Venezuelan food culture is a bout of hearty comfort cooking dashed with a flurry of Latin passion. It mimics the deep and rich traditions of the country, drawing on the age-old heritage of the indigenous peoples and touches of Spanish cuisine, European cooking, and Caribbean fusion foods alike. To put it another way, this country will not disappoint any traveling foodies!
Probably more than anything, it is geography that informs Venezuelan food culture. There are vibrant dishes that make use tropical fruits and guava on the coastline. But there are hardier comfort foods awaiting in the mountains, to warm the bones during those chilly Andean winter months (yep – it can get cool here!).
This guide to Venezuelan food culture will help you navigate the cooking of this incredible part of South America. It will showcase nine of the most iconic and interesting dishes the local kitchen has to offer. Some are ubiquitous snacks available from almost every street stall in Caracas. Others are festive dishes that you’ll only get at Christmas, or highland staples that you’ll need to hit the mountains to seek out. Let’s begin…
Venture away from the balmy beaches on the tropical shores of Caribbean Venezuela and you’ll enter a whole different world; a land high up in the Andes mountains, where winter temperatures can plummet. That’s where towns like Trujillo and Merida sit in the shadow of the craggy Pico Bolivar. They’re very different to their counterparts on the coast and have a very different cuisine to match.
That’s where pisca Andina comes in. A bubbling broth that combines milk, corn cobs, veg stock, shredded chicken, garlic, and onions, served with a boiled egg and fresh cheese, it was originally created as a breakfast dish to help fortify the body against the cold of the mountain landscapes.
These days, the pisca Andina remains one of the most quintessential highland dishes of Venezuela. But there’s also a lot of variety in how it’s eaten. Perhaps the most famous version is from the city of Merida, where chopped potatoes and earthy Andean smoked cheeses are added for extra flavor. Meanwhile, some folks will accompany the morning broth with wheat-flour Andean arepas, though others devour it with hard soda crackers.
Pan de Jamón
Stick around Venezuela for the festive season and there’s a good chance that you’ll stumble across a pan de jamon or 20. Yep, this rolled bread – translating aptly to ‘bread with ham’ – is a staple of the December menu in households right across the country. The story goes that a local Caracas baker called Gustavo Ramella was looking for a way to utilize leftover dough and all that he had was some fresh ham and olives to work with.
Bingo – this dish was born. It’s simple cooking: Just roll out the dough, layer it with slices of pork meat, dot on the olives, sprinkle with raisons, and then roll the whole thing up for baking. It’s usually made a little in advance of eating, to give the bread time to firm up and the saltiness of the olives time to mingle with the sweetness of the raisons.
Venezuelan food culture is all about big flavors. And boy does the simple tequeño do those well! A classic bread dough that’s stuffed full of local white cheese and then deep fried until it’s brown and crispy, the finished product is a delicious – and very decadent! – cheese stick that many say trumps Europe’s tried-and-tested mozzarella version in every way. In Venezuela, the tequeño is a multivalent snack that can be munched on the go as you navigate Caracas or devoured as a vol-au-vent in a party.
This is a simple and cheap food that you’ll find almost anywhere throughout the country. Get them from street vendors and enjoy them once they’re cool enough to not burn your mouth. If you want to enjoy a slightly healthier lifestyle, then these can be oven-baked instead of fried. And there are a few versions to sample to boot, including the tequeyoyo maracucho, which involves adding chunks of plantain, guava, or sweet potato. Yum!
Like in other countries with a long coastline, seafood is an important part of Venezuelan food culture. And, when it comes to seafood, there’s arguably no dish more iconic than fosforera. Like the pisca Andina of the mountains before it (see above), this is a soup that you can eat to keep you warm during the cooler Venezuelan winter months (even though temperatures don’t tend to drop on the Caribbean coast like they do in the mountains!), or to refuel after long fishing trips around the isles and bays of Cumana and Higuerote (just as the locals do).
It’s packed with flavor, drawn from the saltiness of the fish and the addition of numerous spices and herbs. Basically, you need to broil up onions, chopped garlic, and fish broth, throw in chunks of squid, big prawns and fresh mussels, and then top the whole shebang with cilantro leaves and plenty of seasoning. There’s also a touch of spice courtesy of the bell pepper. It’s hardly a wonder that local myths say this one “raises the dead” – AKA it’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac!
Think of the arepa as the sandwich of this corner of Latin America. They’re a little different from what you’re probably used to, though. Made from maize dough that’s pre-cooked and mixed with just salt and water, they’re then griddled on hot stones, grills, or even bijao leaves to give a bread with a distinctly firm texture, similar to a flatbread from Greece or the Levant. After that, the fun part: Pack the sliced arepa with whatever takes your fancy – shredded pork, avocado, grilled veg, and white cheese are regular favorites.
What’s so great about arepa is that they’re a truly authentic part of Venezuelan food culture. They don’t originate from Europe or Africa or even take a nod from the cooking styles of the colonial powers that came to South America like some of the other dishes on this list. Instead, they have been traced back to pre-Columbian times, and some food historians think that they’ve been cooked up in the region where Venezuela makes its home for the best part of 2,000 years!
Plantains are one of the most widely eaten foods in Venezuela. You’ll be able to get them everywhere and they’ll come with just about every meal. They’re cheap and readily available, meaning that they don’t have to be imported. They’re always fresh and make for a filling and tasty meal. If you’ve never had a plantain, it’s somewhere between a potato and a banana, offering both starchy and sweet flavors.
One of the best ways to consume plantains is as part of a dish called pabellón criollo. This is served with rice, black beans, and a shredded beef stew. This combination is incredibly popular in Venezuela and not often found elsewhere. It’s a filling and satisfying meal that’s great when you really need a lot of energy. It’s packed with protein, carbohydrates, and natural sugars to help you feel focused and alert.
Tamales are so popular in Latin America and you’ll find them in Venezuela in the form of hallacas. Think of this as a neat little food package, containing everything you need for sustenance. Generally speaking, they’re made using corn dough which is filled with your favorite meat, whether that’s chicken, pork, or beef.
To this, you can add sweet ingredients like such as raisins, capers, and olives. The whole thing is then wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled. This is a special occasion dish that Venezuelan families commonly eat during the Christmas season.
Bollo pelón is a form of beef that you’ve probably never had before. Rather than being roasted, fried, or stewed on its own, the beef is formed into a kind of meatballs. The ground meat is then covered in the same dough used to make arepas (another very popular food from Latin America). This is then fried to create the perfect little package of delicious flavor.
These make for the perfect appetizer or snack to have between meals. They’re a little treat that shouldn’t be eaten too often but can really fill a hole when you’re hungry. They can be a little dry, though, so make sure you always have some tomato sauce to dip your bollo pelóns into.
Found all across Latin America and the Caribbean, you’ll love the patacón zuliano that you can find in Venezuela. It’s a food that you may not have had before but that can be found everywhere from street stalls to the fanciest restaurants. Usually served as a side dish to your main meal, it’s essentially a sandwich that used fried plantain instead of bread.
In countries like the USA, bread is the main staple. In Venezuela, this role is played by plantain. After frying the plantains, you can fill them with tomatoes, shredded meat, and lettuce. This flavor combination is exquisite, not to mention packed with valuable nutrients. Trust us when we say that your trip to Venezuela will involve consuming plenty of patacón zuliano.
What is traditional food in Venezuela?
Food in Venezuela is traditionally made up of local staples like rice, corn, and plantain. Onto this, African and European-inspired dishes are created, making for a unique mix of spice and culinary excellence.
What is Venezuela’s most popular food?
The most iconic and widely-eaten food from Venezuela has to be arepa. This is a kind of sandwich made from maize dough and filled with delicious ingredients like meat, cheese, and avocado. This has been eaten daily in Venezuela since pre-Columbian times, making it a truly ancient meal.
What is a traditional breakfast in Venezuela?
Venezuelan breakfasts tend to be filling and packed with energy. It’s common to start the day with arepa bread and to eat it with protein-rich meat like beef or chicken. Black beans are also commonly eaten for breakfast along with some avocado and other fruits and vegetables.
What makes the food in Venezuela unique?
Venezuela has long been influenced by other cultures, especially those from Europe and West Africa. This, combined with its unique indigenous culture, has led to dishes that take inspiration from around the world. Many of the flavors you find in Venezuelan food culture are difficult to find elsewhere.