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Maracaibo is the most important city in Western Venezuela, not only because of its abundant livestock, but also due to its oil reserves. The city is also known for its local music, called Gaitas, which is heard at Christmastime all over Venezuela.
I was born in Caracas, but my family lived in Maracaibo, and I have spent every Christmas there since childhood.
There are many things I love about Maracaibo, but the first, and most important, is the bridge, popularly known as the Bridge Over the Lake. This construction links the Northwest side of Venezuela with the city through the narrowest area of the Lake of Maracaibo; as an indication of its size, the bridge has a length of 8678m (over seven times the length of the Golden Gate Bridge). Actually, the Rafael Urdaneta (the official name of the bridge) is so important that the most famous Gaita – Cuando voy a Maracaibo – is dedicated to the feeling you get when you pass over the bridge.
That’s how I always enter Maracaibo, crossing the bridge with the wind in my hair and an amazing view of the Lake on both sides. It is just an incredible experience, and a sign that my adventure in Maracaibo is about to start.
Maybe the second most unique thing about Maracaibo is the atmospheric activity – I’m talking about the Catatumbo lightning. Over the lake there is exceptional lightning activity with more than 300 lightning strikes a year! This is the highest number of atmospheric discharges gathered in one place in one year, for which the city was awarded a Guinness World Record. If you travel at night, the lightning is truly an amazing spectacle, one that is unique in the world.
But the thing I love most about Maracaibo is the food. Oh my Lord! It’s so damn good! Very tasty and authentic, there is no match in any other city in Venezuela. To give you a brief flavor of the gastronomy of the place, there are some dishes you need to be familiar with… The first one is Mandoca (a fried ring of corn flour), papelón (a traditional Venezuelan beverage made of sugar cane and lemon), sweet plantains and grated cheese, truly delicious and perfect for dinner or breakfast with a latte!
The second is Patacón, a burger made of flattened and fried plantain. The idea is to use two plantains as buns and add several ingredients between them, such as ham, meat, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce and all kinds of sauces. There is an iconic franchise with a lot of tradition and experience that makes Patacón, called Chops. If you go to Maracaibo, Chops is a must. They also make some amazing tequeños by the way.
Yet another dish is Huevos Chimbos. This is a typical dessert made of a sponge cake soaked in syrup, perfect for a nice afternoon. There are also the so-called Bollos Pelones, a delicious dish with a pleasant fragrance, distinguished flavors and deep colors – perfect for lunch!
I have a funny story about the last dish. There is a place in Maracaibo, known as San Miguel, which is located in the south of the city. My family used to live there and one day, while I was in Maracaibo, my cousins told me that there was a place called Tacho’s that served some amazing Arepas (Arepas are a traditional food of Venezuela included in every home as part of breakfast or dinner). They told me there was a particular thing about Tacho’s Arepas that they couldn’t explain. I had to try them to understand. So we decided to visit the store. On the way to San Miguel, I was with my cousins Juan, Luis, Paola and Mafer.
Mafer started talking, “Ooohh Karlita, you are definitely going to love this place, it is a place that no Caraqueño knows about, I can guarantee you that hahaha.”
“Hahaha is that so? Come on, you gotta tell me something about them, they are arepas, ok so what, I have eaten hundreds of them,” I said.
They all looked at each other, and then Juan came up and said, “Alright Karlita, I’m gonna tell you what’s so special about them. The truth is that these arepas are made with Agüita de Sapo (Frog’s Water).”
I was like, “What?! No, no, I’m not eating no Agüita de Sapo.”
“Oh look! We’re already here!” said Luis.
The place didn’t look so good, but there were a lot of people there. Eventually my cousins convinced me to enter and at least take a look at what they would order. We sat down and when the waiter came in they all asked for three arepas, specifically with Agüita de Sapo.
To be fair, when the arepas came they actually looked amazing. They were fried and covered with ham, whole cheese, sauce, tomatoes and lettuce. They were small, that’s why my cousins all asked for three, but there was the so-called Agüita de Sapo.
My cousins were all saying, “Oh my God! This is so good!” I didn’t know if they were lying, but I decided to try just one.
When they brought it, I tasted a little bit and…..it was absolutely delicious!
I was like, “I cannot believe frogs taste so good!” All of them just started laughing and laughing, and asked, “What are you laughing at?”
“It’s not frog’s water! In Maracaibo we just call it that! It’s the sauce of the ham with some condiments,” said my cousin Paola.
That is something about Maracuchos as well; they all have a great sense of humor! Everything is a joke for them – every time, everywhere. Good thing because you always have fun with them!
But, finishing our journey through the food of Maracaibo, there is also one iconic place you must visit, The Basilica de La Chinita. La Chinita is the virgin of Maracaibo and a very important figure in the Catholic tradition. The church is really beautiful and spacious with a representation of the Virgin made out of gold – definitely worth a visit. In November is the La Chinita’s Fair, which is very attractive and fun. The Fair is actually a series of activities: first you watch Las Águilas (the local baseball team) play at the stadium, then you go to the bullfight (not so fun) and finally you end at La Basilica listening to Gaitas and making prayers.
Close to La Basilica are Cepillados (frozen ice with flavors and condensed milk). I once tried one given to me by a seller who called the different Cepillado mixes by the names of the cities of Venezuela, very nice actually. The guy gave me a card that said: “We offer our services for parties, marriages, fairs, work celebrations and funerals.” Funerals? Who offers Cepillados in funerals?!
So you can see, Maracaibo is a very unique place. By far the most attractive point is its food! So if you want to come here, you should definitely get your stomach ready!
For more, check out the local food of Hanoi.