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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Venezuela was given its name, meaning ‘Little Venice’, by the explorer Amérigo Vespucci when he encountered villages built on stilts above the water. The first territory on mainland S. America to be colonized by the Spanish, the home of Eldorado, it has long been the inspiration of explorers and visitors, from Walter Raleigh to Joseph Conrad and beyond.

That impressive Caribbean coastline, punctuated by giant rivers and great islands, was the home of Indians who, Raleigh noticed, ‘use the tops of palmitos [palm hearts] for bread, and kill deer, fish and porks for the rest of their sustenance, they also have many sorts of fruits that grow in the woods, and great variety of birds and fowl.’ But first impressions mislead, for Venezuela is as much a highland culture, with settlement in the Andean valleys on the western side of the country. The tropical coast and the deep jungle towards guyana are relatively less favoured. There are also wide plains (llanos) where cattle herding is significant, but all, in Venezuela, has recently been dominated by oil, making it the richest (for a time) Latin American state, with the fastest moving and most urbanized society. The lack of a strong Indian presence has meant that most of the inhabitants are either Spanish, negro, or mestizo. José Rafael Lovera (1988) has shown how these latterday changes have affected traditional diet. wheat has displaced maize as the universal staple, particularly in large cities, while cassava (yuca) still rules through the province of Guyana in the south-east. Imports of foreign foods have reduced reliance on indigenous fruits and vegetables.