Venezuelan cuisine is gaining popularity through the years, and it is now present in food markets and restaurants around the World. Its diversity of flavours is influenced by its European (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French), West African and Native American traditions.
These are some of the most traditional dishes:
Arepa is the most traditional and representative food from Venezuela. “There’s nothing more Venezuelan than an arepa”, some people suggest.
It is a sort of small pita bread, a cross between a flatbread and a cake, but made of ground corn/maize dough or cooked flour. It can be filled with shredded/pulled meat (carne mechada), eggs, tomatoes, salad, cheese, beans, shrimps, fish, lengua de res (tongue) or other taco-style fillings.
It can be grilled, baked, fried, boiled or steamed, being the first two the most common ones. The characteristics vary by colour, flavour, size and filling, depending on the region.
Arepas can be eaten all day, either as breakfast, snack, main dish or side. Depending on the region you can find them on food carts, restaurants and roadside stands.
The flour to prepare it can be called masarepa, masa de arepa, masa al instante, or harina precocida. The most popular brand of corn flour is Harina Pan, which is available internationally on Amazon or any Venezuelan shop or restaurant.
Cachapas are like pancakes of fresh corn dough, but slightly thicker and lumpier because of the pieces from corn kernels. The most common varieties are made with fresh ground corn mixed into a thick batter and cooked on a budare, which is a metal griddle (iron grill), round and flat and nearly without edges.
They are traditionally eaten with queso de mano (hand-made cheese) o queso guayanés, a soft, mozzarella-like cheese, and are occasionally accompanied by fried pork chicharrón, chopped ham, chorizo or simply spread with butter, cream cheese or sour cream.
They are normally as simple as a pancake, but they can also be very elaborate, some including different kinds of cheese, milky cream or jam. They can be prepared as an appetizer, full breakfast or meal.
Last but least, Cachapas are a great, gluten-free option for people who can’t tolerate pancakes made with wheat flour.
Tequeños are fried breaded cheese sticks or a spear of bread dough with white cheese in the middle. They can be made with different varieties of cheese, although salty white cheeses are the most popular.
They are formed into breadsticks, similar to traditional mozzarella sticks, but way better. They are usually fried in oil until golden, fluffy and crunchy. They could be oven-baked instead of fried, although it’s less common.
Tequeños can be eaten for breakfast, served as a starter or side, or eaten as a snack. They are easier to serve and eat than Arepas o Cachapas, which makes them more convenient for parties.
Tequeños are popular in other Latin American countries such s Colombia and Panama, but they were originated in Venezuela. They can be bought in most grocery stores, including frozen and ready to be fried.
Nowadays there are tequeños of various sizes and with other fillings than cheese such as bocadillo (guayaba candy), chocolate, Nutella, among other flavours, or made of platano or cassava instead of wheat flour.
“Guava”, “Guasacaca” and other sauces (“salsas”) are used to dip your tequeños in.
Hallaca is a traditional Christmas meal, consisting of a corn dough stuffed with a stew of beef, pork, and chicken. In some areas can also be filled with fish or other seafood, although this is less common. They can also contain (or be accompanied by) raisins, capers, olives and wedges of fowl meat.
It is wrapped in plantain leaves (banana leaf), tied with strings, and boiled. It has several versions depending on the region, within Venezuela and other countries such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia and throughout the Caribbean.
It is a Tamal-like dish and has spread throughout the Spanish kingdoms in America under various names (pasteles, guanimos, pastelle, pastel, tamal). Its preparation includes European, indigenous and African ingredients.
In Venezuela, its preparation is practically limited to Christmas season and requires many hours of intense work. Hence, most people prepare them in one go, in large enough quantities to last the entire season.
Pabellon Criollo is considered Venezuela’s national dish, although is not as popular as Arepas. It consists of a plate containing juicy shredded/pulled beef, white rice, black beans and plantains. It can also be served with a fried egg on top (“a caballo“, which translates to “on horseback”), or with avocado.
It can vary considerably during Lent, especially for Catholic people. New ingredients include cazon (a two-meter-long school shark, replacing the beef). It can also be accompanied with stuffed corn dumplings called empanadas. The beef can also be swapped for capybara, also known in Venezuela as chigüire, the largest rodent in the world.
The beef/steak (usually flank) is the key ingredient and gets slow-cooked and pulled apart into strands.
It may not be the most popular dish, but it’s truly patriotic.
Perico, or huevos pericos (parrot eggs) is a simpler dish, mostly a breakfast favourite. It is basically a Venezuelan/tropical version of scrambled eggs.
It is prepared with eggs, butter, sautéed diced onions, and tomatoes. Scallions are a frequent substitution or addition to the onions. It may also include chopped cilantro, ground or hot peppers and annatto.
The name comes from the bright colours, mimicking the colours of a perico (parrot).
It can be accompanied by bread, arepas, bacon or ham (for meat lovers). It can also be eaten inside an arepa or a bun.
Last but not least, some people suggest that having Perico can cure/reduce the hangover.
Cachito is the Venezuelan version of the World famous croissant. It is a fluffy soft bread (or crescent-shaped bread rolls) with a light sweet taste. They are often filled with ham and cheese.
There is controversy around its origin, but it seems to be with the arrival of Portuguese and Italian bakers in the early twentieth century. They are normally eaten for breakfast, and also as a snack or quick bite throughout the day.
Other fillings are bacon, York ham and ricotta and fresh spinach (vegetarian option).
Some of the ingredients and products can be easily found online, such as the traditional Harina Pan.