The Venezuelan Amazonian culture through gastronomy
The South of Venezuela, where the biggest states of the country are located, Amazonas and Bolívar, is a remote, millenarian and even mysterious territory, where different indigenous ethicities cohabit in harmony. Among them, we can find the Baré, Yanomami, Piaroas, Yekauna, Wahibo and Pemón, who have been determined in taste and eating habits by a rich Nature.
Despite the foreign influences of European descendants, these cultures are still faithful to their ancestral eating habits, and they still have the same deep knowledge when it comes to the food that comes straight from Mother Earth, from properties to conservation and cooking processes. All of this is done with a mythical and religious simbology that is worth knowing.
Since it is a vast and sparsely populated territory (it’s the second largest extension in Venezuela and it only has 150.000 inhabitants) the state of Amazonas has a unique biodiversity that supplies the tribes not only with food but also with the necessary appliances.
The Western world has fallen under this culinary and nutritional spell, and have, coherently, tried to imitate the exotic habits and ingredients of this very particular gastronomy, full of flavours that will literaly awaken the senses.
Egidio Rodríguez, director of the Venezuelan Amazonian Food Foundation, said to Panamericanworld that for eight years they have worked with Biologists, Chemical Engineers and other scientists in order to investigate the characteristics of their natural products, with the objective of getting to know their nutrients and take advantage of them.
For that, they are part of the tribe, and share activities such as hunting and fishing. they get familiar with the cooking process, only shared by the women of the community, and they try, straight from the shaman himself, fruits, juices, insects and any other possible ingredient.
”With chef Nelson Méndez, who descends from the Baré community, we have tried spider mite eggs, spiders, worms and ants that, through technology and gastronomic knowledge, are turned into food”, explained Rodríguez.
Combination of flavours.
Taking advantage of the richness of the Amazonas, these cooks spot the flavour of each ingredient to turn it into a typical Western dish.
”The traditional tequeño (a flour roll stuffed with cream cheese) finds a unique variant in worms. People are very fond of it, despite the cultural clash, since when you think of a worm, the information your brain receives is an association to everything that is rotten and it generates rejection”, said Egidio Rodríguez.
In the process, the worm is sauté and then blended in a mixture of eggs, and as a result, a kind of pate is created and it goes to the oven. With yucca, flour is substituted and everything is fried together. The result is a flavour very similar to nut butter, a sensation that is very pleasant for the palate.
Spiders are also very much used. ”After removing the hairs of its legs, it is done on burning embers, just like crab”, explains Rodríguez.
In the case of the Foundation, its preparation includes roasting to give a smoked flavour to it: then a part of it goes to a processor to make it dough-like. They are served as balls and eaten as chicken nuggets, with the leg as a base”.
”In Madrid Fusión 2012, which are the Oscars of Gastronomy, the Spaniards were amazed when we presented this dish”, pointed Rodríguez.
Far from the exotic touch, there are nourishment principles in all preparations. According to the Foundation’s investigations, 10 grams of ants have the same proteins that 100 grams of meat.
”We have prepared dishes with a 50 centimetres earthworms paste and bananas. We’ve also made spider soup, worm pate, worm tequeños. But the important thing is that in every preparation, we assure you a high content of nutrients” stated the aforementioned director.
In that line, he said that ”just as Mexican people have their ‘chapulines’ (edible insects) and they eat them naturally, Venezuelans can trust in the high percentage of proteins of our Amazonian food”
Apart from protein, ”yucca is rich in fibres, the variety of fruits is wide, there’s wild cacao, called copoazú, that is used to make desserts. What I mean is that there are no limits for nourishments in our gastronomy”. said Rodríguez.
When asked about the differences between Amazonian Venezuelan gastronomy and others in the region, he explains that ”in Brazil this gastronomy is very well known, to the point that products are already in the market; and the Peruvian case is quite similar, chef Pedro Schiaffino has shown the world how rich the Amazon is. In Venezuela, however, it’s very hard to get to locals due to prejudices, so it’s still a virgin market”
And you, yes you, would you dare to try a Venezuelan Amazonian menu?
This is the one Egidio Rodriguez himself recommends. Although they might look strange at first, break barriers and discover brand new flavours, some are acid, others are spicy and others are smoky. After fear and mistrust, your palate will be thankful.
Ceviche with lemon and Amazonian mandarin (which is particularly orange) and ants that give lemon a special crunchy touch, on a basket of mañoco (a kind of thick flour)
Worm tequeño with túpiro ketchup (a kind of fruit that has a similar flavour to peaches and pineapples)
Curd of payara (Amazonian fish) with cassava with dip of guarabé (a kind of butter that comes from yucca)
Bird loins with mapuey and fruit sauce (maracas)
Patorreal (wild duck of tasty meat) with Amazonian pineapple chutney and cock head (tomato, mandarin and oil)
Copulate mousse (made of copoazú)
Crème Brulee of túpiro.
Profiteroles of manioc stuffed of túpiro.