Bienvenidos a Colombia! There is something for everyone in this colorful country. Whether you like tropical beaches, cultural highlights, dense rainforests or adventurous hikes in the snowy mountain caps. Truly, this country offers it all. Also for vegetarian foodies there is enough to see. Or should we say taste? Colombia offers healthy smoothies, fresh (and huge) avocado’s, fruits vegetables, rice and different types of legumes. We would love to give you more information about vegetarian and vegan Colombian food.
Vegetarian food is becoming increasingly popular in Colombia. However, many Colombians might still have trouble understanding you. For us for example, it’s quite normal to ask if a dish contains meat (carne) and everyone will understand that by ‘meat’ you mean: pork, beef, mutton, goat meat or chicken. In Colombia, asking if a dish contains ‘carne’, is actually only asking if there is beef in it. It’s still probable that you will receive a dish with chicken. That’s why you should remember to be very specific. Don’t ask them to leave out the ham on your sandwich, because then it will be replaced with chicken.
Some Spanish terms for vegetarian and vegan Colombian food
Remember or take a picture of these words, they’ll be handy in restaurants.
- No carne (no meat)
- No pollo (no chicken)
- No pescado (no fish)
- Si huevos (yes, eggs)
- Si queso (yes, cheese)
- Si leche (yes, milk)
Are you vegan?
Aside from no carne, pollo and pescado you can also say the following:
Y Tambien (and also): no huevo (no eggs), no leche (no milk) y no queso (no cheese). Solo verduras, arroz, frutas y/o frijoles (just vegetables, rice, fruit and beans). A mí me gusta las verduras! (I like vegetables). No como animales (I don’t eat animals).
Colombian food – A paradise of fruits
Due to its location on the equator Colombia has a rich variety in fruits. The one even juicier than the next. So, as long as you stay we advise you: try them all! On the streets you can also find many stalls where you can try them.
Walk into any restaurant and you’ll see a jugo de lulo on the menu. Its best when served on a water base (make sure they use mineral water!). Lulo is a fruit that is originally found in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Another fruit type that you cannot miss is the yellow pitahaya. This pretty yellow fruit looks like dragon fruit but tastes a lot sweeter. It tastes great in a smoothie or a juice but is also perfect for scooping directly.
If you can’t get enough of all the delicious fruits, then consider giving Guanábana (also know as soursop) a try. Its increasingly popular in supermarkets around the world, but in Colombia (or Central-America and the Caribbean) the fruit is the best. It has large seeds but that won’t stop you once you’ve tried it!
Aside from these fruits there is so much more. For example Maracuya (yellow passionfruit), guava, granadilla, chirimoya and uchuva (goldenberry). All vegetables and fruits are fresh and rich in taste. Are you getting excited yet? In Bogotá there is a free walking tour (Beyond Colombian Tours) which pay special attention to Colombian food and fruits. We would certainly recommend this one!
Beans, beans & beans
Colombians often eat beans, so that is good news for vegetarians and vegans. However, usually Colombians eat this in combination with meat and exactly two leaves of lettuce which they call ‘salad’, so make sure to ask for more vegetables. Are you in a restaurant that does not offer any vegetarian options? Then ask for vegetables (particularly leafy greens, those are full of good nutrients) with beans. Then at least you’ll have a nutritious meal whilst still enjoying some typical Colombian food.
Good news for avocado lovers (aguacate): they are everywhere! Delicious. Sometimes, Colombians like to put salt on their avocado, which can be good, but not too much. Experiment and figure out what you like.
Crazy for sweets
Colombian food is often sweet because Colombians love sugar. Sweet and salt combined, it does not matter. The local cuisine offers some interesting combinations. How about the combination of chocolate milk with cheese (chocolate santafereño)…? Its worth a try, even if it’s just for the experience. It’s a white, tasteless type of cheese, but in a way it’s still pretty good.
Watch out for these food traps
There are some types of Colombian food, of which you think they are vegetarian or vegan, but they aren’t. For example if you see Chicharrón on the menu. You might think it a sort of crisp. But no, it’s actually fried pigskin. There are also many empanadas. But make sure to ask if they only contain verduras (vegetables)!
As in many countries a vegetable or tomato soup seems vegetarian (vegan is always tricky unfortunately). In Colombia pretty much every soup is made with either chicken or beef broth. So make sure you ask beforehand if they used vegetable broth.
Due to the climate and the high mountains, Colombia is perfect for growing coffee. That’s why there are many coffee plantations. We advise you to take a look at one of them to get a good image of the amount of work that goes into one cup of coffee. Of course, you will get to taste real Colombian coffee afterwards!
Eating out in Colombia
In Bogotá there are many great vegetarian and even vegan restaurants. Typical for Colombia is the many restaurants of Crêpes & Waffles. You’ll find them in all the big cities like Medellín and Bogotá. This is good for vegetarians as they almost always have something vegetarian and sometimes even vegan on the menu. It’s a popular chain in Colombia, so popular that they’ve even opened restaurants in other South American countries. They also serve good coffee and tasty smoothies. A visit to Colombia is not complete without a visit to this restaurant.
Vegan options in Colombia
The amount of vegetarian and vegan restaurants is increasing, although vegan restaurants are still tough to find. In Bogotá however, it’s no problem. In the neighborhoods of Chapinero and Usaquén there are several vegetarian and vegan hotspots to eat at such as the De Raiz Cocina Café. They serve good, healthy Colombian food. Would you like an up-to-date list of all the vegetarian and/or vegan restaurants? Then download the Happy Cow app.
Would you like to cook tofu or other ‘special ingredients’ yourself? This is possible but is relatively expensive. You can find tofu in a number of organic stores in Bogotá, in your average supermarket you won’t find it.
So, eating vegetarian is totally doable Colombia. Especially in Bogotá there are many options for Colombian food, even for vegans. Outside of the larger cities it can be a bit of a hassle, but in places like Cartagena, Salento, Medellín and Cali you can also enjoy many vegetarian and vegan dishes in charming restaurants. Disfruta!
Take a look at our travel suggestions and design your own Colombian travel experience.
Want to know more?
Read on for tips from our travellers and local expert!