Sunday, November 24, 2013

Venezuelan Christmas Bazaar, Westminster Hall, 7 Dec

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without all the usual Venezuelan festive foods so the Venezuelan community in London has organized a Christmas Bazaar at Westminster Cathedral Hall on Saturday, 7 December. There will be stalls selling all the seasonal treats you need for a feliz navidad Venezuelan style, as well as rum cocktails, traditional music, and a raffle.

Festive favourites on sale include:

Hallacas - A stew of chicken, beef, olives and capers that is stuffed into a maize dough pocket, wrapped in a banana leaf, tied with string and boiled.

Pan de Jamon - A soft bread with ham and raisins inside.

Ensalada de Gallina - A chicken and potato salad.

Pernil - Roast pork.

Ponche Crema - A creamy Christmas tipple made with condensed milk and rum.

Quesillo - Creme caramel, sometimes known as flan.

There will also be face painting and a bouncy castle for the kids to enjoy while you pick up all your Christmas-dinner essentials.

How to get there: Westminster Cathedral Hall is part of the famous Westminster Cathedral (SW1P 1QH). The entrance to the hall is in Ambrosden Avenue, which is reached from Victoria Street or Francis Street.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ordering Venezuelan Xmas Food in London

Anybody living in London or the surrounding area who is looking to find Venezuelan Christmas dishes made to order should contact Luisa Chavez.

A Venezuelan woman with a talent for making exceptional cakes, Luisa has been providing homesick Venezuelans with all the food they need for a festive Christmas for many years now.

Her specialities include:

Hallacas - Essential to Christmas and New Year festivities, hallacas are a Venezuelan form of the tamale, a stew of pork, beef, chicken, raisins, capers, and other ingredients that is stuffed into a maize dough pocket, wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled. Hallacas are delicious and although essentially a Chritmas dish are eaten in Venezuela from November through January.

Pan de Jamon - Another unmissable dish on the Christmas table, pan de jamon is a soft bread rolled up with ham and raisins inside. Luisa goes the extra mile with her pan de jamon and even personalizes it with your name if you ask her nicely,

Ponche Crema - A form of creamy eggnog made with condensed milk and Venezuelan rum, ponche crema is a great Christmas spirit way to get in the festive mood.

To pre-order ponche crema, hallacas, pan de jamon and tortas call Luisa Chavez on 07985239852, or 01784 241565.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Venezuela Guide on Instagram - FITVen2013


In October 2013 I was invited to travel around Venezuela on a Press Trip organized by the Tourism Ministry (MinTur) in the run up to the FITVen2013 International Tourism Fair.

As I lost my laptop and camera en route to Venezuela I was forced to improvise. Armed only with an HTC One S mobile phone with an 8 megapixel camera, I decided to document my trip on Instagram.

Through trial and error, I learnt how to get the most out of a single shot and train my eye to find images that would work in a square. The filters I just responded to depending on my mood that day. The feedback on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter has been really encouraging.

I am pleased with the results.

The restrictions of Instagram forced me to be more creative and think carefully before taking each shot, which helped me to see Venezuela in a different way.

I came home with some great new images of Caracas, the islands of Margarita, Coche and Cubagua, rafting in Barinas, paragliding in Mérida and the folk festivals of the Pueblos del Sur, remote villages in the Andean mountains south of Merida.

To see more of my Instagram images follow me at @Venezuelaguide -

Street Theatre: In the area around Plaza el Venezolano and Plaza Bolivar in the centre of Caracas, actors recreate key scenes from Venezuela's history by bringing to life famous characters from the past who tell the story of their time. Here, the dictator Juan Vicente Gomez takes a stroll with Independence hero Francisco de Miranda.  

Whitewater Rafting: On the Rio Acequias in Barinas, adventure tour company Arassari Trek took us on a bumpy, adrenaline-pumping ride down a Grade 3 stretch of foaming rapids. It helps if everybody rows together.

For more details of rafting in Barinas contact Arassari Trek

Remote Andean Villages: Just outside San Jose de Acequias, one of the so-called Pueblos del Sur, we came across this tiny chapel dedicated to San Isidro Labrador, the patron sain of farmers. 

Vibrant Folk Festivals: The Locainas de Santa Rita are gentlemen who dress like ladies for a day during the festivities in honor of San Isidro, as Santa Rita in popular lore is the wife of the saint. As their name suggests, these ladies can get quite "loco" during the festivities held on 21-22 May, and after dancing with their sticks they try to liven up the festive mood by flirting with the men in the crowd.

Paragliding in Merida: Tierra Negra, close to the Andean city of Merida, is one of the best paragliding spots in Venezuela. Jose Albarran of Fanny Tours is one of the pioneers of paragliding in Venezuela and a great pilot for a tandem flight. Known to his friends as "Piojo" (Flea), due to his uncanny ability to scale sheer rock faces, Jose is one of the founders of the paragliding school in the nearby village of Las Gonzales, close to the landing site, where youngsters are being trained to become the paragliding champions of the future. Watch a video of me paragliding with Piojo here.

For more details of paragliding in Merida contact Jose at Fanny Tours Tierra Negra

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Celebrate World Arepa Day, London, 14 September

Saturday, 14 September is Arepazo Mundial - World Arepa Day - and food stalls and restaurants all over the world will be celebrating the staple food of Venezuela by cooking up arepas (cornbread buns) of all shapes and sizes, stuffed with all manner of tasty fillings.
              The Arepazo Mundial brings together all Venezuelans - wherever they may be - in an act of gastronomic unity, and this year is no exception. If you want to join in the celebrations in London, head for the Guasacaca food stall in London's Acklam Village Market, off Portobello Road (W10), which will be serving a full spread of arepas to delight all tastes from 11 am to 6 pm.

The guys at Guasacaca have also organized a special day of Latin music and dancing, courtesy of London radio station Latina Network, that will include live music, salsa classes and other surprises.

For those new to the arepa, these disc-shaped cornbread buns are big enough to hold in two hands and can be eaten plain or with butter. More typically, they are opened up like a pocket and stuffed with savoury fillings, such as shredded beef, black beans, grated cheese, avocado and chicken, or any combination that takes your fancy.

The must-try arepa filling they sell at Guasacaca is the Reina Pepiada, a lip-smacking combination of shredded chicken, mashed avocado, mayonnaise and peas.

Not surprisingly for Venezuela - famous for the stunning beauty of its lady folk - the Reina Pepiada is named after local lovely Susana Dujim, who won Miss World in 1955.

The Reina Pepiada is popular with Venezuelan party-goers who like to end a big night out with something sticky, savoury and filling (a sort of South American version of the donor kebab).

But whatever filling you try, don't forget to add the final flourish, a dollop of tasty guasaca sauce, made with avocados, or a spicy splash of picante hot sauce.

All arepas cost £5 and you can mix and match any of the fillings on the menu.

For the young Venezuelans who run the stall, David Gutierrez, Irua Dugarte, Andrea Villalba and Andres Gonzalez, the Arepazo Mundial is an excellent opportunity to spread the word about Venezuelan food and convert more people to the flavours of their homeland.

Acklam Village Market (W10 5TY) is one of the coolest street food markets in London, a place to feed your face after a morning browsing the antique stalls and vintage clothes shops of Portobello Road. A recent visitor to the stall is none other than British Prime Minister David Cameron (see photo below).

The Guasacaca stall is in front of a laid back bar with tables and sofas where you can sip a beer and listen to live music while tucking into the international street food on offer from the various stalls. On Saturday, expect live music and dancing events organized by Latina Network, a London-based radio station that broadcasts news and music for the Latin American community.

How to get there: Take the Tube to Ladbroke Grove on the Hammersmith and City or Circle Lines and then cross the street and walk straight on until you get to the market entrance. Alternatively go to Notting Hill Gate on the Central Line and make your way down Portobello Road to Acklam Road.

To find out more about the arepazo in London go on Twitter - #ArepazoMundial #DíaInternacionalDeLaArepa @GUASACACALONDON @latinanetwork

Friday, March 1, 2013

Venezuelan Gastronomic Fair - London, 9 March

Venezuelan food lovers should make some room for a big blowout and head down to the Irish Centre in Hammersmith on Saturday, 9 March, because the organizers of the annual Christmas Bazaar have decided to hold another massive food fair.

From noon to 6pm a variety of stalls will be selling a range of Venezuelan traditional food, from snacks like arepas and empanadas to full-on feasts of pabellon criollo, pernil (pork), asado negro (beef cooked with cane sugar until black), served with rice, fried plantains and caraotas negras (black beans).

There will be food, music and raffles for all the family, a bouncy castle and face painting for the kids, and Venezuelan-style cocktails like guarapita (passionfruit and rum) for the adults.

Stallholder Luisa Chavez, a Venezuelan who lives in London and is rightly famous for her quesillo (creme caramel) and torta de tres leches (ridiculously delicious cake), will also be bringing homemade Venezuelan queso duro blanco (hard, white cheese) to the event.

Other stallholders include Mi Cocina es Tuya and the folks from Arepa & Co, who Venezuelan food-addicts will already know from their very successful weekend stall at Camden Lock Market.

The Irish Centre is in Blacks Road, Hammersmith (W6 9TD), close to two Tube stations - the Hammersmith and City Line station and the Picadilly and Central Line station.

Recipe: Guasacaca - Venezuela's Tastiest Sauce

(All text Copyright Russell Maddicks)

Guasacaca is probably one of the finest sauces ever invented. It has a cool name that rolls off the tongue and a taste that makes your mouth go ñum ñum!

It's a simple but staggeringly tasty combination of avocado, fresh parsley and coriander, green bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt, oil and vinegar.

And it's quick and easy to make. You just throw the ingredients in the blender and whoozh until you get the consistency you want: thicker for dips, runnier for drizzling on empanadas, arepas and meat.

In Venezuela, guasacaca is eaten with barbecued meat from the parilla - beef, sausage, chicken, and my favourite morcilla (black pudding).

Unlike a lot of US chefs, George knows the difference between Venezuelan guasacaca and Mexican guacamole. He was born in Caracas to Armenian parents, before moving to New York, where he lives today.

The only change I would make to George's excellent recipe is to replace the olive oil with corn oil, to keep it 100 per cent authentic.

If you have a family recipe for guasacaca you want to share just add a comment below.

George Duran's Guasacaca Recipe:

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 green sweet peppers, seeded, deveined, and roughly chopped
2 ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
2 cloves garlic
Half a bunch of fresh parsley leaves
Half a bunch fresh cilantro leaves
A third cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
Pinch of black pepper
1 cup olive oil

Put everything except the olive oil into a food processor and process until mostly smooth. Add the olive oil in a stream with the processor running and process until smooth. Let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour for the flavors to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve sauce at room temperature with meats, fish, or vegetable chips. If made in advance, store, covered, in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving.

How to Order Arepas - A Glossary

Arepas are Venezuela's homegrown alternative to bread or rolls, cornmeal "cakes" about the size of a hockey puck that are crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.

Infinitely versatile, they can be eaten solo with butter or opened up and stuffed with a variety of fillings to make a delicious snack.

While most Venezuelans will eat arepas at home, if you want something more exotic - to quell your lunchtime hunger pangs or soak up the alcohol after a night on the tiles - then head to an arepera, Venezuela's very own fast-food joints.

First-timers will probably go for a simple option like ham or cheese, but if you want to try something more ambitious here is a brief glossary to help you negotiate the more head-scratching menu items at a typical arepera.

Arepa - Cooked cornmeal pocket stuffed with various ingredients.
Arepitas - Small fried arepas served as a starter to eat with nata (sour cream), or with soups and stews.
Arepa de Trigo - Large arepa from the Andes region made from wheat.

Aguacate - Avocado
Aguita 'e Sapo - Literally "Frog Water", but don't let the name put you off. This is just pernil (roast pork) in its juice, served with fried cheese. Found almost exclusively in Maracaibo.
Atun - Tuna salad with onions and a squeeze of lemon
Caraotas negras - Black beans
Carne mechada - Shredded beef
Chicharron - Pork crackling, also known in UK as pork scratchings
Chorizo - Spicy sausage
Diablitos - Devilled ham
Domino - Black beans and grated white cheese
Ensalada de Gallina - Chicken salad
Jamon - Ham
Montaña Rusa - Quail's eggs in mayonnaise (literally Russian Mountain, the term for a rollercoaster ride in Venezuela)
Morcilla - Black pudding
Orejas de Cochino - Snippets of pigs' ears in sauce
Pata-pata - Black beans, yellow cheese and avocado
Pelua - Shredded beef and grated yellow cheese
Perico - Scrambled eggs cooked with chopped tomato and onion
Pernil - Roast pork
Pollo guisado - Chicken cooked in a sauce
Popurri Criolla - Shredded beef, black beans and white cheese
Queso - Cheese
Queso de mano - Literally "hand cheese", a traditionally-made soft white country cheese
Queso Guayanes - Another soft white cheese
Reina Pepiada - Chicken, avocado, mayonnaise and peas

Guasacaca - Avocado sauce similiar to Mexican Guacamole but not as thick. Great for drizzling over arepas or empanadas. Every arepera has their own recipe.
Salsa picante - Hot sauce. Again, every place has its own recipe, so test to see if you can deal with the heat before drenching your food.

Copyright Russell Maddicks

Arepa - Carne mechada con queso blanco