Posted by: pckatie | March 11, 2013

Arepas, Bollo, and Yucca…Oh My!

I have officially been in Colombia just over 6 months! I am starting to fall into a routine with work and things are really starting to get moving! Tomorrow I leave Bayunca to spend the week in Barranquilla for our Reconnect Training with all of the other volunteers in my group. I am really excited to see everyone (not to mention sleep in air conditioning and take a real shower)! I will post a real update soon but for now, here is something fun:Colombian Food A-Z

Note: I am speaking from my own experience. I am making a lot of generalizations about the foods people eat both in Colombia and the US. Of course in the cities some of these things are different (there are import grocery stores, more than one kind of cheese, fast food chains, even McDonalds!) but the majority still apply. I am referring to my experiences, here in Bayunca, a pueblo outside of Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia.

Food is fun here in Colombia!

Food is fun here in Colombia!


Arroz– There are more types of rice here than I ever knew existed. If it can be diced/shredded/juiced….they will put it into rice. The three most common here on the coast are plain white rice, coconut rice, and rice with little noodles (I maintain that the noodles are for decoration and do not add any flavor). Common rice dishes with meat are arroz con pollo (chicken), camarones (shrimp), or carne (beef/pork). Other common rice dishes are arroz de zhanahoria (carrot), arroz con uvas pasas (raisin which can be cooked with or without coke), arroz chino (somewhat similar to fried rice) and arroz de ahyuama (squash). I think there is an unwritten Colombian rule that says at least half your plate MUST be filled with rice at every meal.

Arepas– I would say arepas are the number one typical Colombian food. Arepas are basically a cornmeal patty that can be grilled or fried. They are often eaten plain or with butter, cheese, or eggs. Many street vendors sell them filled with hot dogs, carne, pollo, sausage, cheese, and some kind of mystery sauce. They are sold on every street corner and eaten in every house. They are most common for breakfast or a snack but people also eat them for a light dinner.

Street Arepas

Street Arepas

Avena- Avena is oatmeal and is consumed two ways here in Colombia. The first is the traditional porridge preparation (cooked oatmeal with milk, sugar, and cinnamon). The second and in my opinion most delicious way is as a cold beverage. They cook the oatmeal and let it cool, then put it in the blender with milk, sugar, and cinnamon and blend until it is a creamy consistency (similar to drinkable yogurt).


Bunuelo- This is a perfectly round, fried, sphere (a little smaller than a tennis ball) made of cornmeal and cheese. They are traditionally eaten on ‘Noche Buena’ (Christmas Eve) but can also be found at fried food stands and panaderias year round. I was told they are very hard to make. I decided to test this theory and make some. Rocky (the dog) ended up eating the product of this experiment.

Bollo- This is another Colombian breakfast staple here on the coast. Basically bollo is ground up maiz. It is ground up, formed into a little loaf, and then boiled in leaves. People walk around in the streets yelling, “BOLLOOOOOO!” and if you want some you just stand in your doorway and yell “BOLLO!” back at them and they come to your door. Typically they are carrying the bollo in a plastic bucket on their heads. There is bollo limpio (clean…just the corn), bollo de coco (coconut), bollo de mazorca (yellow and actually tastes like corn), bollo de queso (cheese), and bollo de yucca (with yucca…see ‘Y’ for description). It is usually eaten with eggs, cheese, or meat.

Bollo Limpia

Bollo Limpia

Boli- These are basically homemade popsicles. Similar to the ‘bolsa de agua/jugo/gaseosa’ this is frozen juice in a bag (although I think they add something else to make it slightly softer than solid ice). Women sell these out of their homes, walk around town selling them in styrofoam coolers, and sell them during the breaks at school. I am obsessed with boli, but the downside is that most people here don’t filter/boil their water which means trouble for my gringa intestinal system.


Ceviche- Here on the coast there is no shortage of fish and other seafood. There are men who walk up and down the beach pushing carts who will make you fresh ceviche. Before you get too excited….when you order the ceviche the man will take a plastic cup and fill it with a mix of cooked seafood (shrimp, conch, tiny clams, tiny crab). Then he will cover it with garlic infused vinegar, ketchup, and mayonnaise. If you want hot sauce, salt, and pepper he will add those too. Stir and serve. It is often room temperature (and when I say room temperature I mean the temperature the air here on the equator).

Ceviche cart in La Boquilla

Ceviche cart in La Boquilla


Dogs (hot dogs)- I don’t know if it is because the meat is cheap or if Colombians just LOVE hot dogs….but I have eaten more hot dogs in Colombia than in my entire life in the US. They eat hot dogs with eggs, in arepas, in empanadas, on a bun covered with toppings, and pretty much any other way you can think of to eat a hot dog. I like hot dogs…but I am a 100% beef, all natural, no nonsense kind of hot dog eater. I will just say the hot dogs here do not generally meet these standards 🙂  They also range in size from normal bun length to garden hose length.  Hot dogs here are called salchichas (which is also the word for daschunds or wiener dogs).

My 'perro salchicha' back home...Heidi :)

My ‘perro salchicha’ back home…Heidi 🙂


Eggs- Eggs are a staple of the Colombian diet. They are usually eaten for breakfast and accompanied by an arepa, bollo, meat, or bread. If you are going to eat eggs in Colombia, you have two choices of how you would like them cooked: scrambled (sometimes with onions and tomatoes) or fried to a brown crisp. Also, eggs are brown and not refrigerated here. We buy our eggs in a huge pack of 48 from an open air market and then store them on the counter. From what I hear the US is one of the only countries that refrigerates eggs.


Fritas- Colombians LOVE fried foods. They are refered to as fritas and are sold on every corner, from every home, in every school kiosk, and every market. There are many varieties but the most common are arepas (cornmeal patty), empanadas (half moon shaped cornmeal stuffed with cheese or meat), deditos (like a cheese stick), patacones (fried plantains), pasteles (a pastry stuffed with cheese or meat), and these huge balls stuffed with mashed potatoes, meat, and cheese (I don’t know what they are called). People usually eat fritas with juice, soda, or avena as breakfast or a snack.


Galletas- In Spanish I learned that galletas means cookies…but here in Colombia they use galletas when referring to both crackers and cookies. People here eat a lot of crackers and cookies. Everyone always seems to have a pack in their purse or pocket. It is also mandatory to share when you are eating a packet of cookies or crackers (it is also mandatory to accept said sharing of crackers and cookies).

Gallo criollo-From what I understand, this is basically the equivalent of a free range chicken. They buy them straight from the fincas. Men also walk around with a handful of these chickens hanging by their feet. They bring one home, boil it, pull out all the feathers, gut it, and then usually drop the whole bird into the sancocho pot. They claim these chickens taste MUCH better than regular chickens (which we buy from the carneceria).


Hielo-Ice. I can’t speak for all of Colombia….but here in Bayunca, ice is like GOLD. I attribute this to the fact that almost no one has a freezer. If they do have a freezer, it is nowhere near cold enough to make/maintain ice. This means there is never ice in any drinks. Every once and awhile if there is a special guest someone decides is worthy of ice, we set out to buy some. This means walking all around the pueblo asking if anyone knows who has ice. If you are lucky enough to find someone who managed to freeze some water in a bag and purchase this ice, your next task is running back home, smashing it up, and getting it in a glass before it returns to a completely liquid state (I have yet to drink anything with ice…..)


Iguana Eggs-It is illegal to consume, collect, or sell iguana eggs due to limited numbers. For this reason, iguana eggs are a hot commodity. I have, on numerous occasions, witnessed someone catch an iguana (no easy feat), slice it open, and pull out the eggs. Some people sew the iguanas back closed and release them (not because they are animal lovers….but so they can produce more eggs) and others just leave them to die. The eggs are either eaten raw or cooked and left in the sun for long periods of time to make them harder. Iguana eggs have a soft shell and you basically just rip the shell open and suck out the egg.


Huevos de Iguana


Jugo- People here drink juice like it is water (which ironically they do not drink much of). In the home people drink juice with all three meals. It is also customary to offer anyone who enters your home a glass of juice (this juice must be accepted). To make the juice they dice up the fruit and put it in the blender with water and an absurd amount of sugar. Then they strain out all of the pulp/seeds. Sometimes juices are made with milk instead of the water for a creamy consistency. Some juices are left chunky (usually watermelon). Some common juices here are watermelon, papaya, melon, maracuya (passion fruit), corrozo (kind of like cranberry), mora, lulo, guava, guanabana, orange, and pineapple.




Ketchup- Condiments are big here and the biggest of all is ketchup. They use ketchup to cook and it can be found in lots of dishes. For example, pasta dishes are usually noodles covered in ketchup. The most common beef dish here in Bayunca is grilled beef cooked with tomatoes, onions, and ketchup. If something doesn’t have enough flavor….add ketchup.


Liver- I don’t know if this is everywhere or just in Bayunca, but liver is a very common meat choice. I often have grilled liver for breakfast with eggs or for dinner with rice. At first I didn’t like it, but compared to the other meat we get it is not so bad…at least it doesn’t have fat!


Mazamorra de Guineo- This is similar to peto (see ‘P’) but also has mashed up plantains or bananas added. This one is definitely a food as it is much thicker and served with a spoon.

Mani Moto-This is the brand name of the ‘mani cubiertos’ that are sold widely here in Colombia. When I went to Costa Rica I was obsessed with the ‘cacahuates japones’ which were covered peanuts. Mani Moto are basically the same thing and are a common snack here.


Natilla- This is a dessert that is traditionally made for ‘Noche Buena’ (Christmas Eve). It is similar to flan/custard. It is basically dulce de leche that is thickened with cornstarch and sweetened with panela and cinnamon. It can also have coconut or raisins.



Organs- I think that as a whole, people in Colombia eat a larger variety of parts of the animal than we generally do in the US. In Bayunca specifically, we eat a LOT of strange parts of animals. I believe this is because the carecerias in Bayunca butcher the animals in their homes and then sell everything that day as there is nowhere to store large quantities/portions of meat. When I walk to school I pass ALL parts of the animals hanging on hooks in front of these homes. We regularly eat liver and lung. I have also had heart and intestine. They eat parts of the animal I did not know people ate (i.e. cow chest, ankle, etc.) What can’t be eaten is made into soup. My former vegetarian-self winces a little bit every time I sit down to one of these meals, but it’s all a part of the experience. There will be plenty of humus and veggie burgers waiting for me in two years 🙂

Pig's Lungs

Pig’s Lungs


Peto- I’m not sure if this is considered a food or a drink. I want to say food because it involves chewing and is a pretty thick consistency, but then again it is served in a cup with no utensils. Basically it is hominy (like is in the mexican pozole soup) which are crushed with a mortar and pestle, then soaked in water with some powder that I don’t know what it is, and finally it is cooked until it is soft and mixed with milk and panela (like brown sugar). People walk around pushing wheelbarrows with big silver pots of peto and you can buy a big cup of it for 500 pesos (about 25 cents).

Pan de bono- Little rolls made with cornmeal, yucca starch, queso costeno, eggs, and water. It is like a chewy little biscuit that you can’t quite figure out what it tastes like. The best ones are sold from a chain kiosk called Mr. Bono where they also sell the best avena.  They are also sold in panaderias, tiendas, and in my host aunts kitchen.

Plantains- These are another staple on the carribean coast of Colombia. My host family was SHOCKED when I said we don’t eat them in the states. There are yellow and green plantains (the yellow are ripe). The most common preparation is patacones which entails cutting up a green plantain, frying it once, smashing them into disks, then frying them again. Plantains are also grilled or boiled.

The round yellow things are fried plantains.

The round yellow things are fried plantains.


Queso Costeno– Or as many of the volunteers affectionately refer to it ‘sponge cheese’. This is the most common cheese here on the Caribbean coast (and in the case of Bayuna…the only cheese available). The people who sell it have huge blocks of it set out on their table where it sits in the sun and open air all day. It is similar to the Mexican Queso Fresco but much saltier. You tell them how much you want (i.e. 2.000 pesos worth) and they cut you off a hunk. It is white, looks like a bathroom sponge, and is watery, salty, and squishy. Sometimes they try to heat it in a sandwich or an arepa but it is usually resistant to melting.

Sponge cheesse street vendor.

Sponge cheesse street vendor.


Rabbit- Rabbit is most commonly eaten in soup. After much protest, I was assured by my family that there are two types of rabbits. The rabbits that people keep as pets, and the rabbits they use for food. I was not pleased, but I ate it like the good host daughter I am 🙂


Sancocho- Basically another word for soup. When people refer to sancocho they are usually referring to a soup that is cooked in a huge metal pot, often over an open fire (at least here in Bayunca). You can make sancocho with all different types of meat but it usually has chicken, beef, or bones (or some combination of the three). In addition, it has plantians, potatoes, yucca, and lots of spices and herbs. It is cooked for a long time and then served with white rice. In Bayunca we eat sancocho out of a totuma bowl which is made by drying the shell of a fruit. You use a wedge of this shell as a spoon. This means the meat often ends up being eaten with your hands (maybe there is a better way..but I have yet to discover it). Sancocho is made for most celebrations and holidays because the family can gather around all day and drink/dance while the soup is cooking.


Sancocho on the stove.

Suero- This is the Colombian equivalent of sour cream. I actually don’t know what it is or how it’s made. All I know is we buy it in a plastic bag from the lady on the corner. It is very strong tasting. People usually eat it on arepas, bollo, or patacones. In my opinion….it’s pretty rank.


Tinto- Tinto refers to black coffee with sugar. They drink coffee here out of little plastic cups the size of shot glasses (it costs 100 pesos…about a nickel). If you are in a restaurant or home they serve it in tiny little coffee cups that look like they are for a little girl’s tea party with her dolls. Everyone here uses instant coffee. Every house always has a thermos of tinto ready and waiting for visitors. Similar to the juice rule…when you enter someone’s home, they will offer you tinto. Do not be fooled, this is not actually a question. Take the tinto.

Tinto vendor

Tinto vendor


Uvas-Grapes do not seem to be as common here as they are in the US. At New Years it is a tradition to eat/feed someone like 12 grapes (everyone was so drunk by midnight no one could explain it to me). In December and January there were a lot more grapes being sold and consumed. They are huge and have big seeds in them. My Abuelo Alfredo insists on peeling them and taking the seeds out (which he does with a pocket knife) before he puts the grape in his mouth. Maybe that’s why we never have grapes……


Variety- Okay so that’s technically not a food but this is food related. While there is a lot of variety available, people tend to stick to a basic group of foods and rotate amongst the same meals. I think this is more true here in Bayunca, because my host aunt lives in Cartagena and I know for a fact her kids eat hamburgers and pizza on a regular basis (of course that has nothing to do with me HAPPENING to be at her house around meal time….).  For example in my house I know that breakfast will be either fruit, arrepas, or eggs and bollo. Lunch will either be soup or beef, fish, or chicken with rice and salad or plantains. Dinner will either be a sandwich, pasta, or meat and rice. Juice will be served with all three meals. There is never a variation of these basic meals. Ever.

Typical lunch or dinner. Fish, coconut rice, plantains.

Typical lunch or dinner. Fish, coconut rice, plantains, juice.


Whiskey-Second to aguardiente (the Colombian alcohol that literally translates to burning water), whiskey is the most popular alcohol here. They take shots of it and also drink it on ice. Here in Bayunca the women don’t usually have a glass of their own, but they take drinks from their husbands glasses when no one is looking. The women almost always end up drunker than the men, even though they ‘weren’t drinking’.

Water- I may have mentioned once or twice that it is pretty hot here on the equator. On average I drink just under 100 oz of water each day (in addition to all the juice). I can honestly say that of the three people I live with, I have only ever seen one of them drink water. In general, water just isn’t as important to people here. If you’re thirsty or hot….you drink juice!  One thing that is fun/challanging depending on who you are (I started out in the challanging category but have successfully moved to fun) is that the water (and juice/soda) is sold in bags!  There are also bottles but they are usually about three times the price.  You just buy the bag, bite the corner off, and suck out the water!  Just make sure you’re really thirsty because setting the bag down is another question…..

Bolsa de Agua

Bolsa de Agua


I’m pretty sure there are no foods that start with X.


Yucca- Also called cassava is a root vegetable. It long and cylindrical in shape and very hard. It is boiled in salted water and eaten as a side dish like you would eat a potato. It is also served as a snack with cheese or in soups.




Zanahorias- Carrots are one of the most widely available vegetables, but people do not eat them raw like we do in the states. Occasionally they are shredded raw and used in a sweet salad with raisins. Carrots are not long and skinny here, they are short, fat, and cone shaped. I eat them raw and whole and my family calls me a rabbit and thinks it is hilarious.



Until next time…paz y amor.



  1. God bless you for your open mind and heart when it comes to the cuisine!! But I am a fan of the papa rellena!!

  2. I use to get papaya milkshakes at the San Jose airport in Costa Rica. You might be able to get them in Cartagena.

  3. oh my god katie this post is AWESOME! you are a saint for eating all of those things, I don’t think I could do it… I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

  4. Awesome! I can’t lie, I was really looking forward to see what you were gonna whip out for “x”… I’ll keep my eyes and ears open and let you know if I come across anything. Good seeing you last week to confirm that you are alive and well! – Chau

  5. Katie! I have read your blog a few times but then I forget to come back and check it…until I see your mom and then I think, “Oh right! Katie has a blog!” I came back today and have successfully managed to move everything else to the bottom of my priority list to see all of the cool experiences you’re having. I LOVE reading your posts. Your references to water make me laugh…when I lived in Mexico, I was the only one I knew who drank water…my mexican friends and family would tell me that water was for plants. I’m told that they’ve advanced past that a little now…after major public announcement campaigns.

    The A – Z on food is quite impressive!

    Arepas…mmm. 🙂 A colombian student brought me one this morning.

    So proud of you–you are amazing! Talk to you soon. Can’t wait to start our exchange!


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