Differences Between American and Colombian Culture: Meals Uncover Colombia

Differences Between American and Colombian Culture: Meals

May 28, 2020, 4:26 pm

Colombian Culture: Meals 

Sometimes Colombian culture and American culture are similar, but that's not the case when it comes to Colombian meals. Learn about these differences and enjoy some great Colombian meals during your vacation in Colombia.

(We understand many people in the Western Hemisphere identify as "American." In this post, we are referring to "Americans" as people from the United States. ) 

Like most people in the United States, Colombians tend to eat three meals a day. However, these three meals are very different in size and how long it takes to consume them. 

Breakfast in Colombia

Just as most people around the world do, Colombians start their day with breakfast. While the Colombian traditional breakfast is fading away in some places due to the nature of modern lifestyles, many Colombians continue to eat traditional regional breakfasts which can include tamales (Tolima, Bogotá, Boyacá), hot chocolate with cheese and artisanal breads (interior departments), changua (a milk and egg soup eaten mostly in the interior departments), calentao (rice and beans mostly eaten in the Coffee Zone, Medellín), smashed green bananas with salty cheese (Caribbean coast), caldo de costilla (beef broth with potatoes), or an arepa with butter, salt, and cheese possibly accompanied with fresh tropical fruits. Most of these breakfasts would be eaten with a nice cup of Colombian coffee to give the perfect burst of energy for starting the day.

 Colombian Culture

These breakfasts are very different from the typical sweet cereals, oatmeal, scrambled eggs with bacon, biscuits and jam, or donuts with coffee that you may find most American eating in the morning. As a matter of fact, many Colombians say they could not stomach an American breakfast on a daily basis as it is generally too sweet or too large of a portion for so early in the day. Likewise, while there are many Colombians who have breakfast on the go, I would say in general, Americans are more rushed in their morning eating routines, as there are still a fair number of Colombians who are able to have breakfast with their families before heading off to work.

Lunch in Colombia

In my opinion, the biggest difference in meal concepts between Americans and Colombians is found at lunch time. In the United States, lunch is not typically a big meal. It is generally seen as a smaller meal, eaten in a fairly fast-paced, rushed setting, often times cold (think sandwiches and pre-packed lunches meant to last long periods of time). Even school children eat lunch in a hurry in the United States, often having only 30 minutes to eat before returning to class.

Colombian Culture

In Colombia, however, lunch is a serious affair. While there are exceptions to the rule, I would say the majority of Colombians have about a 2 hour lunch break during which most Colombians go home, have lunch with their family, and even have a small siesta (nap) before returning to work in the afternoon. Lunch is the most substantial meal in Colombia and often consists of three courses: a soup, a main dish (a meat, rice, and some sort of vegetable—potatoes, salad, plantains, etc.), served with fresh fruit juice and small dessert followed by a tinto (small portion of black coffee). That being said, a cold lunch is not something normally seen as acceptable here.

Dinner in Colombia

Dinner in Colombia is also a good deal different than it is in the United States. In the United States, dinner is typically the biggest and most substantial meal for most families. It is also the meal that is traditionally eaten as a family unit, whether at home or in a restaurant. For many Colombians, dinner is the least important meal of the day, and is not seen as traditionally eaten with the family. Many Colombians have what most Americans would consider a snack for dinner consisting of traditional Colombian food like an arepa or bread and cheese with a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, or hot agua de panela (unrefined cane sugar juice)—something small to tide them over until breakfast, while most Americans eat something most Colombians would consider fit for lunch as dinner.

Colombian Culture

Even so, some American eating customs are creeping their way into Colombian culture and there are some Colombians who have begun eating a more American-style dinner, especially in the sense of eating out at night after work with friends and family. Now these Colombian eating customs discussed above won't come as a surprise during your vacation to Colombia. 

If you want to learn more about Colombian food and Colombian culture, take this 5-hour Cooking and Food Tour in Bogota. You will visit a traditional Colombian market, learn how to make a Colombian meal at a cooking school and finish the experience at a dessert shop. 

And if you're planning your trip to Colombia, have a look at our tours to give you some ideas. 

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Paige Poole

Paige Poole

Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. 

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