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Venezuela Food and Drink

The distinctive flavour of comida criolla, as Venezuela's cuisine is locally known, resides in roots and vegetables: yams, yucca, plantains, rice and beans. Beef from the cattle ranches of Los Llanos also figures prominently, most popularly cooked a la parilla (charcoal grilled) at the country's many steakhouses. Equally enticing are the varieties of fresh fish and seafood, often prepared in sancochos (stews) along the Caribbean coast. Freshwater trout are popular in the Andean regions, while pargo (snapper), carite (king fish) and dorado are delicious local sea fish, as well as shellfish, lobster, oysters and conch.

Authentic Italian, Chinese, Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines are also widely available, thanks to the presence of substantial immigrant communities. Exotic regional dishes can also be found; from deep-fried ants and piranhas in the Amazon, to capybara stew in Los Llanos, and even turtle – despite its protected status – served up as ropa especial in the Paraguaná Peninsula.

Venezuelans have a sweet tooth, and popular desserts include huevos chimbos (egg yolk in sugar syrup), cachitos (stuffed croissants), bienmesabe (sponge cake soaked in coconut milk) and quesillo (a creamy pudding made of egg, milk and caramel).

From pineapples to papayas, mangos and chirimoya (custard apples), tropical fruit is fabulously varied and blended into batidos (shakes). Venezuela produces excellent rum and is a major importer of Scotch. Polar (served ice-cold, naturally) is the most popular of several local beers; Brazilian Brahma beer, a lighter option, is also brewed in Venezuela.

Specialities

Arepas (corn buns, toasted and generously stuffed with all manner of savoury fillings).
Pabellón criollo (shredded meat cooked with onions, peppers and coriander; served with fried plantains, black beans and rice and a slab of cheese): the national dish.
Hallaca (corn dough filled with beef, pork, olives, etc, and steamed in banana leaves; a Christmas favourite).
Cachapas (slightly sweet corn pancakes, usually folded over hunks of white cheese and/or ham).
Hervido (hearty soup of beef, chicken or fish with root vegetables).

Things to know

Avoid tap water at all costs; ask for bottled mineral water. In Caracas, locals eat late. Outside of the capital and other major cities, however, many restaurants may close as early as 2000. The 'menu ejecutivo' fixed-price lunch is a good bargain, available at most larger restaurants.

Tipping

In most bars and restaurants, 10% is added to the bill; at fancier establishments it's customary to leave an additional 10% on the table.

Drinking age

18

Regional drinks

• Coffee (espresso style; specify café marrón for milk).
Merengadas (fruity milkshakes).
Chicha de arroz (sweet and creamy rice-based drink).
Papelón con limon (refreshing beverage of sugar cane juice and lemon).