Is Colombian food the worst food of Latin America?
When you travel around Latin America, this is a sentiment you hear among other gringos from time to time.
That the food is so dogshit that you wouldn't even feed your dog with it!
Of course, not everybody agrees.
I once met -- ironically enough -- a Colombian woman years ago named Tatiana who claimed that "Colombian food is better than even Mexican food. Isn't bland like the food in Mexico."
And we met while in Mexico City as well!
The funny thing though is that literally everybody else outside of Colombia thinks of Colombian food that way: it's bland, not enough seasoning, etc.
You almost think that Tatiana was projecting a little bit.
Regardless, is Colombian food really the worst of Latin America?
Let's get into my quick experience with Colombian food and then dive into some general thoughts I've had on their cuisine.
My Experience with Colombian Food: Is Colombian Food the Worst in Latin America?
When I lived in Colombia, I was there for 7 months.
I lived in the city of Barranquilla and spent time in other parts of the country, including places like Pereira, Bogota, Cartagena, etc.
During my time there, I rarely would try street food but never found anything on the street that tasted good (unlike other countries such as Mexico where tasty street food is in high abundance).
I also learned that, compared to other Latin American countries like Argentina, Colombians don't seem to know how to make a good empanada.
When it comes to the food itself, just how bland is it really?
Well, as a good example of what I typically found in Colombian food, I remember going to a restaurant in Bogota that supposedly had high quality food from Medellin.
My Colombian girlfriend at the time brought me there and she really liked the food.
From my perspective, the food wasn't terrible. It was not bad. It was just boring.
Without question, it wasn't the type of food I would pay someone to cook for me at a restaurant.
Definitely not for the higher prices they were charging.
And, regardless of how expensive any other Colombian restaurant would be, there was usually a commonality among all of them (expensive or cheap): almost all of them had bland food.
It was never so bad that the meal was terrible.
It was just consistently boring food.
Soon enough, I realized while in Colombia that, in order to enjoy food consistently, I would have to either cook or eat at restaurants that offered cuisine from other countries.
Be it Italian, Arab or Mexican restaurants.
Or anything else!
Anything that wasn't Colombian.
The funny thing though was that these other restaurants were obviously run by Colombians and the food they prepared in them actually did have taste.
They were not bland. They tasted great!
So it's not like Colombians don't know what tasty food is like.
They know the concept of "food that isn't boring."
It just seemed to be that, for whatever reason, they had no problem preparing foods from other cultures in a way that would make them tasty but consistently wanted to prepare their own Colombian food in a way that would make it bland, boring and forgettable.
Though, to be fair, there were cases where I would encounter something in Colombia that was worth trying again.
For example, they have salchipapa in Colombia.
To be honest, I'm not sure which country salchipapa originally came from but, after all these years traveling to Latin America, I will say that the best salchipapa I've ever had was in Colombia.
Here is a video on Colombian salchipapa.
Next, we have arepas.
While not every gringo likes arepas, I always had a good experience with them.
Here's a video of some arepas.
Third, you had these little balls of bread that you could find sold in certain areas of Barranquilla. I don't remember what they were called. They were not very tasty but, if you happened to be hungry and needed just a quick snack before getting a real meal, I guess it would be OK to grab.
While I'm not 100%, I think this is a video of what they were when I was in Barranquilla here.
Fourth, you have the classic "bandeja paisa."
While I haven't tried it too many times, I did enjoy it on the few occasions that I have.
Here's a video of bandeja paisa.
Outside of those food items though, I never encountered anything else in Colombia during my time there that I enjoyed.
And believe me, my girlfriend at the time (with her mom's help especially) made sure to introduce me to what they could.
When going out, the food was often bland regarding most things we tried.
Though, in her mom's defense, she was a decent cook and one thing she made well specifically was arroz con pollo.
It's not the most creative meal but it tasted good.
Finally, is Colombian food the worst compared to all the other Latin American countries?
Well, I haven't tried the cuisine in literally every single country nor have I been to every single country (though I have been to most).
Having said that, I would not say that Colombian food is the worst.
That title belongs to Bolivia.
A country that makes such horrendous soups that I literally left the country after just two months having "soup PTSD" where I legit NEVER wanted to try soup again for years because I had a host family that kept pushing REALLY shit soup on me.
Not to mention that, while Colombian food is bland, it's not burnt half way to hell like a lot of the food I ate in Bolivia.
Bolivian food is also relatively bland in my experience and at least Colombian food isn't completely wrecked.
So, to summarize, there were some Colombian foods I liked. It's not the worst in Latin America in my experience and the food itself isn't terrible. It's just not very exciting to eat and, as a foreigner, I found myself gravitating towards foreign cuisine whenever my girlfriend at the time wasn't trying to introduce me to more Colombian food on any given meal.
Colombian Food is the Worst?: Other Thoughts
Outside of my experience though, I have encountered other gringos who have expressed how they feel about Colombian food also.
Putting aside the most common critique that it's too bland, what else has been said?
Point 1: I've heard some people say that Colombian food is healthy and won't make you fat (unlike US food).
Well, compared to the US, that's true.
The US does love its unhealthy food. Guilty as charged.
But, as you can read here, obesity is going up in Colombia.
Not as high just yet as in the US but it is going up like in the rest of the world.
Perhaps not a fault of Colombian food specifically but what you eat is a good deal of the battle from not being fat.
And there are a lot of grease-fried foods and sugar I remember seeing in Colombian food.
Also, this is a bit of a weird argument to make in favor of Colombia because, when I lived in Bolivia, I actually lost 10 pounds in one month.
I'm just not convinced that we need food that is shit for it to be healthy.
Couldn't we make food that is both healthy and not bland?
Otherwise, it might be healthier but, if nobody wants to eat it, then doesn't that sound like hell?
Point 2: I've heard that folks say that gringos complain because they only go to very cheap places and/or only tried food from Bogota or Medellin.
And not foods from other areas of Colombia given how big and diverse the country is.
On the second point, I'd say that is fair to mention. Most gringos do only spend time in a very select few cities.
Though sometimes I do think it's a "cope" response when a Colombian says that said gringo just needs to try some other regional variation of a food he didn't like.
Regardless though, I agree though that most gringos have a limited understanding of Colombian food due to a few cities in the country taking in most of the visitors.
On the other hand, I kinda agree and disagree with the point about the money spent on food.
While there is an argument to be made that you get what you pay for, you also have plenty of countries like Mexico where you can eat cheaply and still get delicious as fuck food.
It's what I wrote about here where, if your food can't be made cheap and still taste good, then I am questioning how good the cuisine is when other countries can pull it off.
Above all, it just sounds like a stereotypical classist argument coming from someone born and raised in Latin America who looks down on those with limited income.
Someone who is also just coming up with a cope to explain away why a vast majority of foreigners dislike the food.
Point 3: I've heard some people describe Colombian food as just "stomach filler." Maybe that's true for food from some areas like Bogota.
In Barranquilla also, it wasn't overly tasty either as I said before (though some foods did taste food). So, in a sense, I get why the description of "stomach filler" is used.
Point 4: It's quite often that foreigners will notice that Colombians get VERY sensitive to any critique of their food.
To the point they go full "IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, LEAVE!!!"
It's such a weird reaction.
If your food is shit, change it! Do better! Why do you insist on eating bland food? To prove to the whole world that thinks your food is garbage that it isn't garbage?
Or are you into culinary masochism?
Point 5: Going off the last point, it is my opinion that some Colombians simply claim they like Colombian food not because they actually enjoy it but due to pride for their own country and insecurity regarding outsider opinion.
But, on top of that, some people also like the food because it's what they grew up with and what their mom cooked for them. It'd be hard to shake that off and how it influences your opinion of Colombian food.
Point 6: One way to measure how good a country's food is to ask how easily can you find their cuisine in other parts of the world?
Not just in other Latin American countries but in Europe, Asia, North America, etc?
In my years traveling, I can only remember coming across a Colombian themed bar in Barcelona of Spain years ago.
I know you can find Colombian themed restaurants elsewhere but I've never seen one.
In contrast, I easily stumble across restaurants devoted to other cuisines, including Mexican, Brazilian, Peruvian, Argentine, etc.
In fact, I've seen more Salvadorian restaurants than Colombian.
Point 7: When Colombians get insecure about outsider opinions on their food, sometimes they will talk about how much they hate US food.
To a degree, I find that a bit funny that their point of reference is the US even when the person they are talking with isn't from the US.
Also, while there is nothing wrong with not liking the food of the US or Colombia (or any country for that matter), it's a bit of a "whataboutism."
"But ... but ... but what about the food in the US?!?!"
It's like when you bring up how violent Colombia can be as a country but then they bring up Chicago.
"Right but we're not talking about Chicago. We're talking about Colombia. And just because you don't like the food or feel unsafe in Chicago doesn't take away from the fact that many people feel the same or even worse about your country as a whole. What you're trying to do is feel better about yourself with comparisons. Keep coping."
Point 8: While Colombian food is not overly tasty in my experience, I did really enjoy the coffee.
I normally don't like coffee but the coffee in Colombia was the first time I ever actually enjoyed the coffee I was drinking.
Point 9: Sticking to things to drink, Colombia also has that aguardiente. Which tastes like shit and is inferior to anything similar to have for a nice Friday night.
Point 10: When it comes to where to find the best Colombian food, I've most often heard from others that it's along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
While I haven't been to the Pacific Coast as of this writing, I did spend most of my time on the Caribbean Coast as I said before.
If what I could find on the Caribbean Coast was "some of the best" in Colombia compared to other regions (and I know that's just the opinion of several I have met), then I don't see that as a very positive statement for Colombian cuisine.
Though I haven't been to the Pacific Coast like I said.
Point 11: One odd thing about Colombia are the odd combinations I remember finding in their cuisine.
Like hot chocolate and cheese for example.
Point 12: One of the things that seems to make Colombian food worse is how repetitive a lot of folks find it.
A lot of dishes (though not all) with many of the same ingredients, including potatoes, yuca, etc.
Point 13: One odd thing you might notice about Colombians is that, when it comes to more fast food items like hotdogs, it seems like a lot of folks just order all the sauces available at wherever they buy the food.
Instead of ordering what makes the most sense for their own tastes, some have noticed that they just feel this need to get every sauce or else they'll feel like they are missing out on something they see as free.
Point 14: Sometimes people bring up immigration to explain why some countries have better food than others.
I have to agree. Obviously, that'd have influence on any country's food.
And some say that Colombia simply didn't have as much immigration that brought in delicious food.
Well, I can't compare Colombia to most Latin countries when it comes to immigration as I'm not familiar with it but I do know that the Caribbean Coast did get a lot of Arab influence.
Consequently, you can find pretty solid Arab food in cities like Barranquilla. There were two especially that I really liked and one of them was just a few streets away from where I lived.
Point 15: Often Colombian food is often seen as bland and generally is, they do have knowledge of a few things like Cumin and cilantro.
Point 16: When it comes to other things to try in Colombia that aren't as bad, arroz de coco is a good idea.
Point 17: Additionally, one thing I've heard about Colombia is that, at the very least, some of their sweets are decent and they also have lots of interesting fruits to try.
Point 18: When in doubt, get some barbecue sauce when eating Colombian food. It'll save a lot more meals than you realize.
Point 19: Sometimes people might say "well, because Colombia isn't as economically rich as other countries, then of course the food isn't as good. Food for some is about survival, not enjoying new tastes." I disagree with this.
There are plenty of countries in the world -- including Mexico and others outside of Latin America -- where poor people can enjoy tasty food regularly.
If a poor Oaxacan who lives on 270 USD a month can find something tasty for most meals, then why can't your average Colombian?
The Oaxacan might enjoy a pambazo for 20 pesos during the morning or early afternoon. Perhaps have some tacos al pastor for 25 pesos later. So on and so on.
Poor but still able to enjoy good food!
The other thing to mention is how ironic it is also for a Colombian to bring this idea up as some defense of their food.
When, at the same time, said Colombian would take offense at anybody implying that Colombia is economically poorer (in the same way they get annoyed at other common ideas thrown around like concerning drugs).
Point 20: To be fair to Colombians, sometimes the foreigner does need to remember that Colombia isn't the same as his country. I won't say that justifies bland food but it is something to keep in mind.
Point 21: Sometimes people will say "well, the food is made that way due to the history of the culture going back centuries and more."
Obviously the food you find in any country was influenced by the history of the place, who immigrated there, the reasons why certain foods were made, etc.
Having said that, I don't think it's a good excuse for why most people who visit Colombia seem to dislike the food. It makes you understand better how the food became how it is today but I promise you few people are going to dig their teeth into something that they think tastes like shit and go "well, this is perfectly OK because this is how they did it for centuries!"
Nah, they will just stop eating it and try better tasting food.
Point 22: Sometimes foreigners might bring up one positive about Colombian food. That positive being that "well, given it tastes like shit, it means the women won't get fat and Colombia will always have hot women."
As I said before, obesity is on the rise in Colombia but I get what they mean.
Like I said, when I lived in Bolivia where food is also shit, I lost 10 pounds in a month literally.
I definitely see the logic here.
Finally, the last point that needs to be brought up -- perhaps a bit ironically given I have written all of this -- is to be try to be polite to Colombians in real life regarding their food.
Or at least try not to be too much of an ass about it.
I guess you could give them your real opinion that you just aren't a fan of the food.
That isn't a dick thing to say but keep in mind that, as I said before, Colombians are notoriously more sensitive to anybody simply not liking something from their culture.
I'd honestly just avoid talking about their food to them. If they ask about your opinion, just nonchalantly say "yeah, sure, it's fine" and change the subject.
Or, if you want, you could also mention one or two things from their food that you do like.
Even though most of it is bland in my experience, even I found a few things I liked.
So it's not hard to just fall back on that.
Anything to Add?
At the end of the day, if you enjoy Colombian food, that's cool.
We just have different tastes.
I fall into the camp of most foreigners that say that the food isn't particularly great.
Though I do think sometimes other foreigners overemphasize how bad it can be.
It's definitely not THE worst of Latin America.
Bolivia: I'm looking at you.
Still, it is what it is.
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below.
Enjoy this Colombian cumbia music here to at least end this article on a positive note regarding Colombian culture.
And follow my Twitter here.
Thanks for reading.