Colombian cuisine - from aguardiente to viche
April 24th, 2013
02:15 PM ET
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World-renowned chef, author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits Colombia in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, April 28, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.

Come to Colombia for the coffee, tropical climate and charming people; stay for the arepas, fresh fruit, abundant seafood, breakfast soups and powerful liquor.

This week, Anthony Bourdain touches down in a country best known to outsiders in recent decades as a nexus for drug trade and the accompanying violence. Instead, he finds a diverse, thoughtful, welcoming community, eager to move past the stereotypes and usher in a more positive and accurate image of the land they love.

In addition to its much-beloved canon of dishes, and evolving restaurant scene, chefs like Tomás Rueda of Bogota's Tabula and Donostia restaurants see the bounty of Colombia's wide-ranging terrain as one of its greatest assets. He tells Bourdain that the region, which includes mountains, valleys and the sea is "like a big farm, to send produce to the world."

"I believe more in a beautiful carrot than a great recipe," Rueda explained. But in Colombia, neither is in short supply.

Explore Anthony Bourdain's favorite places to eat and drink in Colombia:

Puerta Falsa
Calle 11 - Bogota, Colombia

La Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao (pictured at the top)
Calle 19-25 - Bogota, Colombia

C11 29 Bis #5-90 - Bogota, Colombia

Club Social Los Amigos
Calle 49 / 8A-23 - Cali, Colombia

Sevichería Guapi
CRA 24 # 13-18 - Cali, Colombia

Mercado Del Chivo
Riohacha, La Guajira - Colombia

Mar Azul Restaurante
Mayapo, Guajira - Colombia

Dive into the food and drinks that Bourdain and guests enjoy in the episode:

Italy imbibes sambuca, Greece guzzles ouzo, Spain sips anís and in Colombia, drinkers get their anisette liquor fix with aguardiente. This clear, strong, sugarcane-based liquor essentially translates as "firewater" and is not for the faint of heart or liver.

These unleavened corn cakes are ubiquitous in Colombian cuisine and can accompany any meal of the day. They're usually grilled, griddle-cooked or fried and depending on the region, may come with butter, stuffed or topped with meat, cheese, eggs or other fillings, or even eaten plain as a snack. They're essentially the national bread.

Caldo de Costilla
All that aguardiente does not come without repercussions. Luckily, the Colombian people are firm believers in this hearty Andean breakfast soup, made by simmering beef short ribs in an oily broth with potatoes, salt and scallions. This, Bourdain says, is hangover food.

Cazuela de Mariscos
Got fish? Colombia is a country with coastlines that kiss both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as other bounteous bodies of water. This particular dish is a love letter to seafood, featuring shrimp, clams, lobster and conch in a potato-thickened broth. It's served with lemon, coconut rice, plantain, hot sauce and a long, face-down nap on the beach afterward.

Feeling under the weather? This hearty breakfast soup, made with eggs and scallions, lightly poached in milk and water and garnished with cilantro is good for what ails you. There's also a hunk of stale bread to soak up the remainder of whatever's troubling you and a dose of cheese, if that's what the doctor ordered. Bourdain likens it to a Tuscan bread soup.

Chocolate Completo
Many would argue that chocolate is a complete meal in and of itself. In Colombia, it's served in cocoa form with hard cheese and buttered bread to dunk into the chocolate. Hail Colombia!

One thing about Wayuu cuisine: it'll really get your goat. In fact, it uses up herds of them at a time. In this traditional breakfast dish - generally served right next to the slaughter yard for maximum freshness - goat offal like heart, intestines and tripe is cooked in salted water, then fried with onions, seasoned with lemon and chiles and served with arepas for a sturdy start to the day. Some preparations also include salted goat blood.

It might look for all the world like a beer (which is certainly plentiful throughout Colombia), but this particular beverage is only a chastely kissing cousin to its alcoholic counterpart. It's a malt-based, carbonated beverage that's essentially non-fermented beer and enjoyed by children and adults alike. Malta is made and marketed under many different brand names around the world, but the hometown champ is bottled under the "Pony" label.

While we're talking soft drinks, Kola Román is a fizzy, red Cartagena classic and La Colombiana is a neon-orange, tooth-crackingly sweet tamarind-flavored soda. Toss some cut-up fruit into a glass, pour some of that orange stuff over it and you've got a refreshing Salpicón de Frutas.

This rock mollusk harvested from the mangroves of Colombia's Pacific coast pops up in everything from tamales to stews. It's central to the economy of that region, but potentially faces extinction due to overfishing and unsustainable harvesting practices.

Picada Colombiana
When this giant platter of meats - like chicken, steak, chorizo (sausage) and morcilla (blood sausage) - and starch-heavy arepas, plantains, yuca and potatoes shows up at a celebration, conversation ceases and people get munching. Most elements tend to be fried. This is not a light snack.

This starchy cousin to the banana is ubiquitous in Colombian cooking, and cooked differently depending on the fruit's ripeness from green to in between to sweet and yellow. Popular preparations include patacones (thick, flattened, twice-fried green plantains), tajadas (fried in strips like French fries), maduros (sweet and browned in oil) and used as a base for soup.

From sancocho (a hearty, potato-based stew) and caldo de papa (clear meat broth with potatoes) to potato-stuffed empanadas and ajiaco (thick potato soup, stewed with pulled chicken, corn and three types of potatoes), Colombians have nothing short of a love affair with spuds. Read an awful lot more about that here.

Many South American countries swear by seviche (often spelled "ceviche") as a flavorful and heat-free way to prepare fresh fish. But where many recipes depend on a citrus marinade to "cook" raw seafood, the local Cali variation involves a slather of mayonnaise, ketchup, onions and Worcestershire sauce over cooked shrimp. As Bourdain, says, it's "essentially a 70s shrimp cocktail" and it's served with soda crackers.

This slow-cooked, leaf-wrapped cake takes many forms around Central and South America, but in Colombia, the wrapper is banana or plantain leaves rather than the corn husks found in other regions. They're often larger, heavier and wetter than their Mexican counterparts, and may contain rice, pork belly, chicken, beef, carrots, peas, nuts, seeds - or no fillings other than their essential masa dough core.

This is aguardiente's country cousin - minus the anise, but still made from fermented sugarcane. This often homemade "rural firewater" is a frequent wingman on long nights of dancing, fried starch and general revelry.

In the words of Bourdain's companions, gesturing to the remains of a stomach-stretching seviche and patacone feast, "It's the best way to handle...this."


Read more:
Americans just don't understand the potato. Colombians do.
Colombian cuisine – from aguardiente to viche
The ever-changing flavor of L.A.'s Koreatown
Fall in love with Myanmar's cuisine

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Filed under: Bite • Colombian • Content Partner • Cuisines • Parts Unknown • Think • Travel • Video

soundoff (122 Responses)
  1. personal training Long Island

    Cazuela de Mariscos and Chocolate Completo are awesome Colombian foods. I love Colombian cuisine.

    January 14, 2014 at 9:32 pm |
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