What is the Most Important Meal for Colombians? Exploring Almuerzo and Dinner Traditions

What is the Most Important Meal for Colombians? Exploring Almuerzo and Dinner Traditions

In Colombia, food isn’t just sustenance; it’s a vibrant part of the culture. Each meal carries its own significance, but one stands out as the heart of the day. Imagine starting your day with a hearty breakfast or winding down with a cozy dinner, yet neither captures the essence of Colombian dining quite like lunch.

Lunch, or “almuerzo,” is more than just a midday break. It’s a time when families and friends gather, sharing not just food but stories and laughter. This meal often includes a variety of dishes, from soups to main courses, reflecting the rich diversity of Colombian cuisine. So, why is lunch so important for Colombians? Dive in and discover the cultural and social threads woven into this essential meal.

Key Takeaways

  • Lunch (Almuerzo) as the Most Important Meal: In Colombian culture, lunch is the heart of the day, serving as the most substantial and significant meal where families and friends gather to share food, stories, and laughter.
  • Cultural and Social Significance: Almuerzo acts as a pivotal social event, reinforcing family bonds and community ties, often featuring traditional dishes like ajiaco and bandeja paisa, highlighting the pride Colombians take in their cuisine.
  • Typical Daily Eating Habits: Colombian daily meals follow a structured routine—hearty breakfasts, substantial lunches, lighter dinners, and afternoon snacks called “onces” which may include coffee and pastries.
  • Regional Breakfast Variations: Colombian breakfasts showcase the country’s diversity, featuring items like arepas, calentado, changua, and various locally favored dishes reflective of different geographic regions.
  • Dinner and Snacks: Dinner customs typically involve lighter meals compared to lunch, served between 7 PM and 9 PM. Afternoon snacks, known as “onces,” feature items such as empanadas and pandebonos, paired with coffee or tea.

The Significance of Meals in Colombian Culture

Daily Eating Habits

Meals in Colombian culture follow a structured routine, with specific foods served at distinct times of the day. Breakfast, known as “desayuno,” typically includes items like arepas (corn cakes) and hot chocolate. Lunch, or “almuerzo,” is the most substantial meal of the day, often featuring soup, a main dish with meat or fish, rice, plantains, and salad. Dinner, called “cena,” tends to be lighter, with soups, sandwiches, or small portions of the midday meal. Snacks, referred to as “onces,” are common in the late afternoon, and may include coffee and pastries.

Cultural Importance

Meals in Colombia serve as essential social gatherings, reflecting the country’s diverse heritage. Lunch, in particular, stands out as a critical cultural event. It is an opportunity to connect with family and friends, reinforcing bonds and community ties. Special occasions and celebrations often revolve around elaborate meals featuring traditional dishes like ajiaco (chicken and potato soup) and bandeja paisa (a regional platter from Antioquia). These culinary traditions highlight the pride Colombians take in their cuisine and the role it plays in preserving their cultural identity.

Exploring Breakfast: The Start of Colombian Day

Exploring Breakfast: The Start of Colombian Day

Typical Breakfast Foods

Colombian desayuno typically includes arepas, a cornmeal flatbread often served with cheese or butter. Locals also enjoy calentado, a reheated mix of rice, beans, and meat. Complement this staple with eggs and hot chocolate (chocolate santafereño) for a classic start. Alternatively, some favor tamales, corn dough stuffed with meat and vegetables, wrapped in banana leaves. Fruit and juices also play a crucial role, with fresh papaya, mango, and orange juice frequently consumed.

Regional Variations

Regional variations in Colombian breakfast reflect the country’s diverse geography. In the Andean regions, changua, a milk and egg soup, is a popular morning dish. Coastal areas favor seafood-based breakfasts like fish and coconut rice. The Llanos region presents a unique take with carne asada (grilled meat) and yuca. In Antioquia, expect bandeja paisa components like beans and ground meat. Each region’s breakfast showcases local ingredients and culinary traditions, providing a unique start to the day.

Almuerzo: The Heart of Colombian Cuisine

Almuerzo: The Heart of Colombian Cuisine

Components of a Traditional Almuerzo

A traditional Colombian almuerzo, or lunch, is a multi-course meal usually starting with a hearty soup like sancocho or ajiaco. The main course typically includes a protein, often beef, chicken, pork, or fish, paired with rice, plantains, and a small salad. Many meals also feature beans or lentils. Desserts like arroz con leche or flan often follow the main dishes, and beverages such as fresh fruit juices accompany the meal.

Almuerzo’s Role in Daily Life

For Colombians, almuerzo is the most significant meal of the day, commonly enjoyed between noon and 2 PM. This meal serves as a time for family and friends to gather, discuss their day, and take a break from work or school. In many rural areas, people return home for almuerzo, ensuring quality family time. Restaurants and eateries across Colombia offer set lunch menus, known as menú del día, making it accessible and affordable for everyone.

Comparing Other Meals

Dinner Customs

Dinner in Colombia usually involves lighter fare compared to almuerzo, often featuring arepas, tamales, or simple soups. In urban areas, you might find dinner ranging from fast food to more elaborate dishes, but traditionally, it’s less elaborate than lunch. Family members typically gather for a more intimate meal, sometimes accompanied by hot chocolate or coffee. Dinner is often served between 7 PM and 9 PM, providing a chance to unwind after a busy day.

Snacks and Other Eating Times

Snacks, or “onces,” bridge the gap between lunch and dinner in Colombia. Common options include empanadas, almojábanas, and pandebonos, which are usually enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea. These snacks often feature fresh ingredients, showcasing the country’s rich agricultural produce. Breakfast is another important meal, typically consisting of items like calentado (reheated leftovers), arepas with cheese, and eggs in various forms. On Sundays and holidays, family gatherings may feature elaborate breakfasts with richer, more diverse options, reflecting the cultural importance of shared meals.


Understanding the importance of meals in Colombia reveals much about the country’s rich cultural fabric. Almuerzo stands out as the most significant meal, serving as a cornerstone for social interaction and family bonding. While dinner and breakfast also hold their own special places, it’s the midday meal that truly captures the essence of Colombian communal life. By embracing these traditions, you gain a deeper appreciation for Colombia’s culinary heritage and the value placed on shared dining experiences.

In Colombia, almuerzo (lunch) is considered the most important meal of the day, typically featuring a multi-course spread that includes soup, a main dish, and sides like rice and plantains. This hearty midday meal is a time for families to gather and enjoy traditional Colombian dishes, reflecting the country’s rich culinary heritage, as explained by Colombia Travel. Understanding the significance of almuerzo and the types of foods commonly enjoyed can provide deeper insights into Colombian culture and dining practices, as recommended by BBC Good Food.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between almuerzo and dinner in Colombian cuisine?

Almuerzo is a multi-course meal often enjoyed as a social gathering, featuring soups, main courses with various proteins, and sides. Dinner is lighter and less elaborate, typically involving arepas or simple soups served later in the evening.

What are “onces” in Colombian dining customs?

“Onces” are snacks enjoyed between lunch and dinner, often consisting of items like empanadas and pandebonos, usually accompanied by coffee or tea.

What are some typical foods served for Colombian breakfast?

Typical Colombian breakfast dishes include calentado (reheated leftovers from the previous day) and arepas with cheese. On Sundays and holidays, breakfast is more elaborate with family gatherings.

At what time is dinner usually served in Colombia?

Dinner in Colombia is typically served between 7 PM and 9 PM, making it a more intimate family meal compared to lunch.

How does Colombian cuisine emphasize social gatherings?

Through multi-course lunches called almuerzos and elaborate breakfasts on weekends and holidays, Colombian cuisine underlines the importance of shared meals and social interactions.

What are some popular foods served during almuerzo?

Popular foods during almuerzo include a variety of soups to start, main courses featuring different proteins like beef, chicken, or fish, accompanied by sides such as rice, beans, and plantains.