When it comes to the food in Bogotá, you’d be forgiven for knowing next to nothing about it. After all, Colombia is hardly known internationally for its culinary prowess! Despite this, there are plenty of delicious eats all over the country and particularly in the capital.
While deep-fried street food might be the first image to jump to mind, there is so much more to Bogotanian cuisine than you probably think! From fermented drinks to melt-in-your-mouth pork dishes, Bogotá is a dream destination for foodies – it’s just waiting for the world to catch on.
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16 Must-Try Bogotá Food and Drink
While the sight of lechona may not be one to stir up hunger in your belly, if you can ignore the rather unsightly pig in the glass box, you’ll be sure to enjoy this local dish. Suckling pig is commonly associated with the nearby Tolima department and is essentially a delicious hog roast, complete with crackling.
Roasted in a massive oven, this process occurs in one specific area of Bogotá before the finished product is delivered to eateries all over the city by motorbike!
2. Ajiaco Santafereño
The signature dish of the Bogotá food scene, this traditional Colombian soup is known locally by the shortened name, aijaco. A flavourful and filling soup, aijaco is the perfect warming dish for the high-altitude setting of Bogotá – it’s easy to see why it’s the pinnacle of the local cuisine!
While a version of this dish is eaten in both Cuba and Peru, the Bogotanian version is typically made from chicken, corn and three different types of potato. Flavoured with guasca, a local herb, the soup has evolved over the years, particularly since the arrival of the Europeans. This saw the introduction of capers and cream, which are usually served on the side, along with avocado, rice and patacones.
While the most iconic place to eat ajiaco in Bogotá is in La Puerta Falsa restaurant in La Candelaria, local gastronomist Andrés says that the best version of the dish can be found inside La Perseverancia Market – after trying it firsthand, I think it would be pretty hard to beat!
3. Mango Biche
Mango biche is a popular street food sold on the streets of Bogotá. Essentially thinly sliced unripe mango, topped with salt and lime juice, this snack is refreshing, cheap and delicious. Pick up a big plastic cup of it for less than $1USD.
It is impossible to talk about Bogotá’s cuisine without mentioning chicha. This fermented drink is widely available all over South America and in Colombia, they have a very simple version. Cooked corn is combined with sugar, before being fermented for six to eight days. Other fruits are sometimes added to heighten the flavour, such as blackberry (mora), mango and red fruits.
This ‘indigenous beer’ has deep roots in Bogotá and has gone through many turbulent times over the years. When Germans first emigrated to Colombia, they began setting up breweries, only to find that the locals didn’t have a taste for beer. For them, that niche was already filled by chicha.
To dissuade people from drinking chicha, German breweries put out negative ad campaigns against the indigenous drink championing the ideas that it caused crime and made people stupid.
The result was a huge social stigma around chicha which led to people swapping it for beer.
These days, the drink has been reclaimed by Bogotanians, however, it is only allowed to be brewed in a select few barrios including La Perseverancia and La Candelaria.
Another soup dish popular in Bogotá but this time eaten for breakfast. This traditional, hearty broth is milk-based and is touted as one of the best hangover cures around! Spring onions are added to the soup and an egg is cracked in each bowl, to allow it to poach.
The soup is served alongside stale bread (pan calado) for dipping and there is the option to add cilantro once it is served. You’ll find this milky broth all over the capital where it costs very little. It can also be found in the Boyacá and Cundinamarca departments of Colombia.
Although beer is readily available all over Colombia (would it be a backpacking hotspot if not?!), Bogotá is the king of the country’s beer scene. Home to the famous brewers Bogotá Beer Company, there is a burgeoning craft beer scene in the city.
Pola del Pub is a popular brand available in most Bogotanian bars and if lager is more your thing, there is also Poker. The best way to experience the capital’s beer scene is undoubtedly to head to a local bar and combine your beer tasting with a cheeky round of Tejo, Colombia’s national game. Throw a heavy metal puck at a target filled with gunpowder pockets and just wait for the bang!
Arepas are an absolute cornerstone of Colombian cuisine. With more than 149 types of arepa in Colombia and Venezuela alone, this fast food comes in many varieties and flavours, some more delicious than others.
They are round and flat and can be baked, fried, boiled or steamed. Generally made from maize and available in glass boxes and off street food carts all over the city, arepas can be eaten as a side accompaniment to a larger meal or split open and consumed as a sandwich. Common fillings include cheese, meat, avocado and chicken.
Tamales are widely eaten all over Colombia but it is the Tamal Tolimense that you are most likely to eat in Bogotá. Often consumed for breakfast, they contain a mixture of rice, corn masa, chicken, peas, boiled eggs and potatoes. This mixture is then wrapped in banana leaves for steaming.
This dish is available in Colombian restaurants all over the capital but the best place to eat it in Bogotá is Pasteleria Florida, the oldest café in the city. It is traditionally served alongside an arepa and chocolate santafereño, another local speciality.
9. Chocolate Santafereño
Better known as hot chocolate with cheese, this quirky hot drink is most popular in Bogotá, thanks to its cold climate and high-altitude setting. Although the two sound like they shouldn’t mix, this combination is actually a pleasant surprise!
Hot chocolate is served with cheese (usually a local cheese like queso campesino without a strong flavour) and it is up to you to break it into chunks and put it into the hot chocolate. The cheese isn’t meant to melt completely, just warm at the edges.
Legend has it that the origin of this drink harks back to Colombia’s days of slavery. Slaves would not have been allowed cheese and would be punished if they were seen eating it. It’s believed that if they were able to steal some, they would hide it in their hot chocolate to avoid being caught.
Colombia is home to a wide variety of ecosystems, providing a range of different environments for growing food. As a result, there is a rich variety of fruit available across the country.
Pithaya (yellow dragon fruit), granadilla, maracuya (passionfruit), lulo, tree tomato and guava are all delicious and are fruits you may have not tried before!
11. Coca Tea
If you’re already familiar with some of the other countries in South America, you’ll likely know that the coca leaf is a power plant used to stave off the symptoms of being at high-altitude.
The base ingredient of cocaine, the coca leaf is illegal in most parts of the world but in high-altitude countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, it is regularly consumed. The leaves can be chewed or made into tea. Alternatively, you can also find coca sweets and coca beer.
Bogotá is located 2,640 meters above sea level and it can take a few days to acclimatise to the altitude when you arrive. As such, many of the city’s cafés serve coca tea. A cup of this wonder drink will help beat headaches and give you a little burst of energy – great if you’re planning to tackle some of the city’s steep streets on foot.
This popular Colombian street food is available all over the country and is a frequent sight in Bogotá’s La Candelaria neighbourhood. Essentially massive, round wafer cookies, obleas are served with a variety of toppings, before being sandwiched together.
Popular variations include arequipe (South American caramel), cheese, jam, coconut and sprinkles. It’s estimated that they’ve been eating obleas as a street food in snack in Colombia for at least 300 years!
Obleas recently found fame on an international level when Rolling Stone Mick Jagger sampled one on a recent tour around Latin America. The photos of him tucking into an arequipe oblea went viral, causing practically every vendor in Colombia to slap a photo of him over their oblea cart.
Colombia’s answer to dulce de leche, this sweet treat is a must-try on the streets of Bogotá. Available as a sauce or as a kind of candy bar, it is also a filling in popular Colombian snack foods and desserts, including bunuelos and obleas.
Bunuelos are another snack food in Colombia, sort of like doughnuts. These fried dough balls are found across Latin America and also Spain, where they are traditionally eaten around Christmas time.
There is a popular chain across Colombia with the same name, famous for its own bunuelos. This is a great place to sample them. Bunuelos come with a range of fillings, from arequipe to jam and even cheese!
15. Big Ass Ants
Sold by street vendors in Plaza de Bolivar in Bogotá, these crunchy insects come in small packets and are sold by locals parading ‘big ass ants’ signs. Although it is said that they are eaten in the Santander region, big ass ants or Hormigas Culonas as they are so named in Spanish, seem to be more of a tourist novelty in Bogotá.
It isn’t possible to talk about the food and drink scene in Colombia without mentioning coffee. Colombia is one of the world’s leading coffee producers and exports over 12 million bags of the stuff every single year.
As visitors to the coffee belt (Salento, Filandia, Jardín), will already know, Colombians take coffee very seriously and despite producing some of the best in the world, nearly all of the good stuff is exported, meaning many of them have no idea just how great their coffee is.
A good cup of coffee should speak for itself, with no need for sugar or milk. It doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste that many instant mixes do and instead, offers up a range of aromas and flavours, from fruity to chocolatey. The best way to become a coffee connoisseur? We’ll get to that below!
Bogotá Food Tours
With so many delicious delicacies on offer, the challenge can be finding the best of the best. To overcome this barrier and make your tummy truly happy, I recommend embarking on a food tour.
There are a number of free food tours in Bogotá that work on a donation basis. However, if you embark on one of these tours, you also have to pay for all of the food throughout on top of your tip. When there are big groups, this can take up a lot of time.
To get the most out of your experience, it is best to seek out a gastronomy expert, who can offer up some context and history behind the foods that you are sampling. While I was in Bogotá, I did a tour with A Chefs Tour, a company that prides itself on offering food tours with local experts.
Andrés, my guide, is not only a chef in his own right but also a Colombian food historian. His passion for the cuisine shone through and he allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the country’s food scene, as well as the history behind individual dishes.
On the tour, I was able to try a range of different local foods and a variety of drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) in some of the coolest spots around the city, including a couple I could not have visited alone. The tastings were varied and the portions were massive – I was very glad I wore my stretchy pants…! 🐷
Disclosure – I was given a place on this tour for free while researching this article but was told that I should be brutally honest when writing about it. Luckily for me, it was fantastic!
The food in Bogotá might not be bursting onto the international gastronomy scene just yet but as word continues to spread about the delicious dishes available, it is surely only a matter of time.
From sweet street food snacks to rich and decadent servings of lechona, there is way more to Bogotá than empanadas and arepas!
What is your favourite dish from Bogotá? Share it with us in the comments below!