Although the cuisine in the region changed from the indigenous diet to a more European-styled diet, the greatest change in the food of
the region arrived with the new plants and animals the Europeans introduced to Venezuela. Although hundreds of plants and animals were
introduced to the region by the Europeans, a few of the most commonly consumed of
these were wheat, rice, pigs, chicken, and cattle. Others were also introduced and
are now common, although they differ in terms of popularity and importance. Some
are commonly used like onions, cilantro, garlic, black pepper, lemons, bananas,
and limes, but others are not as common, including broccoli, cucumbers, carrots,
lettuce, olives, apples, and oranges.
In the late 1800s, and continuing to today, the food in Venezuela
has changed in a number of ways, but most importantly in terms of production, transportation,
and availability. Due to advances in technology, better transportation, and improved
storage techniques, the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods and better
preservation methods have increased the shelf life of foods as the people of Venezuela
now have access to foods that are not in season or cannot be grown in the country.
Despite the technological changes, the people have not truly altered what they eat
so much as they have changed how they eat and what they eat when.
In recent decades the people's diet is again being added to, although the traditional
foods have not changed much. The base diet in the country is nearly identical today
as it has been in the past, but in the past couple decades a number of ethnic restaurants
have been opened in Caracas and other large cities or beachside resorts, giving
the country more diversity.
When & Where to Eat
The first meal of the day in Venezuela is breakfast, which
is often small and may be nothing more than coffee or tea, although many people
will also eat a small amount of food in the morning. Mid-mornings are often interrupted
by a snack served with additional tea or coffee.
Lunch is usually the largest meal of the day in Venezuela
as it can last from about noon to 2:00 or 3:00 pm and during this time many people
go home to eat, meaning shops are often closed during this time. Lunch almost always
consists of a soup, a meat (or seafood), potatoes or rice, and other fruits or vegetables,
including fried plantains or cassava (yuca). It is often finished with coffee or
tea and in some places a siesta, or nap. Most people still eat lunch at
home, but in the larger cities this is slowly changing as people eat at work, from
street vendors, or in restaurants in order to avoid the long mid-day break. For
these workers lunch also tends to be a bit shorter and has less food as the largest
meal of the day is then often dinner.
If someone eats a large lunch, dinner tends to be a bit smaller and is not usually
served until 8:00 pm at the earliest; more commonly dinner is served at about 10:00
pm. At large gatherings, parties, or business meetings dinner will likely begin
no earlier than 10:00 pm and it may begin even later. Of course for those workers
in the cities dinner tends to be the largest meal of the day and takes on many of
the foods mentioned above for a typical large lunch.
Beans: black beans are served with numerous dishes as a side
Corn: corn is used to make a number of dishes
Plantains: perhaps the most common side with Caribbean-inspired
Potatoes: a common side dish, usually potatoes are not served with
Rice: a common side dish, usually rice is not served with other
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Coastal Venezuela: fish and seafood is very common, but potatoes,
corn, rice, and pasta are also regular foods found in this region
Guasacaca: this common sauce is similar to guacamole
Mountainous regions: potatoes, wheat, and meats like beef and lamb
are very common as is chicken
Pabellón criollo: the national dish is simply Venezuela's
take on the Caribbean's rice and bean, often served with beef
Western Venezuela: plantains and cheeses are very common as goat
and rabbit are popular and near the border many Colombian dishes are present
If you're lucky enough to be invited to a Venezuelan's
home, be sure to send flowers, preferably orchids, prior to arrival, but wine, chocolates,
or a cake are also good gifts. Dress nicely if you're meeting locals in their
home or are meeting business acquaintances. If you are simply eating at a restaurant
with friends the dress is a bit more casual, but should still be nice clothing as
fashion is very important to the Venezuelans.
When meeting locals for a meal be sure to arrive about 15-30 minutes late and up
to an hour tardy for a party. Greet everyone when you arrive; men generally shake
hands, while women may kiss each other on the check, but this varies based upon
the relationship. As you begin socializing avoid sensitive subjects like religion,
politics, money, and any subject that not everyone is well versed in. Even avoid
business conversations, although you may be at a business meal; let your host bring
up business prior to discussing this as meals are usually a time to get to know
each other and socialize.
When you are directed to the table, let your host seat you as they may have a specific
place for you; be aware that men and women generally sit on opposite sides of the
table and the host(s) will often sit at the head(s) of the table. Stand beside your
chair until your host sits, then let women sit first. In a restaurant you may be
seated at the same table as other people; politely ignore them, although some people
may engage you in conversation if they notice you are foreign.
The host will often begin the drinking with a toast, generally just the word "salud"
and he or she will serve you, as a guest, first, but don't eat until your host
indicates you may begin with the words "buen provecho." If you
are drinking and wine is the beverage of choice, try to avoid pouring wine as there
are a number of rules when pouring, two of the most important being that you should
only pour wine with your right hand and always make sure when you pour it the bottle
is facing forward.
Before eating or drinking, place your napkin in your lap, keep your hands on the
table by resting your wrists on the table, and never place your elbows on the table.
Eating is done in the continental style, meaning the knife should remain in your
right hand and the fork in your left; get used to this style as everything but bread
and sandwiches are eaten with utensils, including fruits among others. The bread
should be placed on your plate or on the table itself as bread plates are rare.
You should try everything offered to you and if you enjoy something compliment the
host and you will be quickly offered more; if you are offered additional food, initially
turn it down then accept it after your host insists.
When you are done eating leave a little food on your plate then place your fork
and knife together with the tines down, handles pointing to the right and facing
to about the 10:00 position. Once everyone is done eating expect cake, as the Venezuelans
love their cakes, and perhaps coffee, which should be accepted as turning down coffee
is considered rude. There will also be at least a half hour of conversation so don't
get up or excuse yourself until your host does and invites you to do the same.
If you're eating at a restaurant, the host, or you if with other foreigners,
should call the server over by making eye contact and saying "mozo";
if you need the bill you must specifically ask for it. The host is expected to pay
for everyone present, but guests should offer to assist, something that will likely
be turned down. If a local host does treat you to a meal, try to reciprocate by
taking him or her out at a later time. If you're the host, be ready to pay for
the entire meal and add a tip of about 10% for good service; sometimes this is already
included in the bill as a service charge, but if not tip at your discretion. If
you do eat at a local's home be sure to send a hand written thank you note the
Celebrations & Events
When it comes to foods associated with particular holidays in
Venezuela Christmas seems to rule. Christmas is usually celebrated in the
privacy of the home so it's difficult to experience the true Venezuelan Christmas,
but inside those doors there are a few foods found on most tables. Pan de jamon
is a bread filled with ham, olives, and raisins, but it can also be found at other
times of the year with a little looking. Another popular Christmas food is hallaca,
which is beef, chicken, pork, raisins, capers, and olives encased in cornmeal then
Venezuela has nearly every popular international beverage
one can think of from tea and coffee to soft drinks and juices. However the country
also has a couple more local drinks worth a try. Cocada is a coconut and
milk drink, while malta is a carbonated drink made with malt. If neither
of these seems interesting, the fresh juices along the coast are always a popular
Venezuela offers most international beers, wines, and
liquors, but they produce few of their own. They have numerous small breweries,
but international brands are generally favored by visitors. Most wines are imported
from other South American countries, and do expand beyond this. The liquors are
where Venezuela is somewhat unique. Sitting on the Caribbean Sea rum is common,
including a couple local varieties. More unique is chicha, which is a fermented
drink made from corn. It was invented by the Incans and was regularly used in religious
festivals, but today can only really be found in certain regions in the mountains.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Venezuela,
but many travelers still get sick from it. To be safe the tap water is best avoided,
but for those staying in the country for an extended period of time, it is possible
to get used to the water as most illnesses are temporary. Either way, check with
locals before consuming the water.