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 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.


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.


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 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!


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


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?


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.

Before you leave a comment telling me why I’m wrong, please read through some of the comments. You may be surprised how many foreigners in Colombia agree with me, which is why this is the most popular article on this blog.


  1. Omg I’m in Colombia right now and I was googling about Colombia food cuz I’m having a hard time with food .
    I thought I was too pick , but I found your blogger and I couldn’t agree more .
    I tried several meal here different restaurants, I even tried to cook but the food doesn’t have any flavor …
    They eat banana soup 😦


  2. WHAT??? I can not believe I ran into THIS CRAP… LOL! you are super ignorant. This is not a “critical” article. Please review the critical writing and thinking definition. Based on our article, YOUR OPINIONS which often stated as facts, I really do not understand what are you doing in my country. I believe you should go back to where ever your close-minded/uneducated-self came from.


    1. Why are you so upset over someone’s comments about Colombian food? Why should they have to leave your country because they disagree with you? Is this how Colombians think? Are Colombians this sensitive and intolerant of other opinions that don’t jive with theirs? Wow. What a sad place it is indeed. Pobrecito usted.


    2. Lol this is, sadly, the most common thing Colombians say when a foreigner doesnt praise the food and other things about Colombia “get out of my country”…. Lol, you shine the light bright about how intolerante and moronic most Colombians are.


  3. You must have no money and eat in cheap bad places. Your review is totally off and based on very little knowledge and real experience eating the exquisite Colombian cuisine.


    1. You must be referring to the other non-traditional restaurants here. Listen, vivía aquí bastantes años que he visto el plato típico de Colombia y no es sabroso. Usted está pensando en los platos estadounidenses jóven. Grcs por su comentario.


  4. Nine years in Colombia and the food is so bland-tasteless. There is little to no flavour in the food ingested here. Locals think it’s great, but every foreigner can barely stomach it. Nice people, just really bad food.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s funny, I stumbled on this article while looking for the worst food in Montreal. As a Colombian that lived many years in France and Canada, I’m surprised that someone that lived 3 years in that country couldn’t find a good place for cheesy stuffed Arepas, or that didn’t find the “right” way to eat a Panela. It’s like saying that I never enjoyed a Poutine, even if it’s disgusting from a first (french?) sight, or because I had a over salty bouillabaisses in the south of France many times, it is then a bad dish. It’s true that Colombian food might seem boring, bland and without a lot of variety; I definitely don’t like many things, the amount fat and starch is astonishing, I know a place that is literally called “El palacio del colesterol”. and still the best cazuela de mariscos I had was in Colombia, I’ve tasted amazing sancochos in some places that could beat many soups in the world that I have tasted. I guess it’s a matter of perspective and exploration (as you point in your other post). P.S. Who puts banana in a sancocho!! Platano yes but banana??


  6. I was eating a tamal and had to search for “why does Colombian food suck” and I stumbled upon this.

    I’ve travelled to over 30 countries been to over 200 villages, towns, cities or more.
    And Colombian food is hands down the worst I’ve eaten.
    My wife is Colombian and she loved her food until I cooked my English staples.
    One thing that Colombians do not understand is spice or seasoning.
    When we come over to visit her family I have to bring spices and cook for everybody….
    Don’t believe me come to Bogotá.


    1. I had the same problem…I was so excited to explore Colombia because I’ve always eaten amazing food in Mexico and even Peru and Costa Rica but i couldn’t believe the lack of flavor and seasoning in Colombian food. I asked all my Colombian friends and Every…Single…One said “oh but you need to try my moms cook”


  7. Colombian food is the BLANDEST I have ever tried.

    At first, it’s kind of funny to have your stomach full for a few bucks. But after monthes living there, you just need to have real food.

    The worst is that they really think their food is tasty. I try to explain it to them. But they would not understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. your taste gland are broken you softie american piece of shit, DIE IN A FIRE colombian food is execptionall how dare you call area tasteless its probably tasteless to you because youve had so much of that bread that gave you diabetes that now everything that doesnt have more than 4000 grams of sugar is tastless to your sorry ass


  9. Thanks for this!
    Been in Medellin for a week and am just overwhelmed by how hard it is to find decent food. I’ve traveled a good amount, and it’s the shittiest cuisine I can remember (lovely city though).

    Also, great writing on this site. Enjoyed the political takes, even the ones I wasn’t totally on board with.


  10. “I had lived in the United States and Peru, where there is more variety and flavor than you can handle.”
    LOL there’s NO WAY you think US food is good. I admit we are not great at the kitchen… but hey, not everything has to have a bunch of sugar so you can think it’s good. I really think that you ate for so little money. Although some of the things you say are true, I don’t think that you explored a lot or at least went far from Bogotá, shame. This is not Peru where you can find awesome things for less in every corner… and I’m pretty sure nor EU or UK is the same. But man, please don’t be so cheap and at least try to go to a good place. You cannot eat manjares at the street or lame restaurants. BTW, we don’t eat panela as a candy, we make desserts and different dishes with that. It’s an INGREDIENT… LOL.
    Oh man, detinitivamente gringos are gonna gring.


  11. I agree with this sentiment to a certain extent….. Yes many Platos tipicos can be bland if you are comparing it to the insatiable heat seeking thrills of Mexican cuisine or mint heavy dishes of Peru, but I genuinely think you haven’t explored enough of my country to truly realize that there is a lot of gastronomical uniqueness and awesomeness but it unfortunately hasn’t been branded or named in the same way that Peruvians do with their dishes. For instance when you mention arepas like sure an arepa can be plain but so can a pancake with no syrup or fruit or whipped cream or whatever you like on it. I’m truly surprised you were incapable of finding a good arepa restaurant where you can order anything from delicious ceviche (free of ketchup) to carne desmechada which is like pulled stringed steak strips with heavy onion, garlic, red pepper, and tomato. Same with Patacones yeah a patacon or toston can be plain, but again did you not find any places that serve the patacon with delicious toppings such as chicharron, camarones, carne asada…..? Its simply a base to get other awesome ingredients on it. Your opinion on bunuelos and pandebonos is actually really surprising considering anytime I put American friends onto a properly made one they love it. They aren’t supposed to be light on cheese I mean they are literally deep fried balls of harina con queso, and the only way to truly enjoy them is fresh or if reheated they have to be reheated in an oven. Pandequesos are fire my guy the yucca dough is special, and definitely not comparable to a doughnut or bagel which literally needs the sugar to make it rock. Tamales also vary GREATLY depending on the region, and in general all of Colombian cuisine varies greatly on the region. You are definitely more than allowed to have your opinion, but I truly don’t think you immersed yourself In Colombian food like you are claiming, it sounds like to me you went to some neighborhood restaurants around Medellin and Bogota and ordered the same dishes. You are failing to mention staples that rock socks such as Arroz Con Pollo, Pescado Frito like they do in the Coastal parts of the country and really no mention of any seafood other than cheap street ceviche with ketchup? No mention of the delicious skewered meats and all the awesome cheap cuts you can get grilled to perfection for little money? Chusos are a way of life bro, apparently you just didn’t get the memo? Again I really do respect your opinion, and I would agree some Colombian food can be bland, but no mention of an actual bandeja paisa that if ate right you dip your white rice in the frijoles you get little pieces of the chicharron and dunk them in that thang. IDK man Im a little offended you are trying to write off the whole country as if Tolima and Monteira eat the same things or as if Boyaca and Barranquilla eat the same……… If you think I’m all cap and just trying to defend my country (which I can’t lie I partially feel a certain social responsibility just because people have loved to shit on Colombia for many years and stereotype us as being nothing but Narcos, Druggies, hookers, and plastic surgery bimbos, Check out this really well done piece by Vice talking about a dope ass girl taking some of the more unknown, underrated, and less discussed culinary techniques and recipes that just simply are being ignored here and I refused to accept a gringos opinion on my country as being the final say so.


    1. Francisco, thanks for your comment. Please see this article, 10 Things to Eat in Bogota, which lists the good stuff with pics.

      I lived in Colombia for three years. I wasn’t a tourist. I ate at restaurants of every socioeconomic level representing most regions. Certainly not all of them, but I got to know the food very well. I know what the gomelos eat (mostly American food).

      Go through all the comments on this post and you’ll see this is a near unanimous opinion among gringo residents. It’s not that everything sucks, and of course you can get through a short visit eating well. But living in Colombia, eating is not a pleasurable break from the daily grind.

      Finally, judging from your excellent English you may be from Colombia but you definitely live in the United States. If you have done more than fairly short visits, you would know that what is shown in those images from Brooklyn is not authentic Colombian food. Every cuisine has to adapt a little for the market it sells in, but Colombian food has to be completely overhauled. Nothing in that video can be found in Colombia, unless maybe at one or two gourmet restaurants in the Zona G that do a good amount of tourist business. It’s not traditional. It’s not what Colombians eat in country.


    2. I’ve been to Colombia multiple times and I’m not gonna lie, the food is pretty bad… The sad part is that they think the food is good but it’s not. The tamales I had there were a disappointment (tamales aren’t even Colombian, they’re originally from Mexico and it should stay like that).


  12. Also how are you not going to talk about Empanadas? I know damn near every Latin American country has a variation of it, but Colombian empanadas are definitely top tier… Crazy you didn’t find a proper Sancocho de Costilla or Sancocho de cola which is an incredible oxtail soup. Did you try proper Colombian chorizo or morcilla ? Honestly its kind of wild that you wanna try to shit on Colombian food and claim we bastardized your precious hot dog lol. Hot dogs in the United States are a boiled bland Weiner, some packet mustard, and maybe relish and other pickled goods if you’re lucky. Maybe the perro was too perro for you, but did you try the perra? Replace the frank with the bacon, and I have yet to meet somebody who didn’t fuck with it. Did you have lechon or pernil? I mean bro you didn’t even include any guisados de carne o pollo cause that’s marinated very well and has a great taste. Arepa de huevo? Also I think you might be confusing just shrimp cocktail with ceviche, I don’t blame you though sometimes Colombians call shrimp cocktail, ceviche, but if you can’t find good ceviche in Cartagena you probably didn’t try. Did you have lentejas? ARROZ CON COCO???????????????? I mean I get it man you probably were like hey I’m gonna save some money by eating at these little plato topic restaurants but those can really be hit or miss, and I hate to say it but the wealth divide is real in Colombia and you are probably aware of it. There are many GREAT restaurants in Colombia but they won’t be 3-4 dollar plates. They definitely a bit more expensive but WORTH it. Not to say there isn’t cheap good food, but I challenge you to give Colombian cuisine another try my dude.


  13. This is so hilarious, just like a bunch of other stuff on your blog which I just found this morning. Tons of interesting and thoughtful stuff – super insightful, and, like you, I’ve spent a TON of time around latin folks and speak Spanish fluently, etc. I spent three months in Colombia a few years ago, and I couldn’t agree more, the food is pretty meh most of time, BUT you’re underselling arepas a bit here. I don’t love them or anything, but there are different regional types, sweet ones, etc. One thing I noticed in Bogota was that some of the bling restaurants were Peruvian, because everyone knows that Peruvian food is great. I remember asking my then gal why there weren’t seemingly any upscale restaurants based on Colombian cooking. I learned why, although we ate at a place like that in Cartagena that was really good and interesting based around costeño eats. I disagree re: Peruvian food being the best in Lat Am having grown up around Mexicans and traveling there a lot. It’s a tough comparison simply because Mexico is simply enormous and the food varies a ton, and definitely you know Peruvian food about 50 times better than I do for sure (I wasn’t there for very long and it was well before their big economic boom which have a way of popping fine dining when a country has incredible food already), but Mexican cuisine is as deep as the ocean – all sorts of variations, and when it gets high end it’s just mind blowing (although a street cart can also be mind blowing). It’s very hard to find good Mexican food in the US even in places with a lot of Mexicans, but damn, just go across the border from San Diego and the restaurants, both high and low from Tijuana to the fabulous little Mexican wine country to Ensenada, are simply stunning, and that’s all just within an hour and a half of the border. Definitely Colombia has INCREDIBLY good musicians and a mix of international imported styles as well as a TON of regional musics. And like you pointed out, the country is basically just stunning landscape after stunning landscape. I can keep going, but it’s your blog! 🙂 Your newest fan, Pez


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