A selection of Colombian dishes on a table

Popular Colombian food to try in Medellin

When arriving in Medellin it won't take long for you to notice all the street vendors, restaurants, cafes, and panaderias (bakeries) around. This city has so many food options, but if you’re like me, you came to Colombia to experience the culture and that includes traditional food.

Medellin is home to some fabulous food only found in this region of Colombia. The traditional dishes are heavy and made to sustain someone for long periods of time.

Dinner is considered more of a snack and adult beverage time so breakfast is paramount. The good news is it is not hard to find traditional dishes or famous Colombian coffee in Medellin.

Here are just a few tasty dishes that you must try when you visit Medellin. Be sure to pair them with a Colombiana soda, fresh juice, or locally-grown coffee!

Bandeja Paisa with plantain, meat, beans, rice and avocado

1. Bandeja Paisa

If you ask anyone about Colombian food, one of the first dishes they will mention is the bandeja paisa. “The name translates to platter (bandeja) and “Paisa” is the name of the people who reside in Medellin.

This plate was originally considered a peasant’s meal because the farmers would eat it before heading out for a full hard day's work. This dish is very filling so bring your appetite!

Most local restaurants will have the bandeja paisa on the menu and depending on the region of Colombia you visit, the ingredients change. In Medellin, typical ingredients include beans, white rice, chicharron, chorizo, a fried egg, ground meat, plantain, avocado, an arepa, and frijoles (refried beans).

The dish is usually paired with freshly squeezed juice or a soda like Colombiana (similar to coca cola).

A basket of Colombian corn arepas with hogao

2. Arepas

Another staple in a Colombian’s diet is the area, a flat corncake eaten regularly all over Colombia. Arepas are served traditionally with breakfast or as a snack. There are many varieties including the arepa con queso or arepa de chocolo.

Different parts of the country have their own ways of eating them but here in Medellin, the most popular ones are served with cheese. It is not uncommon to have breakfast with eggs, sausage, and an arepa while the arepa de chocolo is made with sweeter corn and filled with a block of cheese.

You can find arepas in local grocery stores and they served with almost every meal in local restaurants. You will see many street vendors selling them pre-packaged as a bundle or freshly prepared with toppings.

Bunuelos, traditional Colombian sweet deep fried pastry served with chocolate sauce

3. Bunuelos

Bunuelos are traditionally served on Christmas and other holidays but are also enjoyed in certain areas of Medellin at events and fairs.

A bunuelo is a fried cheese ball that can fit in the palm of your hand. They are made with cornstarch and cheese in the batter and then fried. 

In Sabaneta, a neighborhood of Medellin, there is a place called Gigante Buenelo (which means giant bunuelo) where you can enjoy one the size of your head! They are usually served with raspberry sauce or chocolate sauce. 

Colombian empanadas usually served with a spicy salsa sauce

4. Empanadas

Empanadas are another fried treat that you can find in many Latin American countries. In Colombia, empanadas are made with fried yellow corn dough and are similar to a turnover.

Here in Medellin, you can find ones filled with a beef and potato filling, pork, just beef, or just potato. Street vendors everywhere sell these and local bakeries.

They are a very popular snack and are enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. There are many sauce types to be paired with empanadas and my personal favourites are fresh salsa or a garlic sauce.

Sancocho, a traditional Colombian stew, with rice on the side

5. Sancocho

Another traditional Christmas dish is sancocho. This delicious soup is made with different kinds of meat and vegetables and is usually served with rice and avocado on the side.

In December, Colombians celebrate Christmas all month long and sancocho is eaten at their fiestas or Christmas celebrations. Once when my friend and I were walking down the street, a bar had some employees outside making a giant pot of sancocho and handing it out to bypassers for free!

We gladly took some and were provided with rice and avocado as well. It just shows how much Colombians love this time of year and enjoy sharing their traditional food with others.

Colombians will also tell you that sancocho is good for the guayobo (or hangover). After a fiesta at their house, someone will often wake up and make it for the others to help them with their hangovers.

Helado con queso, ice cream with shredded cheese and a flavoured syrup.

6. Helado con queso

For a unique sweet treat, try the Colombian helado con queso (ice cream with cheese). I admit I thought it sounded strange but turns out it's really good!

The helado con queso is typically served in a cup with ice cream, shredded cheese, a sauce, and whipped cream on top. The sauces to choose from vary from chocolate to fruit sauces like raspberry.

I love the arequipe sauce, which is the same as dulce de leche and is used in many desserts here in Medellin.

A woman preparing Obleas, a sweet Colombian wafer

7. Obleas

Obleas are another popular food found throughout Latin America and, in Colombia, they are a popular treat can easily find when wandering around.

Obleas are giant thin wafers filled with cheese, raspberry sauce, coconut, and arequipe (dulce de leche). This sweet and savoury treat is similar to a crepe, but made with wafers, and can be found at street vendors and at popular tourist spots.

I discovered obleas when I was hiking. Near an old bridge/ tourist destination were several vendors selling empanadas, drinks, and obleas. Obleas are a great snack for before and after, say a hiking trip, because they are not too heavy, but just filling enough.

Colombian dessert natilla traditionally served during Christmas

8. Natilla

Natilla, similar to the Mexican flan, is a traditional Christmas dessert often served with bunuelos. It is made with milk, panela, brown sugar, and topped with cinnamon.

Panela is a common sweet brown product made from locally sourced sugarcane. It's is used in drinks and many other foods in Colombia.

Each family has their own version of this pudding-like dessert and I was fortunate enough to have it on Christmas with a Colombian family. Natilla can also be made with Aguardiente, a Colombian alcohol that is very popular on holidays and at parties.

Salchipapas, a traditional Colombian street food.

9. Salchipapas

Salchipapas incorporate a favourite meat product in Colombia: hot dogs. Colombians take their hot dogs seriously and eat them in many different forms with many different toppings.

Salchipapas are french fries with hot dog pieces and can have cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, other meats, and other condiments.

Salchipapas are considered street food and are great after a night out or as a hangover food. There are so many ways salchipapas can be served and there are small restaurants that specialise in concocting them.

A woman eating fruit from a salpicon, a Colombian fruit cocktail

10. Salpicon

Salpicon is a refreshing fruit cocktail that can be made with condensed milk, soda, or ice cream.

Colombia is known for having amazing and unique fruit and this beverage is a great way to try some! You can find salpicon made with many local Colombian fruits including mango biche (a sour mango) or granadilla.

The most common way to have a salpicon is with colombiana ( soda) or adding ice cream (think a fruit soda float). You can find salpicon in many puestos (little shops) or in the mall. Ice cream shops often have salpicon on their menu as well.

Cazuela de frijoles with arepa and cup of coffee

11. Cazuela de Frijoles

Cazuela de frijoles is a traditional “Paisa” dish. This traditional stew is made up of red beans, chicharron (pork belly), avocado, corn, and baked plantain. 

This dish can be found in many local restaurants and you can find it made with a variety of different meats. As I am not a chicharron lover (which everyone in Colombia seems to be), I prefer bacon or other pork. 

What's great about this soup is the balance of savoury and sweet given by the beans and the plantains, making this a unique and delicious dish!

If you want to try everything and you're short on time, consider joining a Colombian food tour. Or, if you're anxious to try some fabulous Colombian coffee in Medellin, I recommend the Urban Coffee Tour in Barrio La Sierra for a unique coffee farming experience.

Share this article

Sapharra Baldinger

Author - Sapharra Baldinger

Sapharra is an American who left her life in the U.S. to move to Colombia in 2022. She is a content writer and lover of Latin culture who loves writing about her experiences in different countries. When she's not writing or travelling you can find her salsa dancing or training in Muay Thai. You can read about her adventures on her personal blog or find her on social media.

Last Updated 26 March 2023

Guatape panoramic view from the Rock (La Piedra del Penol), near Medellin, Colombia


Home to a traumatic but rich history, stunning scenery and some of the continent’s most welcoming and sophisticated people, Colombia is a natural draw for travellers to South America.