Venezuela is a gorgeous, geographically diverse country with epic scenery and numerous ecological systems. It is also home to delicious Venezuelan foods and cultural cuisine.
It lies along the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts, and the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes Mountains run through its southern and western regions.
While Venezuela has come upon hard times financially, its people remain vibrant and proud of their cultural bounty. A large part of any culture is its culinary practices, and Venezuela is no exception.
Venezuelan food draws from its diverse geographical and climatic regions to create a wide variety of unique and delicious dishes. Many famed Venezuelan dishes have become popular in neighboring countries and abroad.
Venezuelan immigrants in North and South America often open successful restaurants to honor their culinary heritage and share it with the rest of the world. I have compiled the following list of popular Venezuelan food, from snacks to entrees, to educate you and whet your appetite.
I’ll start with the most popular Venezuelan food, treasured worldwide.
Arepas originated with the indigenous peoples of South America long before Venezuela was a country or even before Columbus discovered the Americas.
They have since become the most well-known Venezuelan dish.
Arepas are corn flour cakes stuffed with various ingredients, from cheese and avocado to beans and meat, and then grilled over a flat top or fried.
Venezuelan arepas can be snacks, side dishes, or a light meal. In the Andean region of Venezuela, arepas de Trigo use wheat flour instead of corn flour, but the corn flour version is the most ubiquitous.
I enjoy a savory breakfast of cheese and avocado arepas to fuel my day.
2. Pabellón Criollo
Most cultures have their version of a simple “peasant meal” that usually consists of a complementary grain and bean mixture or a stew.
Venezuela’s famed version is known as Pabellon Criollo. It’s also the national dish of Venezuela.
Pabellon Criollo consists of white rice, stewed shredded beef, and stewed black beans. It’s a simple, hearty, and delicious meal offered in any household or economical restaurant in Venezuela.
In my opinion, Pabellon Criollo is a great dish to make in large quantities ahead of time as it tastes better the day or two after it’s cooked. You can add a side of plantains or a fresh salad.
However, there are important differences in ingredients and preparations.
Hallacas are corn flour dumplings stuffed with either stewed chicken, beef, or pork, raisins, olives, and capers.
The dumplings are then wrapped in plantain leaves, secured with string, and boiled until tender.
Most Mesoamerican cultures have similar Christmas traditions and tamal-like dumplings wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves and steamed. Boiling them creates a looser, waterier dumpling.
I love the addition of raisins and olives as they add both texture and a bright pop of flavor.
Tequeños are decadent snacks or appetizers made by wrapping cheese sticks in bread dough and deep-frying them.
They’re the Venezuelan version of fried mozzarella sticks. Tequenos are a popular party appetizer, afternoon snack, or hearty breakfast.
There are baked versions, but, of course, frying them is customary and preferred.
They were originally a simple white cheese spear covered in dough, but there have since been multiple variations, using different kinds of cheese, fruit, or other sweet fillings.
I love to serve tequeños with various dipping sauces, like chimichurri or an avocado sauce.
5. Pan de Jamon
Another treasured Christmas dish, Pan de Jamon is a relatively new favorite, appearing in Venezuela in the early 20th century.
It consists of white bread or pastry dough filled with ham, green olives, and raisins, then baked. They can be large centerpieces or individual savory pastries.
They are labor-intensive, but their show-stopping taste and presentation make them worthy of a celebratory Christmas dinner.
I like the traditional Christmas bread Pan de Jamon instead of the pastry dough, as the dense bread holds up to the high-fat content of the pork. The raisins and olives are the perfect textural and flavor compliment.
Cachapas are a pre-Colombian breakfast food or side dish that has since become an indispensable daily staple in every aspect of Venezuelan culinary culture, from street food to fine dining.
Cachapas are yellow corn pancakes made with a mixture of corn meal and whole corn kernels, water, milk, and sugar.
Cachapas are fried or grilled on a flat top, topped with handmade mozzarella cheese, and folded like a quesadilla. Sometimes you’ll see cachapas folded over cheese and fried pork.
I love the sweet and savory corn pancake mixed with salty and savory cheese or pork.
The texture is also wonderful, a fluffier corn pancake with the occasional pop of whole corn kernel.
“Perico” means parrot in Spanish thus the savory scrambled egg dish known as huevos Pericos in Venezuela takes inspiration from the parrot’s colorful plumage.
Perico is a breakfast dish of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, scallions, and peppers.
The vegetables are fried in butter or oil and then scrambled with the eggs for a simple, nutritious, and flavorful breakfast.
Venezuelans eat them as is, as a stuffing for a breakfast arepa, or accompanied by bread.
I prefer Perico inside a corn arepa topped with melted cheese. It’s the most delicious and convenient hand-held for a busy morning.
Chicha is a corn beer that originates from the Incan peoples of the Andean mountains and is a popular drink in many south and Central American cultures.
While Chicha is usually a fermented and alcoholic corn drink, made using the same technique as barley beer.
However, there are non-alcoholic versions of chicha, one of which is most common in Venezuela.
In Venezuela chicha de Arroz is the most common form of chicha, made with rice, milk, and sugar boiled into a luxuriously thick drink served over ice with cinnamon condensed milk, or chocolate chips.
You usually encounter chicha de Arroz in the streets, sold from food carts. In my opinion, chicha de Arroz tastes like rice pudding in liquid form.
9. Pisca Andina
As the name implies, Pisca Andina is an Andean specialty that’s eaten in the Venezuelan Andes region.
Pisca Andina is a comforting soup made with chicken broth, milk, garlic, onion, scallions, potatoes, cilantro, and a poached egg on top. In Venezuela, Pisca Andina is served in clay bowls.
The Andean Mountain range lies at very high altitudes, which often means cold weather.
Thus, Pisca Andina is the perfect nourishment, with hearty potato and eggs to fill you up and a piping hot broth to warm your bones.
I make a giant pot at home to savor for days during the harsh winter months. Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs, and Pisca Andina is full of it.
Mandocas are deep-fried cornmeal rings that originated in the western state of Zulia.
Mandoca is a common breakfast food, akin to a savory donut, to be enjoyed with butter, cheese, and coffee.
Cornmeal is the foundation, but the batter is made with shredded hard white cheese, water, salt, sugar, and overripe plantain.
In my opinion they are more like corn fritters or “hush puppies” you might find in the Deep South. They are very dense and very rich.
I like the combination of salty, savory, and sweet you get with each bite. They taste best fresh out of the frier with a piping hot cup of coffee.
Cachito is a Venezuelan croissant that was most likely introduced by European immigrants and is now a bakery staple on every street corner.
Cachitos are croissant-shaped savory bread, usually stuffed with ham.
They may look like croissants, but they are doughy and dense instead of flakey and light. They taste like pan con Jamon without the raisins or olives.
The dough is made with water, flour, butter, yeast, eggs, salt, and sugar. They’re the quintessential breakfast or after-school snack.
It’s hard to find cachitos outside of Venezuelan bakeries. The smell of them alone was enough to convince me of their popularity.
Fosferara is a dish that honors the bounty of Venezuela’s Caribbean coast.
Originating in the paradisiacal island of Margarita, Fosferara is a rich and complex seafood stew that incorporates various fish and shellfish into a vibrant and zesty tomato broth.
The most common seafood used in Fosferara includes shellfish like crab, squid, shrimp, and clams as well as fish heads stewed with tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions.
This soup is flavorful, fresh, and proclaimed not only to cure what ails you but also to increase libido.
I don’t know if its reputation as an aphrodisiac stems from a high seafood content or its saucy Caribbean origins, but I do know that it’s delicious!
Empanadas originated in Spain as baked savory or sweet turnovers and have since become staple treats in countries on nearly every continent.
In Venezuela, empanadas use local ingredients, maintaining the same half-moon shape common in Spain.
Venezuelan empanadas are fried in oil, consisting of cornmeal dough stuffed with varieties of meat, seafood, cheese, bean, or combination fillings.
The fillings differ by region, with seafood being more common in the coastal regions.
My favorite Venezuelan empanadas are Empanadas de Pabellon, a nod to the national dish, stuffed with beef, plantains, cheese, and black beans. I recommend serving them with a zesty green sauce.
14. Patacón zuliano
Named for the state of their origin, Patacon zuliano is Venezuela’s most popular street food.
Patacones are popular plantain dishes across the Caribbean and South America, made by deep-frying unripe plantains, squashing them into flat rounds, and deep-frying them a second time.
The Patacon zuliano uses two Patacones as veritable slices of bread in the most decadent street food sandwich you’ll taste.
It usually comes stuffed with beef, salad, cheese, and boiled eggs with mayo and ketchup as condiments.
Patacones are my favorite way to eat plantains because they’re crispy, starchy, salty, and greasy.
Making them sandwich bread for a multi-tiered sandwich was a stroke of genius.
15. Bollo Pelon
A cross between a meatball and a dumpling, Bollo Pelon is a commonly homemade dish of ground beef meatballs covered in arepa dough and boiled, then served over homemade tomato sauce.
This is a very elaborate dish that you won’t find at many restaurants. Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to receive an invitation to a Venezuelan household.
If not, you can make them yourself. The meatballs are made with onions, garlic, tomato paste, ground beef, olives, capers, cooking wine, and seasoning.
The dough is white corn flour, oil, and chicken broth for flavor. The tomato sauce is stewed tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and tomato paste.
I saved dessert for last with this popular Andean treat! Paledonias are a soft cookie-cake hybrid, made with flour, simple syrup, cinnamon, butter, and cane sugar.
The batter is formed into rounds and baked till the outsides are crispy and the insides are fluffy and cakey.
Paledonias are delightfully sweet and simple sugar cookies that are a lot thicker than your average cookie.
Venezuelans enjoy them as a snack, dessert, or sweet breakfast, accompanied by a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.
I like them at room temperature. The cakey texture puts them a cut above a denser sugar cookie in my opinion. Dipping them in coffee or milk is the best way to enjoy them.