Ask any Colombian expat what they usually bring back from Colombia, and they’ll likely tell you Bon Bon Bum, Nucita, Chocoramo, or other mecato, what we call our staple sweets and snacks. Colombian snacks spark national pride. Many of them are made by local mom-and-pop shops that use nationally grown ingredients like coffee, corn, and chocolate. And the ones that have been around for decades remind us of our childhoods when, if we didn’t get them in our lunch boxes, we would grab a handful at birthday parties or the school’s tienda when no one was watching.
As an expat myself, some of the foods I’ve missed most over the past decade I’ve spent living in the U.S. are these milk-heavy sweets mixed with arequipe (dulce de leche); lollipops with tropical flavors; and savory, cheesy, crunchy, treats. Luckily, living in New York City, I’ve been able to find many of my favorites at the Colombian bakeries in Jackson Heights, Queens. But for those who don’t have a Colombian eatery or convenience store nearby, there are plenty of options for finding them online, including Amazon, shops selling international snacks, and even a subscription box dedicated exclusively to providing monthly shipments of Colombian snacks. Here are 15 savory and sweet mecato that are well worth seeking out.
Bon Bon Bum
These round, gum-filled lollipops are a celebration staple. They come in a variety of fruit flavors, including strawberry, lulo, tangerine, passionfruit, watermelon, and mango. Bon Bon Bum lollipops are so popular in Colombia that we call all gum-filled lollipops by the brand name. In 2020, Colombina, the Colombian company that makes them, announced that Walmart would start distributing the 50-year-old pops in the U.S.
Milk is present in many Colombian dishes, and snacks are not the exception. Quipitos is a pouch of powdered milk with candy pieces that pop in your mouth (they’re basically like Pop Rocks, but milky). No birthday party is complete without these.
Leche Condensada Tubito
Colombians love condensed milk and basically put it on everything: fruit salads, juices, cocktails, and desserts. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we also have a condensed milk snack. Called El Tubito, it’s very simple, consisting of just a tube (shaped like a tube of toothpaste), filled with condensed milk. I would eat one almost every day during my school lunch breaks. These days, there’s also a chocolate-flavored version.
First invented by a Japanese immigrant in Mexico, Maní Moto is the Colombian equivalent of Mexico’s cacahuates japoneses. They’re peanuts with a crunchy, slightly sweet wheat-flour coating. They’ve long been a Colombian lunch box mainstay.
With over 70 years of history, Chocoramo has been rightfully called Colombia’s most famous cake by local newspapers. Family-owned company Ramo started making the individually packaged slices of vanilla pound cake covered in milk chocolate in 1950 and ever since, generations of Colombians have grown up eating them for breakfast or a snack with a glass of milk.
My mouth waters every time I think of Choclitos — and how could it not? They’re intensely acidic lime-flavored corn tortilla chips and the perfect savory afternoon snack. A new spicy version debuted in 2019.
Snacking on bacon is actually possible with these wheat-based, bacon-flavored chips called Tozinetas Fred. They often come with a pouch of honey attached to the bag, to be poured onto the chips for a sweet-salty snack.
In simple terms, Bon Yurt is a cup of yogurt that comes with a serving of cereal on top. But what makes it unique — and different from similar U.S. versions like YoCrunch — is that the yogurt is made by Colombian dairy company Alpina, and it’s much sweeter and creamier than, say, Yoplait. My favorite version comes with Frosted Flakes, but crunchy cocoa and granola toppings are also options.
A chewy, bubblegum-flavored taffy, Barrilete, is ever-present in Colombian celebrations and birthday parties.
There’s no talking about Colombian candy and snacks without talking about Supercoco. Around since the 1950s, these chewy caramel candies with pieces of shredded coconut started with a family recipe that was itself inspired by the traditional cocadas, or coconut candy, made in Cartagena.
Colombia produces some of the best coffee in the world, so of course we’d have a popular coffee candy. Coffee Delight is a coffee-flavored caramel hard-candy made 100 percent with Colombian coffee. Colombina, the company that makes them, also has a chewy version, which I prefer.
Colombians of my generation grew up with a jingle promoting Nucita: “Nutritiva y sabrosita” (nutritious and delicious). And maybe that’s part of the reason why we’re all obsessed with these mini servings of hazelnut and milk pudding that come with a tiny spoon. (Mexico has its own version in Duvalín.)
Dairy products strike again with Rosquitas: These are donut-shaped, cheesy baked chips made with tapioca starch. There are several brands to choose from, from the more mainstream varieties produced by Frito-Lay, to lesser known versions like La Niña and Rosquillas Caleñas.
Chocolatinas Jet are iconic. Growing up, I was obsessed with these milk chocolate bars, mostly because they came with stickers of Colombian landscapes and animals that you could later add to a sticker-collecting album made by the century-old factory Compañía Nacional de Chocolates. But they’re also delicious. The chocolate’s particularly creamy taste and soft texture is probably owed to the fact that Colombia is one of just a few dozen countries in the world to produce what’s known as “fine cocoa” or high-quality cacao. During the company’s 100 years of existence, it has added variations like Jumbo Jet, which is a larger bar and comes with peanuts; Wafer Jet, a chocolate-covered wafer; and Burbujas Jet, chocolate truffles filled with dulce de leche.
Chokis combine two of Colombia’s culinary staples: the aforementioned chocolate, and corn. The crunchy, airy corn puffs covered with milk chocolate come in fairly tiny bags, so it’s nearly impossible not to open up another one (or a few more) immediately after finishing the first.