Join the locals, get out of the house (hotel) and eat in one of the many restaurants or at a roadside stall. Eating outdoors may start at breakfast and continue throughout the day. For drinks you may not even have to pull over; coffee and sodas are sold in the middle of the street. Here are the top five foods you’re bound to find and savor during your stay in Venezuela.
Arguably Venezuela’s national dish that you will find for lunch in many restaurants is pabellón. It’s often part of the menu del dia and comes with soup as a starter and sometimes with dessert and a fruit juice as well.
The hearty and nutritious dish will be served on a plate with rice, black beans sometimes topped with grated cheese, fried plantain (tajadas), and stewed or shredded beef (carne mechada) that may be cooked in onions, sweet peppers, bell peppers and seasoning. In Los LLanos the meat may be chiquire, a large guinea-pig type of rodent. You’re a vegetarian? Easy. Ask if they can serve fish or eggs instead or ask for an extra serving of beans.
Really, there is no perfect time of the day to walk out of the door and go to a nearby food stall to grab an arepa. Have the cornmeal cake for breakfast served with black beans and eggs, or – throughout the day – pick a filling from a wide selection of options: ham, cheese, spicy ground beef, chicken, or avocado salad, to mention a few. If you like using the local language ask for domino, when you want your arepa stuffed with black beans and shredded white cheese, or reina pepiada if you like a filling of shredded chicken and avocado.
Don’t think cachapa is a regular, wheat-based pancake. If you take a closer look, it’s too yellow for that. The thick, Venezuelan ‘pancake’ is made of ground corn mixed with sugar, salt and oil. Have it served with a filling of soft cheese or pernil. Cachapas are a perfect breakfast dish although you’ll more likely find them at roadside stalls later in the day to be savored as a snack or side dish with a meat dish.
With thousands of cows grazing the vast plains in Los Llanos, the southern region of the country, meat is big in Venezuela. It’s not unlikely you’ll be invited to an elaborate barbecue, or grill-out, which is a popular way to spend time with family or friends on weekends. Parrillas are cooked on charcoal that has burned down to red-hot coals. At major events you may see enormous slabs of meat strung on sticks that have been placed around a fire. Chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), chicken and steak (served in that order) are among the popular foods for a parilla. Enjoy a beer and maybe a side dish of French fries or tequeños (mozzarella sticks).
As a coffee producing country – along the coast and in the Andean Mountains – it makes sense that Venezuelans love the brew themselves. But beware, there is coffee and coffee, make sure you know what to order. In the street, yes, literally in the middle of the road, vendors with thermoses sell a weak version called guayoyo. If you want a proper cup of strong coffee, check out a panaderia with a proper coffee machine and ask for a cafe de la maquina.