Arepas are flat, small, round corn cakes and are the staple bread of Venezuela. They are made from ground corn meal dough or precooked corn flour called masarepa. Traditionally, they are cooked first on a hot griddle until golden, and then baked in the oven to finish the cooking process. They are served with accompaniments such as meats, locally made cheese, avocado or jam. They may be served separately or the corn cakes may be split and filled, like a sandwich. Being a staple food, arepas are often found on the side of any Venezuelan meal.
Empanadas are stuffed breads made from corn flour. The corn dough is rolled out and shaped, then folded and sealed with the stuffing inside. The assembled stuffed breads are then fried. Popular fillings include beef, chicken, goat, black bean, fried plantains, cheese, vegetables and even fruits in varying combinations. There is certainly regional variation in the fillings and not surprisingly, seafood is popular in the coastal areas. Empanadas can be eaten at any time of the day, but are usually consumed at breakfast time.
Arepas and Empanadas are both frequently served with guasacaca, a delicious sauce made with avocados, tomato, jalapeno peppers, vinegar, garlic and cilantro. It is similar to guacamole but thinner in consistency. It can also be made with chilli peppers and then tends to be served separately. This option is not for the faint hearted and could bring a tear to the eye of the unsuspecting consumer!
Pabellon Criollo is generally considered to be the national dish of Venezuela. It consists of boiled rice, shredded beef and stewed black beans. The flank steak is typically stewed slowly for maximum tenderness, then sautéed with such additions as peppers, cilantro and soy sauce to make a delicious tasty combination with the accompanying rice and beans. Avocados and local cheese are often added too. Fried ripened plantains known as tajadas is a popular addition and are often included as long slices on the sides of the plate. They are fondly known as barandas (handrails) and are light-heartedly given the role of keeping the rest of the food on the plate!
When a fried egg is also added to this dish for those with a particularly hearty appetite, it becomes apabellon a caballo. Caballo is the Spanish word for horse riding and the egg is said to be “riding” on top of the dish. Enjoy!