From the ages of 9 through 11, I lived in Valencia, Venezuela with my parents. My father's job had sent him there to install, set up and train crews to operate the closure department in the Owens Illinois glass plant there. Closure is where caps and lids are made for the bottles already being produced. Dad worked in the closure plant in Glassboro, NJ, and had already gone down in 1962 to discuss the project and, I imagine, work out the viability of the project. They asked him to return in early 1964 and told him they'd pay for his family to join him including tuition for me to attend school and selling their home if they wished. Since he'd built most of the house himself on property my mother's father had given to her, they opted to keep the house. But, Mom and I moved to Valencia along with all of our furniture and our car. Only the dog stayed home. We lived in a hotel for two months while the furniture made its way to port in Caracas, apparently taking a slow boat by way of China.
Being the coward and picky eater I was in my youth, it was rare for me to try anything "foreign". Yet, it was the move to Venezuela that introduced me to Chinese Food and pizza (honestly - I don't remember eating pizza before moving there.) My parents were more adventurous. I did fall in love with the fruits I found in the country, such as mango, papaya, guayaba (guava) and platanos (plantains or cooking bananas). Mom cooked the platanos regularly. They're much easier to cook than you might think, although I've learned there are also more ways to cook them than I'd known as a child.
Dad told us of being treated to breakfast once at the cafe in the "Mobil Sheraton" near the plant. To my child's mind, this was the most horrible food I'd ever heard of. What he had was fried octopus tentacles with black beans and rice topped with a fried egg and covered with octopus ink gravy. I know now that what he ate wasn't served everywhere, but it was enough for me to refuse to eat anything I didn't understand!
He also enjoyed his first escargot and espresso while we were there. The hotel we lived in had a restaurant where the French manager, Madame, would offer both French and Venezuelan food choices. She convinced Dad to try the snails. He actually liked them and ordered them on occasion thereafter. I lived on chicken consomme with a wonderful cheese that was melted into the bottom of the bowl. If we went to the Chinese restaurant, I would only eat tomato soup while my parents ate sweet and sour shrimp and butterflied shrimp. We were such frequent customers that the management gave my parents gifts of porcelain rice bowls and spoons both Christmases we were there.
One of the Venezuelan restaurants we enjoyed was called La Parilla (literally, charcoal grill) where I fell in love with Pollo en Canasta. Not a uniquely Venezuelan food, but a uniquely Venezuelan venue and presentation. Try ordering Chicken in a Basket in the US and actually GETTING a basket with chicken and fries in it!! Plus, the smells of all that meat cooking over an open grill was enough to get even this stubborn eater's saliva glands flowing.
Since I've grown up, my palate has also grown up. I've discovered what food pleasures I missed while living in Venezuela. Some of these things are Hallacas (these most closely resemble Tamales), Arepas, Pabellon Criollo (Black Beans, Rice and Shredded Beef), Carne Mechada (pulled beef - this resembles Ropa Vieja popular in Puerto Rico and Cuba), Pan de Jamón (ham loaf - this reminds me of Pepperoni roll) and this one that I'm going to have to try, Pan Dulce Relleno de Queso y Guayaba (Sweet Bread Stuffed with Guava and Cheese).
I'll leave you with some images of the foods I've mentioned (all with links to recipes) to get your mouth watering and wanting to try something knew. I really regret that I was such a coward when I was there. I missed so many years of meal enjoyment!
|Christmas Dinner of hallacas, pernil, pan de jamon and ensalada de pollo|
|Hallacas -jlastras, Wikimedia Commons|
|Pabellon Criollo -Taxman, Wikimedia Commons|
|Arepas -Steven Depolo, Wikimedia Commons|
|Pan Dulce Relleno de Queso y Guayaba|
|Pan de Jamon -Rufino, Wikimedia Commons|
Platanos Fritos (fried plantains) -Dtarazona, Wikimedia Commons