April 4, 2007

Venezuelan Street Food
Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela

A forgotten drink, found, and a brick in the belly.

Bitter Sweet Reunion

I took one drink of it in Puerto Rico and tossed it in the trash. I knew better and stayed away from it in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, and Colombia. But forgotten and discovered (again) here in Venezuela, Malta has found its way onto my tongue—although more pleasantly received this time around.

Malta is a carbonated malt beverage that is brewed from barley and hops, like beer, although it's non-alcoholic. It's dark like a stout beer, but has the strangest taste to it—like a molasses that's so sweet it's bitter. The drink is popular in a few places in the Caribbean, and a handful of countries in Latin American.

Known for its high values of vitamin B complex (and sometimes marketed as a source), Venezuelans seem be wild about the stuff—although I'm not sure if it's because of the taste or the perceived benefits of a diet rich in vitamin B (which supports and increases the rate of metabolism, maintains healthy skin and muscle tone, enhances immune and nervous system function, and promotes cell growth and division),

Venezuelans really don't need a beverage such as this to add extra vitamin B to their diets though, as potatoes, bananas, lentils, peppers, and tuna all contain robust levels of the stuff (commonly found in regions such as this).

…But don't let the researched writing fool you, with my scavengeresque eating habits I'm terrible at getting the proper balance in my daily food intake—my travel-food pyramid has a solid foundation of diet soda and skewered street meat. I should take vitamins, but don't.

Rice + Milk + Sugar = Smile

I haven't seen Chicha since the chilly evening streets of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and although it's not exactly street food here in Venezuela—more of the mini-market variety—it's worth mentioning.

Chicha is "rice milk." In Guatemala you'll get a steamy ladle full of the stuff in a cup—thick, warm, and sweet, with grains of rice in it. In Venezuela you get a paper pint of it pulled out of the refrigerator—smooth, sweet, and without the grains.

To me, this is the year-round equivalent of Latin American take on eggnog, and is delicious.

Bollito Bliss

Speaking of skewered street meat, I have found in this country an unusual (and wonderfully positive) first regarding the sale of the stuff. Here in Cuidad Bolívar the majority of the vendors provide an all you can eat while you eat offering of bollito, which seems to be the word for large, diced chunks of semi-baked flour.

I have been a daily regular at food stall near the river, where the husband and wife working the grill have gotten to know me over the past few days. I order a drink, and two or three skewers of meat, which costs somewhere in the nature of US$2 for the whole meal.

The bonus, and selling point for me, is the bollito. You can skewer as much of it as you want while idling at the stand, dipping it in a cup of tasty (dill?) sauce, provided alongside a few other sauces.

The meal is so filling, I've only been eating once per day, at lunch—I'm only slightly hungry 24 hours later. This meal is perfect. It's too bad the rest of Latin America isn't on the bollito bandwagon.

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