As a backpacker with an an appetite for decent tucker, I’m always on the lookout for food or meals that will satisfy any hunger and at a price where you don’t have to think twice when you’re budget conscious. When I’m not devouring empanadas here in Medellin, I’m at one of the many restaurants here that serve ‘menu del dia’ or Menu of the day. They are pretty much on every second street and amongst other similar restaurants resulting in pretty much a decent standard of cooking. Everything here is down to earth. What you don’t get in opulent decor and michelin stars is made up in value for money and you never walk away hungry.
The ordering etiquette is fairly simple. Enter, sit and ask what the menu del dia is. Most often it’s from a choice of cerdo (pork), res (beef) or pollo (chicken). Sometimes they have fish on offer but those are the main dishes on offer. I don’t know why they call it the dish of the day because it’s the same everywhere and every day. I’m not complaining though. For around $6000-$8000 pesos ($3.30 – $4.40AUS) you can get a soup, plate of meat with a side salad, sometimes some frijoles (beans), potato fries, fried plantain, an arepa and a drink. The drink is generally a sweet lemonade or tomate de arbol (tomato of the tree, also known as tamarillo) which has a flavour that is a cross between tomato and kiwi fruit. The soups vary but I’ve been getting the standard potato based soups in a chicken stock with carrots and coriander.
The soup works well as a starter as the steaks aren’t the 400g slabs of protein that we may be used to at the grill house. It also works well with the arepa which is a bread like cake made from ground corn. They come with most meals here in Colombia. Even the meal deals at KFC have them. Most of the time I find these too dry to be palatable so I break them off and dunk them into the soup to soak up the moisture and flavour. Surprisingly this works!
There are other specialty dishes you can order but I would only recommend the above as they are the most commonly ordered and I would bet that the dishes would be guaranteed to be the freshest. One other dish you can order but is not for the faint hearted is called chicharon. It’s a monster slab of pork belly that’s deep fried and hangs off the edge of the plate. I wouldn’t recommend this as a dish for one but perhaps something to be shared amongst at least two hungry, greedy people.
I’ve tried most of the combinations and about 90% of the time it’s been good. You will get places where the steak will be dry but it’s the gamble you will always get with cheaper meals. Having just come through Central America, I’ve found myself putting salsa picante (chilli) on everything protein based. Here in Medellin, they predominantly use Aji which is a spicy sauce based on tomato, chillis, coriander and water. I find that it’s more on the bitter side most likely from too much coriander but there’s no one universal recipe to making aji so the flavour will change from place to place. One unusual technique I use is to mix both aji and tomato sauce together. Trust me, the flavour profile is better balanced this way.
My advice when you’re in the area is to find a menu del dia in a restaurant around midday and go for the places that are packed full of locals. It’s highly likely that the food is half decent and that the locals come back time and time again.
My favourite picks in Medellin may be a little biased to the El Poblado region but it’s where most travellers will stay.
- Harmony restaurant or any of the comidas on the corner of Calle 10 and Carerra 43B in El Poblado. Just opposite Parque Poblado. This group of restaurants offer the best value in the area at $6500 pesos ($4AUS)
- Como.com on Avenue El Poblado on the block between Calle 4S and Calle 6S. Located in a business area, they serve a different take on the normal chicken dish. It’s grilled, not deep fried and comes with napolitana or cheese sauce. The soup also has a hint of curry spice in it.
- Donde Gloria on the corner of Calle 37s and Carrera 35, Envigado on the south end of Medellin. It’s a bit out of the way and requires a taxi but you’ll save the cost in the cheaper food price. Best to go on a Friday night where in Parque Envigado, musicians come out to play and locals hang out.
- El Buen Sarten on Calle 9 No. 42-27 El Poblado. Opposite El Machetico where I’ve been getting my empanada fix. On days where I don’t feel like an empanada (rarely), I go here. It’s not as cheap as Harmony ($8,500) but the food is still good and the service is attentive.