Sunday, 23 August 2015

15 Things you might not know about Venezuelan food and drink

I love talking about food and quite often people ask me what's Venezuelan food like. For this list, I'm going to focus in a mix of the traditional, the day to day, and the odd. And even though I'm not planning to dwell on the current food shortage, it's worth a mention and a link, in case you're interested in learning (or want to show it to somebody).

1. Venezuelan food is not spicy
Our national chili is called "Aji Dulce" (sweet chili) and it's rated close to zero in the Scoville Scale (a meassurement of pungency a.k.a. spicy heat). Even food served in Peruvian or Mexican restaurants in Venezuela is made milder or has the hot sauce served separately because 99% of us just can't take it.

2. Venezuelans eat LOTS of pasta
It is not surprising than the biggest pasta-eaters on Earth are Italians, but, did you know that Venezuelans come second? According to the International Pasta Organization (2013), we earned the silver medal in spaguetti eating (in case you're wondering, Tunisia, Greece and Switzerland made it to the rest of the top 5).

3. People add sugar to nearly everything
I'm not saying this to brag, but I don't mean just to desserts and coffee, we add sugar to lots of savoury recipes such as bolognese sauce, shreded beef, chicken and pork. Sometimes this sugar is in the shape of "papelon" a.k.a. "panela" or "rapadura", which is basically a brick made of raw sugar we slowly eat and drink. And if it doesn't have sugar, at least on of the "two veg" on the sides is sweetish (like fried plantains or sweet potatoes).
It wouldn't be the same without the sweetness of the plantains

4. We have some odd sushi
Sushi is considered a "chic" food, and lots of people feel fancy when they have it, but not everyone appreciates real sushi, so you can find rolls with cooked chicken, with beef, or cooked fish (we also have the real ones, no worries). There's also the trend of making the rolls more tropical, so expect lots of avocado, mango, and even fried plantain.

5. There are Venezuelan wines, and they're good
The main company in the wine making business is Bodegas Pomar, and since 1985, they work to create local wines in a western region near Barquisimeto. They make still and sparkling wines and also sangria. Because it's very hard to export and the quantities are moderate, these wines are virtually unknown abroad.
Venezuelan Vineyards. Via

6. The hot dogs are out of this world
They should be called hot wolves, as they are the undomesticated version of the famous street food. When a Venezuelan asks for a hot dog "con todo" (with everything) they mean it. Double sausage? Sure! Sweet corn? Of course! Mini chips? Carrot? Cabbage, Parmesan cheese, bacon, mixed leaves, tomatoes, onions, alfalfa sprouts? If it can be shreded or chopped, it's a hot dog topping.

7. Angostura bitters were invented in Venezuela by a German doctor
That extra touch that takes many cocktails to the next level was created for medicinal purposes by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert (1796-1870), who was surgeon general in Simon Bolivar's army. Years later the company moved to Trinidad and it eventually became a globally known product.

8. Cocoa was actually originated in Venezuela
Even though many believe cocoa was originated in Mexican lands, recent research indicates that it was born in the upper Amazon region about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, particularly in the proximities to the Orinoco river, from which it would eventually had made its way to the Aztecs (who, of course, made it spicy).
Do you want it with chilli? No thanks, I'll have mine with mini marshmallows

9. Even the cheap Venezuelan rum is fancier that most foreign rums
In Venezuela, just for a bottle of distilled sugar cane spirit to be legally called rum, it has to meet several requirements, including the need to be aged for at least two years (one of the longest aging laws for rum making). This means that even the cheapest Venezuelan rum is aged and meets a strict quality criteria so, read the label carefully: if it looks like rum but doesn't say rum anywhere, it's probably a sugar cane spirit known as aguardiente, but if it says rum, you're in for probably the best rum you'll ever have.

10. There is only one Korean restaurant in the whole country
Despite being so popular in many countries, there is only one Korean restaurant in Venezuela (please correct me if I'm mistaken). It is in Caracas and it's called Din Din. I've never been there but I've heard it's pretty good.

11. We have some odd acquired tastes...
Once a Romanian coworker saw me eating sliced green mango with salt and lime juice and she looked at me puzzled. I wonder what she'd have thought if she saw me enjoying a golfeado (local bun similar to a cinnamon roll) covered in fresh cheese, or if I was dipping McDonald's fries in ice cream, or having black beans generously sprinkled with sugar (see point 3 of the list), or diping a corn bread called arepa in suero (fermented milk). And that is without going Amazonian (which is great if you've ever wondered what spiders taste like).

12. ...And an intense relationship with street food
Very often, people will play the food poisoning lottery and eat street food that deep down they know it's suspicious. Shrimp chowder in the middle of a rural road with no access to fresh water? But it smells so good... Homemade marinated raw seafood sold by walking traders in the beach at 35 degrees? Yummy! Ice sorbet or raspado made by a guy with no gloves handling cash and cutting a block of ice that's been exposed for a couple of hours? Mine lemon-flavoured please. It's a bit Russian-rouletty but people still think it's worth the risk as these foods tend to be SO good. We even call asquerositos (little disgustings) to street hot dogs, but the name doesn't detracts us from enjoying them.
Allergy information? Why would you want to ruin the surprise? Via

13. Arepas are our go-to convenience food
These round and flat cornbread sandwiches can be filled with anything you want. They are quick and easy to make at home, but you can also buy them in places called areperas. They're cheaper than a fast food hamburguer, fresher and more natural. Venezuelans love to know if you have tried them, and if so, your thoughts on arepas (especially if you are a tourist or a foreign friend). Consider yourself very well-liked by a Venezuelan if treated to homemade arepas.
Via For the recipe and lovely illustrations see here

14. We have a German-style town famous for its food
A few kilometres away from the Caribbean sea, you won't expect to find a place like Colonia Tovar, a town founded in 1843 by a group of inmigrants from Baden (which then became part of Germany). The place, hidden by forests and mountains, remained virtually isolated for decades, allowing them to do their thing and keep it German. Venezuelans from all regions enjoy visiting this town and having sausages, strudel, strawberries, peaches, craft beers (they even have an Oktoberfest), and walking by the streets full of artisan food stalls. Some of the biggest producers even distribute their goodies to several cities in the country.

15. Our cuisine is one of the most diversely influenced in the world
Besides the native South American heritage, mixed with African and Spanish during colonial times; Venezuelan food grew richer in influences than many other cuisines: Brittish, French, Dutch and even Indian and Chinese foods arrived with the gold rush and the exchange with Caribbean colonies. Then, the American way became fashionable when oil was discovered (what a coincidence) and, after WWII, thousands of Italians, Polish, French and other European immigrans brought their influences to the place and made it their new home. So there's a bit of every thing here.

So, long story short, our food is flavourful, non-spicy, multicultural, oddly sweet, and usually formed by tropicalized versions of dishes that have been here for so long that have become locals. By the way, have you tried arepas? What did you think?

1 comment:

Patt G.B said...

Hola Gabriela. espero estés bien!
Acabo de encontrarme con esto. Muchísimas gracias por compartir mi ilustración en tu articulo, que por cierto esta muy bueno.