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A typical Colombian recipe: ajiaco

by Sabine
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Colombian cuisine is versatile and consists of delicious dishes, often made with beans, potatoes and flour. Every region is characterized by typical dishes, and in Bogotá, too, they have great food. Not only is the hot chocolate with cheese immensely popular, the typical Bogotan soup ajiaco (pronounced ag-ie-ako) is also widely eaten. Ajiaco can be made in many ways and is particularly delicious. Traditionally, this soup is not vegetarian or vegan, but it is very easy to make it this way. Here you will find the recipe for the vegan version of ajiaco, but for fans, I have also included how to make it traditionally. Have fun cooking!

Bogotan ajiaco

Ajiaco is eaten in many shapes and sizes, and also exists in Chile and Cuba, among other countries, where the recipe is slightly different. Traditionally, however, ajiaco is a typical Bogotá dish. Bogotan ajiaco, also called ajiaco santafereño (because of Bogotá’s former name: Santa Fe de Bogotá), is a thick and well-filled meal soup made of chicken, corn cobs and several types of potatoes, among other ingredients. However, the fundamental component of ajiaco is the herb guasca.

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Guasca: the fundamental ingredient for ajiaco

Without guasca no ajiaco, is the motto. And that’s actually true. In fact, this herb gives the ajiaco that deliciously specific flavor. Guasca comes from the plant Galinsoga parviflora, called potato weed in English. The plant is native to Central America, but also grows in other countries, namely as a persistent weed in (kitchen) gardens and on arable land. It grows about 20 to 70 cm tall and grows between June and November. Now there is one small problem: the herb guasca is almost impossible to find in stores in Europe and US. Try a toko or possibly over the Internet. Easier to look around the garden and just pick the potato weed fresh. It sounds a little strange, but this herb can be used for many culinary purposes. Besides ajiaco, you can also add it to salads, make it into pesto, co-blend it into vegetable juices and add it to soups and pasta sauces.

If you cannot find it in both the store, on the Internet and among the weeds, replace the guasca with another herb. Although the taste of guasca is very specific and actually not comparable to any other herb, you can try it with bay leaf, parsley, cilantro or celery.

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And then the potatoes

Potatoes are also essential in the ajiaco. The main type of potato used in the soup is papa criolla, a small, golden and firm-boiling potato. Which is therefore not so easy to find outside Colombia. The two other potatoes are varieties from the region, called papa pastusa and papa sabanera. Of course, you can ask at the greengrocer’s for what looks like this, but they probably don’t know these varieties there either. So to make it as easy as possible, the advice is: choose at least two types of potatoes for in the ajiaco, may also be three. At least one of these potatoes must be firm-boiling and at least one must be floury. And then the soup will be all right!

Papa criolla


The recipe: Colombian ajiaco

Ajiaco can be made in several ways, always using two or three different types of potatoes and guasca (potato weed) as a base. There are many variations, adding onion and garlic, for example.

Vegan ajiaco

For the vegetarians and vegans among us, this recipe is ideal for sampling Colombian cuisine despite the heavy emphasis on meat and chicken.

  • For 4 persons
  • Approximately 1 hour preparation time


  • 12 small firm potatoes
  • 6 larger floury potatoes
  • 5 potatoes of your choice (optional)
  • 3 large corn cobs
  • Block of tofu
  • Quickweed (guasca) leaves or any substitute
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Capers
  • Avocado

How to prepare

Cut the corn cobs in half, put them in a large pan with water (until the corn cobs are well submerged) and bring to a boil (for about 30 minutes). Meanwhile, peel and wash all the potatoes and slice or dice them. Add the potatoes to the boiling water with the corn cobs. In a separate bowl, mix the guasca leaves with a little olive oil. Add this mixture to the soup once the firm potatoes are soft and the ajiaco has thickened. Chop the tofu and add it to the ajiaco last. Let cook for another minute, and done! Serve the ajiaco hot in a soup bowl with half a cob of corn per person, with a slice of avocado next to it on a separate plate. Place a small bowl with the capers on the table for everyone to add to their own taste (very tasty!).


How to make the ajiaco traditional with chicken?

Use all ingredients as listed above, but replace the tofu with 2 bone-in, skinless chicken breasts. Also add 200 ml of Creme Fraiche or another thick cream/yogurt to the list. Prepare the ajiaco the same way, but immediately add the chicken to the pan with the corn cobs. Cook this together for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and tender. Remove the chicken and add the potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked and the soup thickens, add the herbs as described above. Cut the chicken into small pieces and return it to the pan. Serve the ajiaco with a bowl of capers and a bowl of cream on the table, to add to your own taste.

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I naturally went for the vegan version, which is really delicious. Go into the (vegetable) garden and try to find that budding herb, it’s really worth it! Have fun cooking and of course: ¡buen provecho!

Looking for more typical Colombian dishes? Click here!


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