Typical Venezuelan Breakfast

If you are looking for a light breakfast, a typical Venezuelan breakfast may not be the best choice for you. If however you are looking for a hearty start to your day (and perhaps a great meal for soaking up the previous night’s festivities) you will have all of your needs, wants and desires met by a typical Venezuelan breakfast.

A Brief History of Venezuelan Cuisine

Before we dig into the main course we should temper ourselves with a bit of background on the nation’s culinary influences.

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the conquistadores from Spain, Venezuela was inhabited by an indigenous people closely related to the South American Indians (Incas, Mayas).  This was the first amalgamation of cuisines that the nation saw.

When the Spaniards arrived, they brought with them staple Spanish foods that were integrated into native entrees.

As time went on and due to the proximity of the nation to the Caribbean, more exotic spices and flavors were added to the palette. Today, Venezuelan cuisine has tapped ethnic roots from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean to become one of the most unique and delectable types of cuisine on the world.

For Breakfast

You cannot mention a typical Venezuelan breakfast without talking about Venezuelan Arepa.  Arepa is not only one of the most prominent and famous Venezuelan foods, but is commonplace in typical Venezuelan breakfast.

The arepa uses possibly the most abundant foodstuff in South America: corn.  It is made of corn and is essentially a pancake stuffed with all kinds of mouth-watering ingredients.  However, arepa was not always stuffed.  In its humble beginning, Arepa use to be a basic bread that was meant to simply accompany main dishes.

Today however, it is stuffed, or filled if you will (think of a pita bread only thicker and made of corn) cheese, butter, chorizo, pretty much any kind of meat you can think of, avocados and eggs.

Arepas can be grilled or fried and they are typically used in place of bread.  Now you see what we meant when we mentioned a hearty breakfast.

Typical Venezuelan Breakfast

Arepas

Typical Foods in Venezuela

Another dish that you will likely see in a typical Venezuelan breakfast is something called Cachapa.  In a nutshell, a Cachapa is a thick pancake that is folded over with some cheese in the crease.  Of course, since we are talking about a South American country, corn is used as the main component of this fat pancake.

Mandoca is a sweet little treat for Venezuelan breakfasts as well.  You can consider it the Venezuelan incarnation of a donut but it is made of, you guessed it, cornmeal.  Like the donuts we know here in the states, Mandoca is deep fried, seasoned with plenty of sugar and served topped with bananas or plantains.

Perico is another name that you will hear when sitting down to Venezuelan breakfast.  It is a scrambled egg dish that features onions and tomatoes.  You will see Perico commonly inside of your arepa but sometimes unbound by the cornmeal bread as well.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention in this Latino corner of cyberspace the existence of Hallaca in Venezuelan cuisine.

The Hallaca is an extremely important dish in Venezuela because it is the pride of every family. Arguments are not uncommonly roused as to who’s family makes the best Hallaca.

Hallaca is made during the holiday season and is a family affair.  Production lines of sorts are formed by family members to stuff cornmeal (the same used for arepas) with beef, olives, raisins and other ingredients and then to wrap the whole deal in a banana leaf.   To find out even more about Venezuelan culture and cuisine, check out the Legend of El Silbón.

Mexican Chocolate – Moctezuma’s Greatest Legacy

You probably know that chile peppers and corn are native to Mexico, but did you know that chocolate is from Mexico, as well? When you hear the word “chocolate,” you may think of the famed Swiss candy, but without the Aztecs and Moctezuma, that would never have existed.

Moctezuma, sometimes spelled Montezuma, was the Emperor of the Aztec empire when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés entered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán in 1519. When Cortés and his men arrived, Moctezuma greeted them with great fanfare.

Mexican Chocolate and the Fall of the Aztecs

Although there are now historical records to contest this, tradition holds that the Aztec people considered Cortés to be the reincarnation of their god Quetzalcoatl.

Believing Cortés to be a god, Moctezuma treated him to the finest foods that he had to offer. Among these: chocolate, fruit of the cacao tree which, according to the legend of Quetzalcoatl, the god himself is said to have bestowed on humanity. Banished for revealing this secret of the gods, he was to return one day, as a white-faced god.

Although Cortés had never heard of chocolate, its consumption dates back to 1900 BC in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs even gave chocolate its name: it likely comes from xocolātl, a word in Nahuatl that means “bitter water.” Although we generally consume chocolate that has been sweetened, in its natural state it is indeed quite bitter.

Plus, the Mexican chocolate that Cortés and his men encountered was very different from the chocolate that we know today.

For starters, the chocolate of that time was only served as a drink. It was a frothy, spicy beverage, with chile peppers, spices such as vanilla, and corn meal, sweetened with honey. It was much like the still-traditional drink atole.

Importance of Cacao

Cacao was highly valued and even used as currency.

Cacao was highly valued and even used as currency.

Given its particular flavor and texture, Spanish conquistadors appear not to have enjoyed early Mexican chocolate very much.  However, it was clearly an important part of the culture very valued by the Aztecs.

The upper class enjoyed chocolate and used it in religious ceremonies and even traded as currency.

Surprisingly, the Aztecs themselves did not produce the cacao needed for chocolate, as their climate wasn’t suitable. As an imported product, it was even more of a luxury.

Cacao seeds were also required by the Aztecs as taxes or tributes from those they had conquered. Moctezuma himself was a great fan of chocolate and was said to drink up to fifty cups of it each night after dinner, from a golden cup.

Recognizing its possible applications, the Spanish took the precious ingredient back to Europe despite not understanding its appeal – just in case. There, they added sugar and voilà: the chocolate we know and love.

Beyond its delicious taste, chocolate has lots of health benefits. For example, cocoa beans have high levels of flavonoids, which have antioxidant, protective effects.

Dark chocolate may also help with the circulatory system and reduce blood pressure. And, not surprising to those of us who love a good chocolate break, it may help cognition.

In addition to his critical role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Moctezuma was also responsible for increasing the size of the Aztec Empire. Still, it’s clear that one of his biggest legacies is the spread of this Latin food throughout Europe, and then the rest of the world.

What’s your favorite way to eat chocolate? Tell us in the comments!

How Do We Live on Tropical Latino Smoothies at Home

One of the most iconic aspects of any visit to a tropical Latin American country is the first taste of a fresh fruit drink. With alcohol or without, these drinks are a refreshing antidote for hot weather and humidity – and are perfect to enjoy on the beach. In Latin countries, Latino smoothies and other fruit drinks are more than a cold treat – they’re a way of life.

As you probably know, smoothies are drinks, generally fruit-based, with a milkshake-like consistency. They are thicker and creamier than slush drinks. Given the prevalence of fruits in Latin America, it is very common for Latinos to use them in their drinks for every meal of the day.

Popularity of Latino Smoothies

Tropical smoothies come in many flavors and colors.

Tropical smoothies come in many flavors and colors.

In recent years, this aspect of Latin cuisine became popular in many other countries such as the United States, where the drink was named a smoothie due to its consistency.

Depending on the country, Latin smoothies can be made with such well-known tropical fruits as pineapple, mango, papaya, and star fruit (carambola) or fruits even more common in the United States, such as strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon.

However, given the great variety of fruits available in Latin food, it’s not surprising that throughout the continent you’ll see drinks made with ingredients that you are unlikely to see elsewhere: cas, nance, tomate de árbol, pitahaya, naranjilla, zapote, guanábana – the list is almost endless.

Health Benefits of Tropical Smoothies

With the increase in popularity in smoothies, the list of possible ingredients has only grown.

If you want to up the nutritional value or use smoothies as a meal replacement, specialty ingredients can include healthier options such as soy milk, whey powder, green tea, herbal supplements, honey, and so on. You can also add yogurt, milk, or ice cream for a dairy treat.

Especially popular are superfood ingredients, that is, nutrient-rich foods considered to have extraordinary health benefits.

One reason that smoothies have exploded in popularity in the last ten years is the international commercialization of the Brazilian berry acai. Due to its high antioxidant content and possible disease-fighting phytonutrients, it is considered one of the seminal superfoods.

Another well-known tropical superfood is young coconut water, popular for its hydration properties.

Even if you don’t include superfoods in your Latino smoothies, tropical fruits still have tons of health benefits.They have lots of vitamins and don’t contain many calories. They also generally don’t have much fat, so if you make sure not to add too much sugar or fattening ingredients, they can be a great, health-conscious option.

Variety of Latino Smoothies

One of the best things about Latino smoothies is their versatility. Don’t have pineapple? Toss in mango. Don’t have all the papaya the recipe calls for? Add some extra bananas.

Most tropical fruit flavors mix together well, but it’s important to pay attention to the texture.

If you want a thick, smooth consistency, look to bananas, papayas, coconut, and acai, or add crushed iced while blending.

If you want a thinner beverage, add more water or fruits high in water content: watermelon, strawberries, or cantaloupe, for example.

Want to give it a shot? Here are two easy recipes for tropical smoothies:

Banana-Acai Smoothie

Ingredients:
2 small bananas, cut in half
1 pouch frozen acai
1 can fresh coconut water

Instructions:
Add the liquid to the blender, followed by the fruit. Blend on high for 30 seconds or until creamy.

Tropical Smoothie

Ingredients:
1 mango, peeled and sliced
½ small papaya, peeled and cubed
½ pineapple, cubed
1 cup orange juice
Ice cubes to taste (consistency)

Instructions:
Place all ingredients in the blender. Process until smooth.

Enjoy your smoothies!

Do you love smoothies? Share your best recipe in the comments!