Street food seems to be available everywhere in Medellín and there are so many options. Street food can be found at busy intersections, in the parks, near metro stations and in many other places in the city. In this article, I look at nine Colombian street food options you should definitely try.
Traveling is increasingly less about going somewhere to see historical sites and natural wonders, but venturing to a destination to taste the food. Certainly, for me indulging in the local cuisine is a major component of the ‘to-do’ list on my travels. In fact, I often find out what the local dishes are and where I should try them before I decide which major landmark to photograph.
I believe that to truly understand a country’s culture, history and people, you must first appreciate and understand its culinary specialties. And the best place to discover such delights is on the street.
Colombians are particularly fond of food that has a combination sweet and salty flavors. From fried food, to milky juices and all bewildering array of corn manifestations, nearly all of their dishes have hints of savory and sweet.
Colombian food is also very regional, and there is a different approach to national dishes in each city you visit. In fact, some of these dishes are only found here in Medellín. So, head to the streets to try these particularly Antioquian delights. Note the above photo is of churros, with a sweet donut taste.
1. Arepas de Chócolo
For a country that uses corn prolifically in their cooking, it is no wonder that arepas have become a street food staple in Colombia. Arepas come in numerous varieties. In restaurants, you’ll typically be served a bland white corn half-dollar version.
In stark difference, at street food stalls in the Andean region you’ll find the arepa de chócolo. These thick, sweet, yellow corn cakes are lathered in butter, then fried on a griddle until golden brown. Then more butter is slapped on before a quarter inch slice of Colombian fresh white cheese is placed on top.
In this street food mix, the corn patty provides the sweetness, whilst the creamy, soft cheese provides the contrasting salt.
2. Arepas de Queso
In addition to the arepa de chócolo, you can indulge in a very unique arepa in Medellin called the arepa de queso.
Usually sold at the same stalls, this arepa version is a mixture of corn flour with copious amounts of cheese. This is stirred together as a batter then fried on a griddle. The mushy concoction is flattened to a patty then doused with sweetened condensed milk. A heart attack inducing treat for sure, but oh so worth the risk.
Buñuelos are both a traditional Christmas dish and a popular breakfast treat for Colombians.
Slightly larger than golfball size, these tasty morsels are concocted of salty flour and small curd white cheese. They are rolled into a ball then fried until golden brown.
Best served piping hot. Near Parque El Pobaldo on the corner of Calle 9 and Carrera 43B you can find a shop that has been frying up this quintessential street food for Colombians and tourists alike for over 20 years.
4. Tropical Fruit
Colombia offers a cornucopia of exotic tropical fruits – many you may have never heard of. And all over Medellin you will find ladies with carts dishing up sliced fresh fruit in plastic ups.
One of the most popular options is mango. Colombians like to indulge in a cup of sliced green mango doused in lime juice and salt and served with a toothpick as an afternoon snack.
One of the best places to try this sensation is at San Antonio metro station. Just at the entrance to the tramway you will find the super friendly Maria most weekends with her cart of fresh tropical fruit, ready to delight your taste buds.
5. Jugos (Juices)
Due to the region’s abundance of fresh tropical fruit on hand, it is no surprise juices are a cornerstone of the Colombian diet. From the local mercado (market) to specialized stands like Cosechas (www.cosechasexpress.com), to every restaurant menu, you don’t have to go far to find a jugos (fruit juice).
My favorite has become the limonada de coco – a blend of ice, coconut milk and lime. A refreshing afternoon pick-me-up. Jugos are typically made to your liking with your choice of aqua (water) or leche (milk) and sin (without) or con (with) azúcar (sugar).
More unusual fruit varieties to try in your jugos include the borojó, which is a fruit from the West Country that locals claim has aphrodisiac qualities, but to me tastes like cheese that’s gone off. Also popular are soursop, guanábana, lulo and maracuyá (passion fruit).
One of the more intriguing street foods I’ve tried in Colombia is the oblea – a traditional sweet treat that you can find in every major city.
Obleas consist of plate sized thin wafers that are sandwiched with your choice of a bewildering mix of fillings. The todo (all) version is first spread with a thin layer of raspberry jam. Then another wafer is stacked on top before adding a thick layer of shredded white cheese. On goes yet another wafer, where in the third layer arequipe (a caramel sauce made with sweetened condensed milk) is added.
This sandwich process continues until you have an inch wedge stack that gets wrapped in foil before being presented to you. This combination of sweet and salty was a step too far me, but worth a try once.
Empanadas are the ubiquitous Colombian street food. They are widely available everywhere, particularly street vendors.
These bite-sized snacks are typically stuffed with minced beef and cubed potatoes and encased in a cornmeal doughy bread that is deep fat fried. Vegetarian and chicken versions are also available. To spice up your empanada, try topping it with a teaspoon of fresh picante sauce.
Colombian churros are slightly different than the Spanish variety. Here they are small and circular and generally are served sprinkled with sugar instead of a side dish of chocolate. But they still have that sweet donut taste.
The churros pictured here are from a street vendor in Comuna 13, who indulged my sweet tooth by smothering my brown paper bag of full of churros with arequipe. Yum!
Last but by no means least, you must try patacones. Patacones are made from mashed green plantains that are shaped into a flat patty then twice-fried.
Served frequently in restaurants as a side dish, they are also commonly sold by street vendors. This snack can be spiced up with hagao (tomato and onion sauce) or topped with an array of meats and avocado.
Take a Street Food Tour
Are your taste buds watering yet? If your stomach is aching to try all of these delicacies, then I highly recommend a street food tour.
Several companies in Medellin offer street food excursions. I went with Toucan’s Medellin Street Food Tour which can be booked through Toucan Cafe in El Pobaldo on Calle 10 or online. We reviewed this Toucan street food tour here as one of the best walking tours in the city.
This tour not only takes you to the best places to try all of these foods, but also integrates a historical overview of the city and a first-hand account of how Medellin is transforming through urban regeneration projects and street art.
Alternatively, explore the streets on your own and let your adventurous taste buds lead the way.
But whatever you do, make sure your tourist itinerary of Medellin includes some stops to eat delicious street food.