Is it me, or is the food that you grew up always the best? It may just be nostalgia, but I love that sort of familiar food. I think it is a lot healthier and offers a richer flavor than take-out. My personal food history is quite varied, as my background is varied. While we adapted to American food culture, we also integrated in different dishes we learned from family friends as well as television and cookbooks, we have also been influenced by introductions to new dishes through restaurants, all the while maintaining a lot of our Venezuelan food culture.
It’s a cuisine that isn’t spoken of very much, but it’s rich, warm and gently flavored. I think a lot of people are familiar with Mexican food, although the dishes you get in Mexico are quite different from those served in many restaurants outside of country. But if I were to compare the popular Mexican dishes to Venezuelan dishes, I would say that many Mexican dishes have good deal of heat while Venezuelan dishes tend to have a savory quality. Both are very good, but very unique which is a good thing if you ever get a chance to travel through Central America and/or South America.
If you hadn’t noticed food has a special place in my heart. I think you can communicate your hearts truest intent with food. I think one of the best time to take note of that is during Christmas. For Venezuelans, Christmas is the time to make hallacas, and it can be a bit of a family production. You have to secure your banana leaves to wrap them. Then you must amass the necessary ingredients: the meat, seasonings, the Arena Pan for masa (it has to be Arena Pan). Even bigger pain is the fact that some of the ingredients are not readily available in the U.S. so you must make due with what you have. Then make the masa, making sure that it has the right texture, this takes skill and experience. After that you need to prep the banana skins. If you are lucky enough to have a production team you can have someone working on the filling, and don’t think the filling is easy either. Getting the right flavor and the pieces to the right size is a triumph in and of itself. Then you need to assemble, package and cook those bad boys. The whole process can take hours, which is why it’s a Christmas thing. It also makes sense to me that in Mexico tamales are made for Christmas too. But for those of you wondering there are differences, the tamal is wrapped in dried reconstituted corn husks, and the masa’s texture is different, the grains are thicker and mixture is made drier. Also the filling is more likely to be simpler like cheese with a roasted chile (a personal favorite) or a pork filling. While the hallaca is a mixture of meat, vegetables and seasonings. Both are very good, and best when you can have them homemade, preferably by someone’s Abuela.
Now that’s old school. And yes when you like a food item in Venezuela you do refer to it as rico (don’t forget to roll your r’s) y sabrosa. 😀