Is there really such a thing as Colombian cuisine? Of course there is. By the term, I'm referring to food that is not necessarily traditional or Creole, although it can be, but rather, to the emergence of a sort of "Nouvelle" Colombian cuisine that I've observed over the last 10 years or so.
I don't find traditional Colombian food particularly exciting and rather repetitive. Food is often a bit heavy, fried and basic in terms of starches with beans and a meat of some kind.
Huge Selection of Raw Ingredients
Where Colombia is particularly blessed is in its vast variation of climatic regions and therefore, equally large selection of fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry and of course seafood too, given that they have an enormous quantity of fresh water lakes and rivers in addition to both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines.
The pork and beef is especially good and I would argue that the best beef could give the Argentine equivalent a run for its money. Also, fruits are many and fresh, sweet and simply delicious and are being used more and more in the cooking at more contemporary restaurants. Seafood is good but I find falls a bit short in its preparation which is traditionally almost always deep fried.
Changing Food Culture
Far from everywhere but certainly in the major cities, some towns and tourist destinations, since 2001 when I first came here, there has been a formidable rise in the number of what I consider quality restaurants serving Colombian cuisine, in addition to a much wider selection of less traditional ingredients and foods in the supermarkets. There are a number of high-end restaurants that have been around for longer than I've known the country, but in all honesty, when they serve French or Italian, it's hardly ever top notch. There are of course exceptions.
Changing Spending Habits
Colombia is rated #4 of countries with the greatest inequality in the world. Not the poorest mind you – big difference. Nevertheless, this means that Colombian cuisine as such is available to only a small sector of the societies. Nevertheless, the fact is that they have been experiencing powerful growth for a decade now and the effects are clearly visible in a new, emerging upper middle class. Wine for example, is only now becoming more mainstream and it's strange to see people receiving wine courses at clubs and major supermarkets.
Top Restaurant Picks
Quarepaenamorarte just outside Medellin
Quarepaenamorarte outside of Medellin in Llanogrande is my favorite restaurant in Colombia. Is it Colombian. Period. The owner has compiled recipes from around the nation that reflect a deep Colombian culture, history and use of the local ingredients. It's low key and delicious!
80 Sillas in Bogota - tel (57-1) 6192471
Ceviche and seafood. Top notch and a hip atmosphere to go. Located in Usaquen to the North.
Donde Olano in Cartagena
Seafood, pasta, meat and poultry dishes. The lobster dishes are tasty indeed! The ambiance in a somewhat hidden away little restaurant is that you've managed to find where the locals in the know hide away for lunch. It's stylish.
Quebracho in Cartagena - tel 664 1300
Argentine. Suckling pig and meat are prepared on the grill, the decor is "maximalist" and fun and so is the atmosphere. It's all about the meat of course.
Bolignini in Manizales
Cl 77-21-116 L-b Milan / tel (6) 886 7799
Located at the top of the city in Milan on a quiet road this doesn't feel like Colombia. The place is Italian/ Argentine as is the food. The outdoor seating where you can sip your wine and enjoy the tastes in this spectacular city is worth a mention for its uniqueness.
Colombian cuisine does of course go far wider than my general overview but these picks are unlikely to disappoint.
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