Venezuelan Street Food at the Palo Alto Market

Poblenou has always kind of reminded me of Miami’s art district. Both are on the outskirts of the central buzz. Both feature massive, industrial-chic loft spaces, studios, artisanal coffee brewers, craft beer, palm trees and a beach nearby. Both neighborhoods serve as cradles of innovation and provide a great environment for culinary creativity. That means food trucks. I found them in the Palo Alto Market, an upscale street bazaar with vintage and designer clothing, arts, crafts, music and food all crammed into a recently refurbished factory warehouse. It’s a good place to buy second-hand plaid, the perfect leather backpack, that kind of hip junk. A large tent with a bar and DJ provides a space to dance, if you´re into that…

I went to Palo Alto Market with a friend on a Sunday morning after a particularly rough night out. I was craving something hot and substantial, something spicy with cheese. While circling the market three times to narrow down my options and choose something, I saw Colombian buñuelos, French crêpes, Indian vindaloopulpo a la gallega, tacos and ceviche. I also saw two Venezuelan trucks specializing in two popular Venezuelan snacks. For me, food from this part of the world has always meant total comfort, so we got in line and ordered.

12At La Taguara Areperia we got a Pabellón Arepa, which came with carne mechada, black beans, fried ripe plantains and shredded white cheese in a dense little package wrapped in white maize tortilla. This is one of their specialties, named after Venezuela’s national dish, a massive plate of shredded meat, rice, beans and plantain called the pabellón criollo. The arepa’s base tortilla is wonderful. It’s thick, fluffy-light and grainy at the same time, with a very mild corn flavor accented by the smoky grill marks on both sides. In this case the meat is something like a shredded pork confit, wonderfully juicy and with its salty-sweet porcine zest balanced beautifully by the sticky sweet plantains and salty, half-melted cheese. The beans add great texture and hydrate each bite. It’s a small arepa, but quite heavy; one was plenty to satisfy my hunger and soothe my hangover perfectly.

546At La Cachapera BCN we got a cachapa, the Venezuelan crêpe made with freshly ground yellow maize mixed into a batter and fried up on a flat metal surface called a budare. It’s filled with a Venezuelan cheese called queso de mano, which is similar to mozzarella in that it’s very elastic and melts easily. It’s served with a fair bit of butter to smear over the top and Venezuela’s signature spicy sauce, guasacaca, made with avocado, onion, garlic, parsley, green pepper, coriander, vinegar and oil. There was also the option to add some fried pork cracklings (chicharrones) but my friend decided to go for the original and got it with just cheese. Unlike the white corn arepa this yellow corn pancake was naturally sweet and soft, rather than grainy, in texture. It was also moist, a bit like polenta. The cheese inside melted only slightly from the heat of the batter but remained gooey and stretchy in the middle. The butter slapped onto the charred exterior of the pancake melted completely, however, adding a touch of decadence and saltiness to the sweet corn. The guasacaca also gave a nice heat to the cachapa which was otherwise very mildly flavored.

Steaming hot, dense bundles of cheese (and meat) stuffed inside fluffy pockets of corn-based dough is exactly what I needed on that day and I got it at not one but two Venezuelan food trucks. My favorite Barcelona Venezuelan thus far has been Rabipelao in Gracia, but it was wonderful to see that there are so many great options when it comes to these dishes.

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