A sushi bar in Caracas makes tempura with ground oats and cornstarch to replace increasingly scarce wheat flour.
A Spanish restaurant, seeking to keep its fare affordable, revamps its paella recipe by removing exorbitantly priced prawns.
Restaurateurs selling “arepas” – the grilled corn pancakes that are a staple across the country – make them a bit smaller to stretch their unsteady supplies of corn flour. Venezuelan diners continue to eat well despite soaring inflation and chronic food shortages, largely thanks to Herculean efforts by chefs to obtain prized foodstuffs and juggle menus to slow the rising prices. In working-class canteens and high-end bistros, staff say finding basics such as flour, milk or chicken - all scarce, in large part, because of currency and price controls – requires making repeated trips to markets and harassing providers.
“I haven’t been able to buy wheat flour or corn flour for more than a month. I’m working with what I had last year,” said Eduardo Castaneda, 45, owner of La Guayaba Verde, or The Green Guava, in Caracas, which offers a modern spin on traditional Venezuelan food.
Venezuela’s price controls require staple goods be sold at fixed rates that are at times below production cost, which often leaves them scarce because of the reduced incentive for companies to make or import them. Even the most ethical of restaurateurs are finding themselves dabbling in the black market to skirt the strict regulations created by the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez and extended by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela’s food shortages are nowhere near as bad as the situation painted by opposition critics, who revel in the idea that government incompetence has created Soviet-style dearth in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves.
Restaurants remain packed despite a rise of about 70 percent in the cost of eating out last year and the waiters’ mantra, “Sorry, we don’t have that.” The average Venezuelan eats eat more and better than they did before Chavez took power in 1999.
One of the most applauded achievements of his 14-year rule was to make food affordable through price controls and subsidized grocery stores, a triumph recognized in 2013 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Since 1990, Venezuela achieved a 50 percent reduction in the number of citizens facing hunger, the UN said – two years ahead of a global target date for reaching that goal. But without broad economic reforms to ease state control over the economy and boost importers’ access to dollars, food shortages may worsen - and eating out may get more difficult.
There’s always excitement in the air every time word gets around of a brand new restaurant ...