The traditional dish of Medellin might surprise you. The city is so lush and green, the tropical fruits are falling on your head. It’s the city of Eternal Spring. Spring makes me think of fresh fruits and vegetables. So what vitamin filled, fiber-rich feast of antioxidants and vibrant color is the typical food of Medellin? Oh no… Bandeja Paisa is the beigist meatiest carby food coma you could imagine.
What's in Bandeja Paisa?
The name tells you a lot about the dish. Bandeja is Spanish for “platter” and Paisa is the nickname for people from the Antioquia region of Colombia, of which Medellin is the largest city. And it is a PLATTER. This is not a light snack. You’ll see crowds in the middle of the day on Sundays at restaurants that serve it. This is big Sunday family dinner food. You’re not doing anything after eating it.
There are many variations but Bandeja Paisa generally includes a massive chunk of deep-fried pork belly (still holding a thick layer of fat), along with rice, ground beef, beans, plantain, some blood sausage, a regular sausage, an egg on top, an arepa on the side, and slice of avocado or two (to make sure there’s a vegetable).
That sprig of parsley is doing so much work!
Your Guide is mostly vegetarian, generally cooks vegan at home, and does not eat beef. I do make exceptions for being a guest at somebody’s home or if a food is The Special Dish of the region, I’ll have it once, as was the case with Bandeja Paisa. But I’m definitely not a connoisseur of deep fried pork belly. I’m a connoisseur of Medellin’s donuts: Where do you get donuts in Medellin?
So I didn’t try a bunch of restaurants to see which had the best platter. Hatoviejo is a chain of restaurants specializing in the typical food of Antioquia. They do have some vegetarian versions of typical dishes. There were often lineups at Hatoviejo locations and people recommended it to me. If you’re looking for a place to try typical dishes, there are Hatoviejo locations in many of the popular malls (like the Oviedo Mall: What’s my favorite mall in Medellin?)
What is the history of Bandeja Paisa?
It’s a bit of a mashup, like the platter itself. My first reaction when I saw it was that it looked like food colonizers would have on ships: salted pork, preserved beans, blood sausage. Other elements are distinctly local, like the avocado and arepa.
There are stories that it originates in similar platters of food eaten traditionally in the region, and that it was a way to maximize food to feed a large family, but that it could also be a way for families to show off their wealth by all of the types of food they could share on their home’s version of the dish, and it might be that it was a common dish for farmers of the region to eat in the mornings, and when they began to move to Medellin to work in factories, they brought the platter with them and it became a popular lunch dish. Or some combination of all of these. There is more than one restaurant in Medellin that claims to have invented it. Apparently there’s no mention of the name in print before the 1950s but it likely predates that in different forms or names.
If you try it out and find a restaurant you really enjoy, share it in the comments below!
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