The holidays are when we look forward to gathering with our families, catching up and partaking in traditions that tie us together culturally. For Venezuelans, getting together and making traditional hallacas is one family event they can’t miss. The owners of Puyero Venezuelan Flavor, a restaurant in Queen Village, have brought that tradition here to Philadelphia and extended it to their neighbors and customers.
Simon Arends, 30, migrated to Philadelphia from Venezuela about 4 years ago. Arends had some family here already who had been living in Philly for 20 years. It was a safe choice considering the tumultuous political situation in Venezuela, which has driven many of its citizens to migrate across Latin America and the US.
Having graduated with a degree in architecture, Arends never imagined himself owning a restaurant. But missing the foods from his home country inspired him to open Puyero. At the time there was one other Venezuelan restaurant in the city that served arepas; with the support of his brother and sister-in-law he set out to bring Venezuelan flavors to Philly. “For a time, we been feeling like Philly is a good foodie town. We thought they were missing a bit more Venezuelan food and we wanted to add some value to the cultural and ethnic scene and the food scene in general,” tells Arends.
Puyero Venezuelan Flavor has been open for two years now and it specializes in typical Venezuelan cuisine. In particular, arepas, which are griddle-fried corn cakes made from a special kind of precooked corn flour called masarepa. Arepas can be stuffed with different kinds of meats and veggies. “We just wanted to bring over the arepas, which is a staple Venezuelan dish that people usually have during all times of day. It can be breakfast, lunch or dinner,” explains Arends. The restaurant also sells tequeños (fried dough wrapped in white cheese), churros, chacapas (corn fritter pancakes with white cheese and choice of meat), and patacones (fried sweet plantain sandwiches).
Arends recalls the response from the community, “They were excited! People who come here say that when they think about Latin American food, they think Mexican. They wanted to try something new and now they have a Venezuelan place to go to and enjoy different styles of Latin American food.” He added, “it feels good to see children enjoy the food and want to come back.”
During the holidays, Puyero, has a special menu featuring traditional Venezuelan holiday foods, such as hallacas and pan de jamon. An hallaca is corn dough stuffed with stew wrapped in a plantain leaf. They are like Mexican tamales and Puerto Rican pasteles. Inspired by how Arends spent the holidays back home in Venezuela, Puyero offers a fun, hands-on class on how to make hallacas.
“There is this big tradition where families get together and make the hallacas. It takes days! One day you have to make all the stews, the next day you make the dough, then you have to stuff them and then you wrap them.”
The holiday cooking classes are a way for Arends to share his holiday tradition with community he has grown to love. Although this time of year can be tough as he misses family back in Venezuela, his family here at Puyero and Casa De Venezuela Philadelphia (a non-profit organization dedicated support the advancement of the Venezuelan community in the Greater Philadelphia Region) make the holidays in Philly merry.
Arends hopes Puyero Venezuelan Flavor continues to share the vibrancy and playfulness of his Venezuelan home with his new home in Queen Village. In the future he would like to open other locations in the city, so that more people can have a full experience with Venezuelan food and feel like they are at home.
This holiday season be sure to visit Puyero Venezuelan Flavor and try their holiday specials. You won’t just be savoring delicious food, but you’ll be sharing a precious holiday memory from Simon’s family to yours.