times, any good food that I have eaten here came out of my own kitchen. Truth. BTW, Can anyone reading this here tell me where I can find a LARGE ASIAN supermarket that carries all the Asian stuff to make Chinese and Vietnamese food? Serioulsy. I HEARD there is one in BOG but haven’t found it yet.

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  22. There’s no large Asian supermarket in Bogota. I guess there could be one, but that would require a decent size Asian population that Bogota just doesn’t have. Sure, there’s a smattering of Chinese downtown and some permanent Korean fixtures up north, but Asians aren’t well represented in Colombia. In Paloquemao, you can find some Asian ingredients and there may be some small shops that cater to the small Chinese community in Bogota, but I would be surprised if a well stocked supermarket exists. However, if you find one, or get some definite information on where one is, then feel free to share.

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  23. ^^ Comments like the ones above, are exactly the knee jerk reactions I’m talking about. Way to put your country’s best foot forward buddy. I have no doubt, that your statement is going to singlehandedly change the general consensus that Colombian food stinks.

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  24. Hi all, I read all of the comments and find I agree with the post and have had a similar experience with Colombians; they love their food dearly and cannot take the slightest bit of criticism regarding it. This is understandable; food is tied to our memories as children, memories of a dear one (An aunty, a grandparent, our mother etc). However, like many unrefined and undeveloped cuisines, countries have had to learn to adapt new ideas; from cooking techniques, to ingredients, to new concepts (Like Australia: in the 1950’s had a horrible food culture and now has amazing restaurants from all over the world with fantastic produce).
    This was achieved partially through immigration but also through self-reflection and a greater interest in the culinary world in the 1990’s.
    I live in Bogotá and have eaten at Corrientazos from the south to calle 168, and from La Zona G and Usaquen to reataurants in 7 other departamentos.
    I studied Commercial Cookery and worked as a chefs assistant, as well as managing my food blog and doing research about recipes, food and produce history.
    I basically agree with everything on be post and the supporting comments, and would like to add some important points regarding the Traditional food of Colombia:

    1. Health: Almost everything is full of salt, sugar, is deep fried, lacks vegetables or greens, uses dehydrated oil or butter, is extrenely starchy and fatty parts of meat are used. Most students (Even up to many older people) have horrible culinary habits: they eat hotdogs, hamburgers, empanadas, salchipapa quite often and put sauces on everything. There is a super lack of consciensness and possibly a lack of education of healthy eating.

    2. Flavour: There are no herbs or spices used in Colombian cooking (Apart from Huasca in Ajiaco) and I have gotten sick of Corriander (Cilantro) being the only one and being used amost everywhere. Having been to almost 20 coutries and lived in 3, spices are THE most interesting, exciting and fun part of a dish. They make your mind wonder, add heat or biterness, sweetness or smokyness, something earthy or something sharp. This does not exist in Colombia, sadly. I have actually almost 10 shops not sell pepper at all, which was a shock.

    3. Horrible, unthinkable, strange and disgusting combinations. Why Colombia?

    *Hot Chocolate with cheese
    *Pizza with Bocadillo (Sweet Guava paste) in the crust
    *Brevas (The false fruit from the Fig tree), with Arequipe (Caramel) or bocadillo & bland curd cheese
    *Salad with pineapple sauce
    *Pasta with Rice
    *Platano maduro (Basically Banana) with cheese
    *Changua: Milk, Runny eggs, corriander and soggy bread.
    *Bandeja paisa- evetything you had left over at home, all in one plate; Sausage, Minced meat, Avocado, Fried Banana (Maduro), Rice, Beans, Pork skin, egg. Seriously?
    *Papa Salada: Boiled potatoes, skin and all, with salt. We are not in war times (My grandparents ate boiled potatoes during 1941-1944 during the Nazi occopation of Europe). Why are people still eating it by choice in 2017?

    These are obsolutely strange and make me almosy vomit; they are very difficult for someone who comes from a developed and refined food culture which is obsessed with food.

    4. Repetitiveness:
    Every dish that I have seen and tried (Almost 70) has one of 8 ingredients:
    1. Papa
    2. Carne
    3. Yuca
    4. Maíz
    5. Cilantro
    6. Platano Verde
    7. Platano Maduro
    8. Frijoles

    So far, I have not found a dish without these; please explain if there is one? This is probably a reason people get bored, uninspired, sick of and depressed about the food here (Like I have).

    NOTE:
    My friends here, from Korea, Turkey, USA, Egypt, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Peru, China, India, Australia, France…They feel exactly as I do.

    Anyway, take care all. Just my imput from someone who loves food and has experience. Peace

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    1. You forgot Ice cream on a bed of stringy cheese.
      However, I will say that Colombia does excellent ice cream, specifically the Colombian brand Popsy.

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  25. Yes. I’ve lived in Medellin for a year, and for most of that time I’ve been amazed at how terribly the lovely Colombian people manage to mess up food. It is almost comical. I have eaten good homemade food from my girlfriend’s mother, I’ve eaten on the coast, in the eje cafetero. I’ve eaten in high end places all the way down to street vendors and American immitation monstrosities. About an hour ago I was assaulted by a hotdog on 70th street, a block from my apartment. I was walking home from my friend’s place and wanted a little snack. I should have known better. I’ve lived here for a year, after all. But sometimes you get sick of the same 6 Colombian things over and over and over living in Medellin. Basically, the bandeja paisa ingredients remixed in various ways. So I decided to give a hotdog a shot from a little restaurant. They had an “American style perro” on the menu. “To hell with it,” I said. “Let’s be brave and see if by some miracle this is actually anything remotely close to an American-ish hotdog.”

    Folly, folly, folly. What pissed me off most is that it had nothing to do with an American hotdog. It was pure fucking Colombian: mayonnaise, pineapple sauce, rosada sauce, potato sticks, coleslaw, some other awful ingredients, fake ketchup, all topped off with a quail’s egg. I’m not a food snob at all. Actually, the food here isn’t enough to prevent me from staying as long as I can. I love Medellin. But it IS so mysteriously and aggressively bad that at times I lose my temper. How do they manage to mess up food this badly? Between this article and the comments, just about everything has already been touched upon in regard to Colombia’s culinary problem. But I will back up one random point I saw someone make: the Colombians do indeed manage to completely destroy Mexican food. I’ve been to a dozen “Mexican” restaurants here. The last time I got a tortilla, with beans inside of it. A small strip of horrible meat. Mayonnaise and lettuce. Topped with barbecue sauce. Please reread those ingredients I just listed. That was a taco.

    One of my girlfriend and her mom’s favorite quick meals at home is spaghetti noodles, mixed with ketchup, and canned tuna. Think about that. What happened to these people in the past? Why do things have to be like this? Let’s get one thing straight: I love this country, and the people. I dont even want to go back to the US any time soon. There is only one thing that perplexes and infuriates me about Medellin: the food. And to all the apologists who are like “to find good Colombian food you just have to bring the right amount of money, go to the right place, look for the wooden door, knock 4 times, order the right thing, go into the meal with an open mind and heart..” Seriously, there must be 100 combined years of Colombian living experience on this page. The overwhelming majority of people here agree: Colombian food is at best described as bland-yet-capable-of-sustaining-life, and at worst, described as absurdly, aggressively awful.

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  26. And to all those who are getting super philosophical about this, like:

    “Let me ask you: what is ‘good’? Good is relative. Good food is dependent upon societies agreeing it is good. Therefore the argument that Colombian food is ‘bad’ is ultimately meaningless and imperialistic….”

    Please be quiet. Seriously, the vast majority of people who are able to travel to Colombia from any other country will have had constant and easy access to food that is consistently better than almost anything to be found in Medellin. They are searching online to try to guess what they will discover here. I haven’t met a single person in real life here in Medellin from another country who has said the food is NOT bad. They all agree it is just terrible. One American girl said that Colombian food is better than Panamanian food. That’d the highest compliment I’ve heard paid. This is what 98% of people who are able to relocate to Medellin, and really, most of Colombia, will end up finding.

    Sidenote: To the commenter who pointed out that Colombians usually order EVERYTHING on their fast food when they have the option: you are DEAD on. I thought I was only one who noticed this. It is literally like they feel robbed if they don’t pile everything on their food that is available, for free. I noticed this at Subway sandwich shops. In the U.S. at Subway, every customer will generally have a very different style as to what they want on their sandwich. Here, you will notice that most Colombians will, especially when it comes to sauces, ask for every available sauce to be slopped on that sub. “Hola! Give me mustard. And mayo. And sweet onion sauce. And garlic sauce. And oil and vinegar. And oregano. And honey mustard sauce. And ranch. And salt. And some more sweet onion sauce.” My girlfriend orders her subs like this. If this is an example of different cultures simply liking different things, an example that should not be talked down upon, then I’m a xenophobic, intolerant boor, because this is a clear sign of absolutely zero discernment in people’s food choices. It is literally just “Throw absolutely everything on my sandwich because it’s an available option! I don’t care if it makes any sense, I want every sauce you got!” Colombians either do this, or they go the other extreme, and refuse to flavor their food at all. What the fuck sense does this make? I could see if ALL their food preferences were super bland, without sauces or flavorings. Fine. Then it could be a clear case of the critic simply being too used to bold flavors and sauces. But then how do you explain the same people consistently dumping every available sauce on their sandwiches, in a flavor medley from hell? Seriously, I think its safe to say that Colombians are the only people who share Colombians’ food predilections. The rest of the world finds most of their food awful. If I walked into a Colombian restaurant, and they gave me a fried giant cockroach with a complex, well thought-out flavoring, I would rejoice. Give me a baked tarantula done up brilliantly. The problem is these people, god bless their hearts, almost NEVER approach any given meal with a strategy for preparation that will make any other world culture happy.

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    1. The same objections had been Said about the main issue here by English travelers since the IXX century, but I must defend the arepa, it is a staple food that was in use before the Europeans came to this land, and if you check Dr. Google, the arepa Made from high amylose corn has a low glycemic index and improves the glycemic management of diabetics, is a swedish research, so guess that they were impartial. On the other front, regarding how we, because I am a Colombian, are not very good at handling criticism, but that is a trait that was ingrained by our tutors: the Spanish Inquisition and the Catholic Church, so it is that way here, usually rank high on happiness because we don’t care about the gate of anyone outside our friends and family, and we are usually kind to foreigners just in case they have the capacity to do harm, once we get to know, well, they become irrelevant and perhaps we could take advantage in any way possible.

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  27. But I just realized I should probably try to offer something to make the situation better for visitors instead of just complaining. So here is my personal technique for surviving 95% of Colombian sit-down restaurants.

    1. First of all, you have to like barbecue sauce for this to work. Most Colombian restaurants don’t have many sauces, and the ones they do have are awful. But they almost all have barbecue sauce, which is actually better than the fake ketchup.

    2. Order pollo a la plancha. Almost every restaurant has pollo a la plancha. It’s just a simple, boring slice of chicken breast. Not bad, per se, but usually not amazing. In other words, as good as common, everyday Colombian food gets.

    3. Order French fries with your meal instead of the boiled wartime potato. I’ve discovered that the vast majority of Colombian restaurants are actually pretty good at french fries. (You would think they’d find a way to fuck up french fries– say, by simmering them in pineapple sauce and mayonnaise in a classic Colombian move– but no, they left fries alone).

    4. Cut the chicken breast up into pieces and use the barbecue sauce as dip. There’s a good chance you’ll also want to use barbecue sauce for the fries instead of the fake ketchup.

    5. With your meal there will likely come some sickly looking lettuce with lemon juice on it. I would just ignore that.

    Now the chicken breast will usually come overcooked and dry and generally disapppinting in terms of what you’re used to vis a vis chicken breasts. Depending on your level of Spanish, you can possibly try to guide the waiter and cook into not overcooking the chicken. But I personally wouldn’t recommend just anyone try that. You’ll likely just confuse everyone and cause them to bring out a raw chicken breast or some shit. This is Colombia.

    In terms of higher quality food, my one-word suggestion is soup. The soups in Colombia have managed to make me relatively happy. Especially the cremas. Sometimes I get cravings for crema de cebolla. Arroz de coco is also great. But now we’re getting into fancier territory. Pollo plancha and barbecue sauce will usually save your ass in any Colombian restaurant.

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  28. There aren’t a lot of restaurants in Colombia for Colombian food because people cook that at home if they want good food. So the Colombian food that they do eat out for is just the lunch food. It’s just a way to get a quick, cheap meal during your lunch break. All of those local places offering the menu ejecutivo and so on. They aren’t meant to be offering the best of Colombian cooking.

    In fact in Lima you have a similar situation, except that in Lima there are more Chinese restaurants than the cheap Peruvian restaurants.

    Peruvian food is good but also overrated. It’s popularity now has more to do with trends and fads than anything else.

    And most of the Peruvian restaurants in Colombia are selling glorified (nikkei) sushi. As for ceviche, all you can taste is lime. It’s a completely unbalanced dish unlike similar dishes from Southeast Asia which have sweetness, and umami and herbs.

    And lomo saltado is just stir fried beef with french fries thrown in. I spent considerable time in Peru and I realized that the food was overrated. Did love the picarones though and the churros criollos. But wouldn’t say they’re better than Colombian buñuelos!

    I had no problem whatsoever with the food in Colombia. In fact, I thought it was one of hte best if not the best for food. They have the best mangos in the world by far, the slightly fermented antioquean sausages are incredibly delicious, the arepas de choclo are a real treat as are freshly fried buñuelos. The chocolate from Santander is the best I’ve had.

    Stuff like hot dogs yeah are pretty scary in Colombia, but nobody goes to Colombia to eat hot dogs. And Colombian “ceviche” is kind of awful, but just think of it as a shrimp cocktail, which is what it really is. And it makes total sense that a Caribbean country would not have a raw fish tradition. Even in Peru, with its colder waters, you are running the risk of parasites by eating ceviche.

    If you stay in Peru for any extended period of time, you end up eating more Chinese food than anything else.

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  29. “There aren’t a lot of restaurants in Colombia for Colombian food because people cook that at home if they want good food.”

    I wouldn’t exactly say that’s true. Restaurants that serve “traditional” Colombian food are readily frequented by Colombians who want “good” Colombian food. Antioquian restaurants are packed on Sundays with Colombians slurping up bland Sancocho and other regional specialties. Sure, Colombia has some decent dishes, and the food on the coast can be excellent. However, the stuff regularly lauded by Colombians in the interior won’t be loved by many non-Colombians anytime soon. It’s not that the food in Colombia is so lackluster, it’s the fact that Colombians talk about their cuisine like it’s one of the world’s best. It isn’t, and it won’t be anytime soon.

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  30. Ok. Asshole. You come from US. And I do not want to talk about the food there. You clearly are an ignorant redneck. For instance: you do not eat PANELA, you moron. You sweeten meals with it. And from then on you It seams you are the kind of idiot who needs instructions to put on sucks.

    It’s true what Umberto Eco said: “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine”.

    Pleas go back to your bar.

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  31. Dear Colin, ¿did you learn already that saying that goes: “La ignorancia es atrevida”? This article just shows how ignorant you are about Colombian food. You conveniently leave out a lot Colombian dishes or varieties (cheese arepas, egg arepas, chocolo arepas, etc.) that are simply amazing.

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    1. “cheese arepas, egg arepas, chocolo arepas” that’s variety? An arepa with an egg on it. An arepa with “quesito” on it,Tthe stuff doesn’t even melt, because as the waitress explained, it’s not queso, it’s quesito, it’s not supposed to melt”. Arepas de chocolo are loaded with sugar so yeah they have some flavour, There is one arepa snack I do like, the ones they sell at the Cha-Cha stand: soft inside, crispy outside, with a somewhat sharpish white melty cheese inside. Yum!

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  32. Colin ive been leaving here for almost 16 years and your’e absolutely rite, you go out for lunch time and all the restaurants have the same menu. frijoles, lenteja, sopa de arroz, o sopa de pasta, etc and the meat or the chicken, please dont get me started on them, like they dont know how to cook, like wats up with that, and i went and i study gastronomia and i have a internacional food certificate and damm yeah colombians have to step their customer service and food game up, cux they sux!!!

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  33. Oh… my god so spot on. Someone who also have the ability to spell it out. So It not just me being prejudice. I grew up eating all kinds of ethnic foods at home, I’m well over 30, so i’m not the new International generation y, millennial, that grew up eating international foods in restaurants.

    I worked with and are friends with Colombians, and I can attest that the food is bland, bland, bland and tasteless. They have no clue on cooking and even basic spices. Even a basic soup is tasteless. The only spice they know is Cumin, like most latin american countries (which came from India via Arabs in Spain), and a bit of cilantro. Colombians don’t seem to use much onion and garlic when cooking.

    This is also true of many Latin american countries. If they have any dishes that generally taste good its because of the Influence of Afro Caribbeans, and Anglo Afro Caribbeans that moved there in past history for Central America countries.
    Venezuelan and Cuban food is a few notches better. Brazilian is a lot better than those two. I have no clue my Mexican food is so superior to all Latin American food

    And we thought Northern/nordic food was bad…(Nordic, German, British etc. )Past jokes used to be on British food. At least a basic Anglo/ Anglo american derived soup is pretty decent tasting…beef and barley being a basic one. Even an ethnic like me gets filled on potato salad and coleslaw

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  34. @Jason. the writer is pointing out what a lot of people have experienced and feel, but dont want to say for the sake of being polite.

    Telling people to cover up a dish with a an american sugar sauce(barbecue or ketchup), that is out of place in the region, does not provide any help.

    no one should feel bad, people have been saying and ridiculing British food for the past 50 years. now dutch and German

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  35. Maybe the bland food is why the Colombians are generally not obese like Americans. They eat to satiety then quit.

    I love the variety of American food but we got super fat as a result. Back in the old days when it was just meat and potatoes we were all thin.

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  36. I’m Colombian.

    I hate andres carne de res, colombian food is terrible, people only like fried or boiled food, they don’t have any cooking technique, bland as hell.

    Colombia is like an imagination desert you are in a jail were is impossible to develop something new, we are so conservative that every one is afraid to try anything in that way we have a lot of appreciation for a traditional bland food.

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  37. I agree but there is hope ( I hope). After years being served bread which best fits under ones shoes they now have quality bread finally….Something else is the growing potential of supermarkets in the villages with have more quality of choice…….going slow but changing.

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  38. I am not by any means defending Colombian food but…as bad as a corrientazo is, it still better and healthier than the “cheap” equivalents in my country such as Tim Hortons, A&W, Burger King etc. or mom and pop greasy spoon dinners which serve you processed deep fried frozen food. I mean are we also pretending that no one in the US or Canada is eating the row upon row of gross processed food that you find in the average super market. Colombian soups at least don’t come from a can.

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  39. If you think that fast food in the US is the only cheap equivalent to Colombian corrientazo, then you need to expand your culinary horizons. In almost any large US city, there will be at least one ethnic group with a large prescence, and you can find excellent quality food from all over the world for about the same price as a bad hamburger combo meal from Mc Donalds. Things like Pho, Shawarma, Bahn Mi, Indian lunch specials, and their equivalents, are ubiquitous in large American cities. There are plenty of other options in the US other than fast food, and it is far from the only option for those that want to eat on the cheap. Also, if you think Colombians have some diet that is completely free of processed food and preservatives, then you’re mistaken again. You can find the same processed/preserved crap lining the aisles of any large supermarket in the country, and there is plenty of crappy, cheap food floating around the country. You’re crazy if you think that god awful slice of pizza that costs 2,000COP, or that hotdog piled high with god knows what are using natural, unprocessed ingredients.

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  40. I agree with Thomas.

    Ethnic food has become more expensive compared to fast food in the US. These days, at least in California you would expect to pay no less than $10 for a bowl of pho. Banh Mi like they used to make them now cost $7 or more. The cheaper $4 Banh Mi have a quarter to a third of what used to be the normal amount of filling. You would need to buy two of them to fill you up. Add in a drink and you would be hard pressed to get a decent lunch for under $10. With tip, you wouldn’t be able to do it. And this in a market with a huge amount of competition and lots of Asian options. Meanwhile the meals advertised by the fast food places remain pretty cheap. I think it’s $6 for a big mac meal.

    The Colombian “fast food” corrientazo include drinks and besides being cheap are overall quite healthy. Even the drink, instead of a sugary soda, you typically get an unsweetened fruit drink. You get a little salad, a piece of meat or chicken that’s typically cooked on a grill or skillet, some rice, beans, a maduro and homemade soup. Aside from the maduro, I don’t think the typical menu del dia features fried food as a a regular thing. I would pick the Colombian “fast food” over American fast food any day of the week. I think it’s healthier and tastier by far.

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  41. Maybe you pay those prices in California, but there are plenty of other states and places in the US with big ethnic communities that are much more reasonable. I come from Houston, which also has a large Vietnamese population, and nobody is paying the kind of prices you listed above. A Bahn Mi is around 3.00$ to 3.50$ and bowl of Pho can be had for less than 8$. Maybe in California eating lunch for under 10$ is hard to do, but there are plenty of other places in the US where it’s pretty easy. I can go to an Arab restaurant and get Shawarma Sandwich for about 7$ and get a combo plate for around 10$.

    There is no Colombian “fast food.” Fast food in Colombia is the same garbage people eat in the US. Comparing Corrientazo to American fast food by saying that Colombians eat so much better than Americans because they aren’t forced to eat fast food all the time due to healthier options just isn’t true. You can eat healthy in the US, and it can be done cheaply.

    Yes, even corrientazos can be unhealthy. I don’t know what lunch spot you are eating at, but at the majority of the ones around the country, the juice is never unsweetened. My wife doesn’t drink sweetened juice and in most corrientazo places, she can’t drink the juice that is pre made for the corrientazo/lunch rush plates. Alos, things like Calentado, Pollo Frito, and a lot of the beans that come with corrientazo, are drenched in oil or steeped in Pig Fat, and Pollo Frito is a regular thing on the lunch menu. Also, what about the little snack Colombians eat before and after lunch? Those Bunuelos and Empanadas aren’t exactly healthy for you. Bottom line is that plenty of Colombians eat just as bad as Americans do. They just as readily consume fast food and can’t get enough of their sugary drinks as well. As a matter of fact, I would say that the lower obesity rates in Colombia (and they are rising), are due to the fact that overall, Colombians are much active than Americans. In most of the US, you just drive from parking lot to parking lot. Colombians don’t have that luxury and therefore tend to walk more and use public transport.

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  42. Love this article and thread!

    Been thinking about this some lately. I lived 7 years in Colombia and married a Colombian woman, though we now live in the US. I think Colin mostly gets it right here. Colombian food is bland and most meals, especially corrientazos, are terrible. Sure, there are exceptions, my wife is a pretty good cook, but the cuisine in general is tedious and lacking flavor. There are a few things you can say in defense of Colombian food: it’s usually fresh, fresh stuff is cheap, less hormones and antibiotics in their food, no corn syrup, fruit is amazing. But the way Colombians cook their food is so boring as a whole. If you want creativity and flavor in Colombia, you often have to pay gringo prices.

    That being said, US is not necessarily a culinary paradise either. You have to put in some work to eat right, find good food, and avoid getting fat. My wife had some trouble adjusting to certain foods because she said they tasted like chemicals. Granted her palate is a little sensitive, but the factory farms that crank out shitty, cheap produce and meat in the US leave a lot to be desired. We buy organic for a lot of the grocery list now, and you can really taste the difference, though it costs some extra money. But yes, the variety of ethnic cuisines in the US are still relatively cheap if you know where to look, and there’s so many more options than in Colombia. Sushi, tacos, Chinese food, Italian…almost any ethnic food in Colombia will either be bad or expensive, and even the expensive stuff is not half as good as what you can find in any normal US city. I would also take American barbecue, southern comfort food, and Cajun cuisine over anything in Colombia without even thinking about it. And American beer is amazing nowadays, while Bogota Beer Company only got worse over time while I lived there.

    TL:DR, Colombian food is blah, the US easily has better food than Colombia, but the US is full of people who have bad taste and eat poorly too.

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