Snapshots from Venezuela: Calle El Hambre

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of posts from A Hamburger Today reader Leonardo U. It's a snapshot of burgers in Venezuela, and it's absolutely fascinating. Enjoy! —Adam

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WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY LEONARDO U. | This summer I spent a month and a half in Venezuela, my country of birth. When you get food like burgers or hot dogs anywhere in Venezuela, it's usually from a food cart. There are exceptions and there are McDonald's down there. But ultimately what lasts and what are dependable are the street carts.

Through this post and the next few, we'll be covering five regions that I traveled to. No burger in this series is quite the same, and they really do vary, depending on what you want on them. A burger with the works in Venezuela can weigh you down, but it's a quick way to get a taste of the full variety of ingredients available in a particular kitchen or to understand a region's tastes or eating habits.

20071024picture04.jpgSo I fly into Caracas and spend my time eating at a lot of street carts. I do the burgers. I do the hot dogs. I do the subs that they call "pepitos."

Before traveling there, I do some research and am told to go to a stretch of road in the section of Baruta called Calle El Hambre, or "Hungry Street." For burger lovers, this is the magic phrase in any major city in Venezuela. You ask someone from the area where there's a calle hambre, and they'll point you in the right direction to fulfill some serious late night cravings.

In Caracas there are two calle hambres. The one in Baruta, which is close to the upper class suburban areas of the city and another in Catia, the other side of town, which is close to the slums and is in a generally dangerous part of Caracas.

The Calle El Hambre in Baruta is about a block-and-a-half-long stretch of assorted outdoor fast food burger stops like the one pictured above and just below.

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The quality is held by the locals as being better than anywhere in the city, and the service is quick at these places, even though everything is made to order. They stay open late—up to a little before dawn for the 24-hour party people and that late-night stomach rumbling. The selection at all the places is fairly standard and typically consists of burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. All the places have the traditional deep fryers but make most use of their large grill stations (above).

When I went to the calle hambre in Baruta, I ate a chicken burger at a place called Ariana upon a local's recommendation. I ordered it as I will be ordering most of the burgers in these posts—with the works.

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This burger consists of the standard lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments. But it doesn't stop there. It also includes alfalfa, which is a great healthy alternative; a thin smoked pork chop; ham; cheese; egg; and, last but not least, ridged potato chips. The egg fuses nicely with the ham and cheese, and the pork chop rests under that. Not forgetting that this is a chicken burger, they throw pieces of grilled white meat on top and then top it off with a lightly toasted bun that has a consistency much like a Portuguese roll would have.

The thing about burgers in Venezuela is that they are not so much about the meat but what you put on or under the meat. It's about textures and layers. It's about throwing the kitchen sink into the burger and making it work.

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