Usually when a foreigner comes to Colombia, they are told that they must try two things; one is the Ajiaco, a chicken and potato soup from Bogota, and the other is the Bandeja Paisa, a dish originating from the Antioquia region of Colombia (where Medellin is located). The Bandeja Paisa, which translates to Paisa tray (paisas are people from Medellin/Antioquia), is essentially a huge mish mash of the most calorie rich foods one can imagine. If the aftermath of Hiroshima could be described through food, it would be the Bandeja Paisa. It’s the kind of thing I imagine someone like an NFL lineman would crave; a giant bomb of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
While there are many variations of the Bandeja Paisa, the traditional tray comes with rice, beans, sweet plantain, minced meat, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), avocado, chicharron (deep fried pork belly), arepa AND a fried egg. There is no doubt that a portion of Bandeja Paisa can EASILY feed two or three normal adults. By normal I mean that you are not a professional weight lifter or gluttonous foodie like me. When I first saw the Bandeja Paisa in my early Colombian days, it was definitely not love at first sigh. I found it inconceivable and outright inhumane that someone could eat something so large and grotesque. Just how big is this thing? Dude, it’s served on a fucking tray.
Just like my opinion on Colombian cuisine, my attitude towards the Bandeja Paisa has changed. Through countless occasions of indigestion, regretful trashing of leftovers, blood, sweat and tears, I now look forward to my regular feasting of the Bandeja. It’s amazing how a small change in attitude can increase the size of your stomach, or maybe I’m just getting fat.
The Bandeja Paisa encompasses everything I love about Colombia and its food. It is a meal that is giving, honest, comforting and made with love. It’s origins come from the small towns of Antioquia where hungry campesino workers would fill their bellies with a calorie rich meal before heading out to tackle a hard day of labour in the fields. Living in Bogota and seeing office workers gorge down the same thing, its difficult to imagine how one doesn’t end up in a deep food coma at the desk.
One thing is for certain, on Bandeja Paisa days it’s wise to clear the breakfast and dinner schedule. Colombians will tell you that in order to properly digest a Bandeja Paisa, you should always finish your meal with a shot of Aguardiente, an anise-based liquor that supposedly helps to settle the stomach. However you decide to deal with your self-induced coma, just remember that when it comes to putting away a full Bandeja Paisa, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.