Tag Archives: Miami

Venezuelan Event Recap: Expo Sentir Venezuela

3 May Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015 Mascot
Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

Last week I learned from an acquaintance about a Venezuelan event going on last weekend. She was looking to borrow a falda llanera, which is a typical skirt used in the folkloric Joropo dances in Venezuela. I was curious as to why she needed to borrow such a specific item. She said she was attending a Venezuelan event that same weekend, and that I should go to this event as well. I was surprised that I didn’t hear anything about this event prior to my friend mentioning it to me, but I wasn’t surprised that she knew about it, after all, I can always count on her to know all the Venezuelan happenings in South Florida.

My decision to attend the event was kind of a serendipitous series of events, which started last year around July. You see…  I listen to a Venezuelan radio station almost all day long at work.  They are one of the very few stations left that report news that the government attempts to hide from the masses; Radio Caracas Radio. In one of their shows, De Todo Un Poco, they have a section for Venezuelan entrepreneurs and as I listened to them describe the artwork of a young Venezuelan artist, I had to Google him, and I found his online blog. I saw his artwork featuring the Venezuelan flag, and immediately fell in love with it. I even contacted him via twitter to ask where I could get his artwork, but of course, it was only available in Venezuela. A couple of months ago, my grandparents mentioned they would be flying to the US to spend the summer here, I immediately wrote them an e-mail with a few encarguitos, meaning I placed an ‘order’ for a few Venezuelan products that they usually bring to our entire family from Venezuela, to Miami. Within my order I asked if they could find this artist and his artwork, because I wanted to own an illustration for my home. Fast-forward to last week, I went to this event’s website, after hearing about it, and realized that the artwork they used for their mascot, was something I recognized immediately as a piece by that same Venezuelan artist.  As it turns out, he created that piece specifically for the event mascot; Chamo.  I immediately contacted the artist again via twitter, and asked if by any chance he was planning to attend the event, and if I would be able to purchase one of his pieces there, and he replied immediately that he was in fact attending the event, and he would have his own booth there, with all of his pieces available for purchasing and even a few other surprises. Of course, right then and there, I decided couldn’t miss it.

Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015 Mascot

Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015 Mascot

The event was called Sentir Venezuela, or Expo Sentir Venezuela, which translates into Feel Venezuela, or Expo Feel Venezuela. The event took place at the Miami Airport Convention Center from Friday, April 24th in the afternoon through Sunday April 26th. Since this was a last minute weekend plan, we decided to attend on Sunday. Although, if they have this event again, I would most likely plan to attend during Saturday, since it seems that was the busiest day, with the most surprises and presentations. The tickets were $10 if you bought them online, or $12 if you bought them there. It was advertised as “A unique and vivacious event celebrating the eternal Venezuela, the Great Nation that Simon Bolivar dreamed of; one of brotherhood, pride, and beauty. Let’s celebrate its music and its joy, it’s unique cuisine and folklore, its wonderful artistic expressions. Let’s celebrate together with “el Bravo Pueblo!” LET’S SENTIR VENEZUELA!.

They had a variety of vendors including artwork, paintings, sculptures, photography, crafts, food samples, prepared foods, pastries, arepas, bread, cakes, shaved ice, tequeños, cheeses, all kinds of different Venezuelan brands products like harina p.a.n., nucita, chocolate de leche, flips, granadina garlin, susy, samba, pepito, leche la campiña, as well as companies such as banks, insurance providers, realtors, printers, local Venezuelan TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, associations, and groups, not to mention Venezuelan flags on EVERYTHING like pins, bows, scarves, bracelets, necklaces, rings, shoes, shirts, pants, even shirt sleeves… Overall they had an incredible wide array of products unique to Venezuelan culture. They also highlighted a stage with live music and entertainment featuring several Venezuelan artists and bands, and a dance team showcasing the best of Venezuelan folklore, as well as special entertainment and activities for kids.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day in Miami, but I was glad to know the event was indoors, since it was way too hot to be outside. We arrived at the Miami Airport Convention Center about half an hour after the event had opened its doors for their last day. It was not crowded at all… as my hubby pointed out; true Venezuelans would arrive way latter during the day, in true Venezuelan fashion. I wanted to be there early, because it was already the last day of the expo and I wanted to make sure to get an illustration from the Venezuelan artist I mentioned earlier. As we walked into the event itself, we stepped onto a familiar floor… They had a printed vinyl, sort of red-carpet welcome, but instead of a read carpet it was a replica of the famous floor located inside the Caracas International Airport, which is a very familiar design known to all Venezuelans, designed originally by renowned Venezuelan kinetic and op artist, Carlos Cruz-Diez. Nowadays, there is a famous and sad tradition of Venezuelans leaving the country taking photos of their feet on top of the recognizable pattern on the floor, saying goodbye to their home country. That day though, it had a different meaning; it was welcoming us to feel Venezuela, and it did feel for a second, as I looked down, as if I was actually arriving at the Caracas International Airport in Venezuela.

Welcome To Expo Sentir Venezuela

Welcome To Expo Sentir Venezuela

We started by saying hello to my acquaintance and her family at their booth, the Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos booth and one of the top booths in the entire event. El Sr. Zerpa (as you may recall from my previous post) is known throughout the Venezuelan community in South Florida, as el señor de los quesos. His company sells the absolute best Venezuelan cheeses around. Not only do they sell Venezuelan cheeses like Queso Guayanés, Queso de Mano, Queso Telita, Queso Duro Tipo Llanero, and Nata Criolla, retail and wholesale, but they also sell prepared and frozen food items and products for you to make and enjoy at home like Cachapas, Bollitos, Cachapas en Hoja, Hallaquitas, Tequeños, Empanadas, Pastelitos, Cachitos, Pandebono, Churros, Colombian Empanadas, Pan de Jamón, Hallacas, Punta Trasera, Guasacaca, Huevos de Codorniz, Frescolita, Malta Polar, Chinotto, Papelón con Limón, Salsa Verde, Ají Dulce, Dulce De Lechosa, Flan, Jalea de Mango, and much more. Their booth was quite large and beautifully decorated in a cow skin pattern, to match their logo mascot, Mariposa the cow, a cardboard cutout of a cow with barn-like fence over it; very clever considering their main selling product is cheese. They had a table showcasing their products, and samples of their delicious cheeses. They also had a new addition to their product line, Granadina Carlin, which I had been looking for, for a long time. Of course I got myself a bottle, and I promise an exciting drink recipe to come soon. I sampled their Queso Guayanés and it was to die for. They also have other Venezuelan brands products for purchasing like Harina P.A.N., Toddy, Samba, Ovomaltina, Toronto, Susy, Nucita, Chocolate Carré, Pirulín and Nestea. They were also featuring these new types of Tequeños, called MaizQuesitos, which are tequeños, but made with corn dough. Here is their contact information:

Phone Number: 305.456.3571 | 954.652.1058 | 754.234.4855
Website: http://antojoscriollos.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zerpasAntojosCriollos
Instagram: https://instagram.com/antojoscriollos/
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/zerpas-antojos-criollos-sweetwater
Urbanspoon: http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/12/1655495/restaurant/Miami/Doral-Miami-Springs/Zerpas-Antojos-Criollos-Doral

Zerpa's Antojos Criollos

Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos

Zerpa's Antojos Criollos

Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos

Zerpa's Antojos Criollos

Zerpa’s Antojos Criollos

The next thing we did was have breakfast. I had purposefully left home without eating anything so I could have enough space for breakfast and all the delicious samples they had. We had breakfast at the Don Pan Bakery Booth. Don Pan International Pan is a very well known Venezuelan bakery and café, which actually started in Venezuela, and now they have several locations all over South Florida, Dominican Republic and Panamá. The closest one to where I live is the one in Sunrise, right outside the Sawgrass Mall. I had a cachito de jamón and a delicious café con leche, my sister had a cachito de jamón y queso and an empanada de jamón y queso, my hubby had an empanada de carne and an empanada de jamón y queso, and my friend Ann had something I had never seen or heard of before. It was a pastry filled with cream-cheese and it had sugar on top. We also took a Pan Andino to go and ate it at home the next day with café con leche and it was very good.  Here is don pan’s info:

Website: http://www.donpan.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DonPanBakery
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DonPanBakery
Instagram: https://instagram.com/donpanbakery

After we ate and had a little bit more energy, we started to walk around the expo and checked out all the different booths. We tried some samples at the shaved ice booth, I had the passion fruit flavor, and my hubby, sister and friend had the coconut flavor. They were good. We also saw a lot of different companies promoting their businesses. Companies like the Venezuelan Business Club, BienvenidosVenezolanos.com, PaVenezolanos, a couple of realtors, immigration lawyers, etc.

We finally arrived at the artist’s booth, Oscar Olivares’ booth. He was there tending to a lot of customers with the help of his mother, Maribel Matos. His booth was a colorful one, filled with the Venezuelan flag design spread out on prints, canvases, tote bags, coin purses, caricatures, and much more. I introduced myself and told him how I was practically stalking him on twitter ever since I heard his interview on the radio last year, and I was so exited to finally meet him and have the opportunity to purchase one of his illustrations. He is so humble and modest, and he is very young.

Oscar is just 19 years old. He was born in Caracas, and began drawing at age 6, but it wasn’t until he was 15 that LaVinotinto.com hired him as the first-ever official illustrator for the national Venezuelan soccer team. His artwork depicted the love of the fans for the team and the game, focusing on the stands as the main subject for his illustrations. He participated in the Caracas Comic Con as a caricaturist in 2013. He is a self-taught artist, since ever since he was little, he did not enjoy being told what to draw, but he would rather draw whatever he was inspired to draw. In 2014 he was inspired, and he was inspired by all the political and sociological tumultuous evens in our country, to bring hope, unity and concisions to society by way of his illustrations. This is when he created his series of art with the Venezuelan flag and the concept of the arepa as the sun (Arte con la Bandera de Venezuela y el concepto del Sol como Arepa).

When I first saw his illustrations with the Venezuelan flag, I was very impressed. I am a graphic designer by profession, and I have to combine colors every day that I don’t necessarily find appealing. Most of the times I dislike combinations of primary colors such as red and blue, because it is hard to read and the two colors so close to each other cause visual vibration and afterimage effects. Generally, I would not pick the colors of our Venezuelan flag for any design, and I would most likely dislike any design that would use the primary colors. However, Oscar’s art made me love my flag colors all over again. His use of the colors is so cleverly done, that the visual vibration and afterimage effect is inexistent. He uses abstract shapes in different shades of each primary color to create depth and uses white and black to highlight the shapes of other elements in his illustrations. But perhaps the most interesting thing about his illustrations is the concept behind them. The elements of our Venezuelan culture that make us who we are, and the recognizable symbols and pop culture humor that is truly representative of Venezuelans.

Oscar Olivares, Venezuelan Artist @ Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

Oscar Olivares, Venezuelan Artist @ Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015

I asked Oscar about the meaning of the arepa as the sun, and he sees the arepa as a common element between all Venezuelans, those with the government (red) and the opposition (blue). The arepa is not just literally something that unites all Venezuelans, since it is our staple food, but he sees it as the common ground; the light. The light that could bring together both sides of our divided country, not literally the arepa, but as a representation of something we all have in common. If we can find common ground in the fact that all Venezuelans love arepas, we can find common ground in other matters as well.

I asked him about finding the necessary materials to continue his work in Venezuela, since I know those kinds of imported products like paints, brushes, paper and canvas must be hard to find in a Venezuela where medicine, food and even toilet paper is also hard to find. He explained that the scarcity of such products was one of the reasons he started creating art digitally by composing illustrations by hand first, scanning it, and filling in the colors with computer software such as Photoshop. Unfortunately for him, he said some art galleries are not receptive to digital art and it makes it harder for him to get exposure that way.

After finally making a decision I purchased a print of the art with the Venezuelan flag, which he explained was the very first piece he created in that series. I also purchased a piece of the arepa surrounded by the red and the blue, because I really enjoyed his explanation of the importance of the arepa as a symbol of unity. And we also purchased a tote bag illustrated with one of the pieces of the art with the Venezuelan flag collection. He even gave us a free Venezuelan chocolate for purchasing 2 pieces. Here is Oscar Olivares’ info:

Website/Blog: http://soyeljugadornumero12.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/olivarescfc
Instagram: https://instagram.com/olivarescfc

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. "Araguaney y fase lunar"

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. “Araguaney y fase lunar”

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. "Unidad"

Oscar Olivares Venezuelan Artist at Expo Sentir Venezuela 2015. “Unidad”

We continued on with the rest of the expo. We saw more artwork being displayed and we saw the artwork of Gerardo Fernández, a Venezuelan artist that creates these beautiful sculptures called escaladores or the acrobats, which I had seen previously at a high-end store where I purchased a rug for my living room before. His artwork was being sold by a store specifically dedicated to sell artwork by Venezuelan artist, Samán Arte. We also saw some beautiful bows and headwear for girls by the talented Lucky Cat Headwear. They were some beautifully decorated ones with the Venezuelan flag, and also the Venezuelan soccer team color (vinotinto – wine color), some incredible ones with the American flag, and some very cute ones of all the Disney princesses. We also saw a beautiful cake design by One Million Cakes Design Factory.

Gerardo Fernández' acrobats, sold by Samán Arte

Gerardo Fernández’ acrobats, sold by Samán Arte

Lucky Cat Headwear

Lucky Cat Headwear

Lucky Cat Headwear

Lucky Cat Headwear

One Million Cakes Design Factory

One Million Cakes Design Factory

Then we stumbled upon a stand I know my mom would have loved. My mom and dad used to go some weekends to a special place in Caracas just to stop and get a Cocada. A Cocada is a coconut drink made with fresh coconut, milk, sugar, ice and optional condensed milk and cinnamon. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before or not, but I have an absurd hatred towards coconut. Initially as a kid, I merely disliked anything that smelled like coconut, and I concluded that if I didn’t like the smell, I would most likely not like the taste. As a teenager, I thought I would grow out of this absurd hatred and decided to give coconut a try, since my mom was making bienmesabe and she had fresh grated coconut laying around in the kitchen. I took a pinch of it, placed it on my tongue and immediately spit it out, became nauseous and almost sick to my stomach. I never tried it again, or ate anything with coconut. However, my sister, my husband and my friend Ann took a free sample from the cute friends at La Caracola Cocada, and they said that it was absolutely delicious and refreshing. My sister even went as far as to say that it was better than the one she had with our dad back at that same place my mom and dad used to go to in Caracas.

La Caracola Cocada

La Caracola Cocada

We kept going and found ourselves in front of La Reina Del Golfeado’ booth. A Venezuelan delicacy I had completely forgotten about, right there in front of me. We had to buy one. We were so full by all these samples, we only needed one, and split it four ways, but usually I would’ve eaten one all by myself. A golfeado is a breadlike pastry/dessert that is rolled in a spiral shape, they are soft and caramelized with sugarcane and anise seeds, so it smells and tastes a bit like licorice. Served with a delicious slice of queso de mano. It was to die for.

Overall, I was glad that my acquaintance and the Venezuelan artist inspired me to attend this event.  I enjoyed spending time with my family and friends, surrounded by the familiarity of my country, the culture, the music, the food and the colors.  The only thing I must say, is that the event organizers should have marketed the event a bit more, and perhaps attempt to respond to inquiries from the attendees.  It is wrong of me to think that I could possibly transcribe to you the entire list of vendors, artist, food, celebrity, and bands that encompassed the entire event. So all I can say is that if you want to Sentir Venezuela, you must definitely attend this even next time.  So, here is the info for the event:

Phone Number: 786.447.7793
E-mail: info@sentirvenezuela.com
Website: http://www.sentirvenezuela.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sentirvenezuelaevent
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SVenezuela1
Instagram: https://instagram.com/sentirvenezuela/

Venezuelan Restaurant Review: Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine

15 Mar Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

A while back, while I still lived in Montgomery, Alabama, I had created a foursquare list for myself of all the Venezuelan Restaurants in South Florida that I wanted to try out and write reviews for, once I moved back down to Florida.  In that list, I had included Doggi’s.  When I finally moved back down here, I was a bit upset with myself because I was too busy with work and I realized most of the Venezuelan Restaurants on the list are in Miami and Doral, and I lived in Hollywood.  I rarely drove down to Miami and I rarely had a chance to try out all these places.  I was lucky to find Eats Good 33 (read the review here), but I was unable to enjoy their delicious food because they are only open when I am at work.

Things have changed a bit around here.  I moved to Plantation (even further away from all the good Venezuelan Restaurants), and now my commute is longer, giving me less time to try out new Venezuelan places and write recipes of my own for the blog.  However, my husband has been driving around all over South Florida due to his new job, and he has been keeping an eye out for new Venezuelan places to try out.  Since he drives to Miami all the time, it doesn’t seem that far away to him, and one weekend he suggested to take my sister and I down to the Wynwood Arts District in Miami.

Wynwood Art District Miami

Wynwood Art District Miami

It was kind of a “spur of the moment” plan for that weekend, so we really didn’t make any plans for lunch or anything.  After enjoying a nice walk, taking a few photos, and taking in all the artwork on the walls, we were kind of hungry.  My husband suggested finding the nearest Venezuelan Restaurant and going there for a late lunch (around 3 pm).  He found Doggi’s first, and I immediately remembered it was on my list of places to try.  So we headed over there.

Wynwood Art District Miami

Wynwood Art District Miami

On our way there, driving on Coral Way, my sister commented that the drive felt much like driving around Las Mercedes, in Caracas (Venezuela).  The bit of traffic, the trees, the road… something about it reminded her of Las Mercedes, and I agreed.  We were very lucky to find a parking stop right in front, but that is not the norm, so if you aren’t as lucky, you can park on the other side of the building.  There is an Italian Restaurant/Bakery on this corner building and a couple other businesses to the side.  Walking towards Doggi’s, you can appreciate the love and detail poured into every single detail in this place.  There are a couple metal tables and chairs on the outside, much like I remember a certain ice cream shop in Las Mercedes in Caracas.  The door is bright red and has a black wrought iron door in front of it, very much like almost every home in Venezuela.  You usually have your wrought iron ‘gate’ and then your wooden door – very nice touch.  Once in it feels a bit tight, and there are only about 10 small tables or less.  It is small and tight, but I think it makes it homey and cozy.  We were also lucky to get one of the only three tables by the window, so that was great.  The inside is beautifully decorated with a ton of Venezuelan… things.  I don’t really know how to explain these things; they are juts typical Venezuelan things that you would see on the walls of your grandmother’s house.  Things like a cuatro, maracas, cast irons, and virgins.  On another wall there are countless posters, ads, and logos of all kinds of different Venezuelan brands, sports teams, celebrities, etc.  They also have a large projector, which wasn’t turned on, but I can only assume they play all the soccer games when they are on.  On that wall they also have very stylized drawings of a male and a female figure dressed in typical Venezuelan folkloric costumes.  My poor description of the decor doesn’t really do it much justice, since it sounds crazy and cluttered, but it was actually done in a very minimalistic, simplistic and trendy manner.  They also have a smaller TV Screen that displays the current song being played.  My husband pointed out that he was shocked that they were not playing loud Spanish music like in most Venezuelan Restaurants we have been to.  They had a pop channel, and it was at a perfect volume level, in which you can still talk to the person next to you without having to scream like you are at a club.  The tables also have a trendy word-cloud or word collage of cool and unusual Venezuelan slang words.  The entire place’s decoration and design is very trendy and up-to-date, but also filled with old Venezuelan traditions and ‘things’.

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi's Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

Doggi’s Venezuelan Cuisine Decor

As soon as we sat down our kind server Gabriela greeted us promptly.  We read trough the short but complete menu and we were definitely unsure of what to order.  Everything sounded delicious, so it was hard to make a decision.  We decided to have an order of Tequeños as an appetizer.  They are served in these cute little baskets and they are five small tequeños, but perfect for an appetizer, since you don’t want to be filled up before your meal gets to the table.  As soon as I tried one I knew they had it right… the cheese that is.  Usually, most Venezuelan places make tequeños with mozzarella, or whatever other white cheese they can find.  At Doggi’s they have the right kind of cheese, simple white cheese is what we call it, but it is far from it.  It is perfectly salty enough and melts just right inside the tequeños.  I had to order a café con leche, since it was very cold outside (for me at least), my hubby ordered the pineapple juice and he wouldn’t stop taking about how good it was, he said it was the freshest pineapple juice he’d ever tried, and then he realized it had fresh chunks of pineapple in it, and he liked it even more.

Tequeños

Tequeños

After giving it a lot of thought, I ordered the Arepa Santa Bárbara, which is an arepa with marinated churrasco (beef), tomato, avocado and I switched the organic white shredded cheese for queso de mano.  My sister ordered the Arepa Pabellón, which is an arepa with shredded beef, fried plantain, black beans and organic white cheese.  My husband ordered the Milanesa Steak, which is a thin flank steak breaded and fried, with fried yucca and plantains on the side.  My arepa Santa Barbara was delicious.  The arepa itself was not too big that you can’t even hold it, and not too small that it can’t contain all the stuff inside.  The size was just right.  The texture was just right too, not too soft, and not too hard, and just the right thickness as well.  When I had the first bite with some churrasco beef, I was immediately taken back to Sunday nights at my grandparents’ house when my dad used to make parrillas.  The beef was perfectly marinated and cooked, juicy and tender, exactly the way my dad used to make it.  It’s cut in bite size cubes so it is easy to eat inside the arepa.  Combine that juicy beef with avocado, tomato and cheese, and you create my new favorite arepa.  My sister’s arepa de pabellón was delicious, too.  The beef was seasoned just right and the plantains were ripe and sweet.  My hubby absolutely loved his milanesa steak, so much so, that he ate the entire thing, which he usually doesn’t.  He compared it to my mom’s milanesa, which is a huge compliment, since he once ate 3 servings of it in one sitting.  Surprisingly, we still had some room, so we ordered desert.  We ordered the churros with dulce de leche on top, I think the order usually brings 5 churros but we got 6.  They were pretty darn good.

Arepa Santa Bárbara

Arepa Santa Bárbara

Milanesa de Carne

Milanesa de Carne

Churros

Churros

Overall we all enjoyed the food, the ambiance, the décor and the music.  So much so, that we went back two weeks later for more.  We went there specifically, not just because we were down in Miami.  It’s about a 40 minute drive from where I currently live, but it is worth it.  We went down there on Valentines Day for an early dinner around 5:30 pm.  I called on our way there to reserve a table, because I thought it might be busy, I’m glad I did.  This time around we ordered arepitas dulces as an appetizer.  They are served with white cheese and nata.  They were delicious.  Not exactly the same as the ones I am used to, large and with a crispy thin crust.  However, they were still delicious, perfectly sweet and complemented by the right white cheese.  They where small and thick, and had just the right amount of anise.  I ordered the asado negro, which is marinated eye round cooked with brown sugar, green peppers and onions, served with rice and plantains.  The asado was incredible, it was just like my grandmother makes it, and I loved the addition of fresh cilantro on top, which balanced the sweetness of the beef and the plantains.  The plantains were served with white cheese and nata on top, which is a great extra.  The rice is the only thing I was not super excited about.  In my opinion, everything at Doggies has an extra something, but the rice doesn’t.  This time it was a bit undercooked and I think the type of rice is not what Venezuelans are used to.  True white Venezuelan rice is flavored with onions and bell peppers and then they are taken out.  Also this rice type seemed thin and small, like Basmati rice.  Whereas Venezuelan rice is more like medium grain rice that is not long and not short, and it’s a bit fatter.  I appreciate trying to go for a fancier type of rice, but it was the only thing on my plate that didn’t bring back memories of eating asado negro at my grandmother’s house in Venezuela.  Just to be fair, my sister disagreed and said the rice was fine.  She ordered a cachapa, which is a traditional corn pancake semi-sweet, served with queso de mano inside and topped with nata and white cheese, and she asked to add chicken to it.  I do not like cachapas so I did not try it.  My sister said it tasted just like the ones sold in Venezuela, and actually better, because it was less sweet, like not overwhelmingly sweet.  My husband loved the milanesa so much the first time, that he had them again, even though we had all agreed to try something different.  We were very satisfied after appetizers and meals, so we didn’t want any desert.  However, we did take a can of Pirulín home, it’s great that they have Venezuelan snacks, I sure miss those.  They also have Venezuelan beer brands and malta.

Arepitas Dulces

Arepitas Dulces

Asado Negro

Asado Negro

Cachapa

Cachapa

We like Doggi’s so much, we had to go yet again two weeks after that.  We simply wanted to eat there again, so we took the drive down there, simply because we were craving some really good Venezuelan food.  This time we ordered cazón and cheese empanadas, and grilled chorizo as appetizers.  The empanadas were medium sized so if you order these as appetizers, don’t order such a big meal, maybe an arepa.  The cazón was delicious and very well seasoned and filled with herbs and veggies that made it even better.  The cheese empanada was great, because it’s the right cheese.  The chorizo, even though I don’t usually care for it, it was very tasty, just like my dad used to make it on the grill at my grandparent’s house on Sundays.  I ordered the Pabellón Criollo as the main entry, which is the most traditional national Venezuelan dish.  It came with white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded beef.  The beef was well seasoned and juicy.  The black beans were cooked well and they weren’t too watery.  My sister did point out that the black beans had white cheese on top, which is how I like them, but she said some people eat them with sugar instead, so she would ask for them to be sweetened before putting the cheese on top.  The plantains were perfect as usual with white cheese on top.  The rice, again was simple, there was nothing great about it, this time it wasn’t undercooked though.  My husband ordered the marinated churrasco, which is grilled steak with fried yucca and fries; he also ordered a side of plantains.  The beef (as before with the arepa santa Barbara) was seasoned and cooked to perfection.  And the yucca fries are delicious with the guasacaca sauces on the table.  My sister ordered the Doggi’s parrilla for one, which includes marinated churrasco, chicken and chorizo, with yucca fries.  All the protein was cooked and marinated to perfection.  We both agreed that it reminded us of my dad’s parrilla on Sundays at our grandparents’ house.  All of our plates were on the larger side, so we all had “doggibags” to go, and we all had the food the next day for lunch and we were surprised to see that it still was pretty tasty and somewhat fresh after re-heating it in the microwave.

Pabellón Criollo

Pabellón Criollo

Doggi's Parrilla

Doggi’s Parrilla

Marinated Churrasco

Marinated Churrasco

Overall I must say, if you want to experience true Venezuelan flavors, traditions, customs and ambiance, then visit Doggi’s.  What I love about it is that even though the menu seems small, you have a little bit of everything and not only do you have the typical Venezuelan dishes, but also dishes that families in Venezuela eat on a daily basis.  The servers are friendly, and you can tell that the owners are on top of their game and involved, which makes the place and the food, the best.  As I learned on my first visit, from Gabriela, Doggi’s started as a gentleman selling hotdogs from a cart in Miami, hence the name Doggi’s.  Then the gentleman, his wife and three kids opened up the restaurant down the street from where it is now.  Now, the three brothers run the place, and I even saw the mother there.  This truly makes all the difference in a place, because you can tell they put thought and care into every detail and they run an airtight family business.  The place is clean, and the service is fast.  I enjoy that they serve you with real plates and forks, it has a restaurant feel, but it is small and cozy like a fast food place, and they ARE fast. They deliver nearby and they also have take-out. You will get a true Venezuelan experience and you wont be disappointed.

The Details:
Address: 1246 SW Coral Way Miami, FL 33145
Phone Number: 305.854.6869
Website: http://www.eatdoggis.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DoggisAndMore
Twitter: https://twitter.com/doggismore
Instagram: https://instagram.com/doggis
Hours: Mon – Wed: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Thu: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 10:00 am – 1:00 am
Sun: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Menu: http://www.letseat.at/doggis/menu
Categories: Venezuelan
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/doggis-venezuelan-cuisine-miami-2

16+ Hours To Make 1 Vote Count

17 Apr Venezuela

For those of you who don’t know, last weekend there were presidential elections in my country, Venezuela.  If you have come across this blog, then you must know a little bit about my country, and what we have been going through in the past decade.  If you don’t know anything about it, I urge you to find out on your own.  Google it.  I don’t want to tell you one side of the story.  I want you to come up with your own opinion about the situation my country is going through.  Then you can continue to read my story.

Every Venezuelan who lives outside of Venezuela, has the right and the duty to go to the nearest Venezuelan consulate and vote in any Venezuelan elections.  The consulate has the duty to facilitate a site and all the material necessary to hold elections in an established location.  Due to the inconvenient fact that the Venezuelan consulate in Miami was closed, and the inefficient Venezuelan government has failed to reopen it, all Venezuelans in Miami and Florida have been forced to travel to New Orleans in order to exercise their right and duty to vote.  This is not new.  Venezuelans already had to do this in the past elections on October 7th, 2012.  I was unable to attend those elections, due to personal and financial difficulties.  I stayed home all day long incredulously watching the Venezuelan news channels, Facebook and Twitter feeds.  I also felt incredibly guilty for not voting.

This time around, I knew in my heart I couldn’t stay at home and watch it on TV.  I had to be there and make my mark.  Because every vote counts and I had to do whatever I could.  I still have those same personal, financial, work and family difficulties that I had last time, but I had to do what I felt was the right thing to do in my heart.

This is the story of how I exercised my duty and my right to vote in the Venezuelan presidential elections on Sunday, April 14th, 2013 from Miami to New Orleans.

The information regarding the date and location of where the voting would be held for Venezuelan voters in Miami came in only a few weeks before voting day.  This wasn’t favorable for those of us who had to plan ahead in order to travel and vote.  I began looking for options.  Luckily, the same organizations that helped Venezuelans travel from Miami and other locations to New Orleans in October were ready to do it again this time.  There were a couple of options to travel by bus and also by plane.  I knew I couldn’t afford to travel by plane, so I discarded that option right away.  There were at least two options that I knew of to travel by bus.  I found the information through http://demiamipaneworleans.com/, http://votodondesea.com/, and through an e-mail I received from “La Hermandad Venezolana” (The Venezuelan Brotherhood).  I asked every Venezuelan I knew that lived in South Florida, if they were planning on going to New Orleans to vote.  I asked twice through Facebook, and only one friend answered.  I felt disappointed.

I coordinated with that one friend so I wouldn’t have to travel ‘alone’.  She was going to travel with her mom and dad, and she offered to allow me to come with them once they decided what travel option they would choose.  Her dad even went to get a spot on the bus for me, because I live a bit far from where they sell the tickets for the bus.  I will be forever grateful to her and her family for helping me find a way to travel to New Orleans, and allowing me to come with them so I didn’t have to go by myself.

Once I knew I had a way to go, I felt relieved.  I planned the trip; I packed really light, and got there early and ready to go.  The Venezuelan Brotherhood provided the bus we traveled in.  Thanks to their efforts, and the donations they received from other Venezuelans who would be unable to make arrangements to go vote, they were able to take 55 Venezuelans on an executive bus all the way to New Orleans to vote for only $60.00 per person.  This was the cheapest option.  It included a round trip bus ticket to New Orleans aboard an executive bus, some refreshments and the opportunity to vote.

I left early on Saturday morning to be at Café Canela, the Venezuelan restaurant from where the bus would leave, at 3 pm.  We were told to be there at 2 pm.  I walked towards the establishment and I saw a man holding a clipboard and writing down names.  I asked if the seats were to be assigned on first-come-first-served basis.  He said yes, so I asked if I could write down my friend and her family’s name down so we could all sit together.  He asked what was her name, and when I told him, he said, “That’s my daughter”.  We laughed and then I went inside to grab a bite.

Since the city in South Florida where I live has little to no Venezuelan food to offer, I had to take advantage of this opportunity and have a bite at Café Canela.  I had a cheese empanada and a tequeño.  My friend and her mom arrived later.  I hadn’t seen my friend in a while, and I hadn’t spoken to her much since I spent 5 years in Alabama.  We had a lot of catching up to do.

Once we boarded the bus, I felt overwhelmed and anxious.  We left at 3:45 pm from Café Canela.  We were supposed to leave at 3, but there was a misunderstanding with the bus company.  Everyone in the bus was excited.  A couple of the organizers from the Venezuelan Brotherhood and even a couple of the passengers in the bus stood up and said a few encouraging words and prayers through the microphone.  Everyone was in a good mood, and we even had a joke contest to win a hat from the Venezuelan Brotherhood.  Another contest involved naming towns of Venezuela to win a shirt.  The bus was filled with laughter, joy, prayers, even a domino game or two, and Venezuelan music.

My friend’s dad, who owns a Venezuelan food delivery business, even gave out free tequeños and Venezuelan snacks to all passengers.  My friend and I had a lot to catch up on and discuss.  And that was all we did from the moment we left until right after midnight, when we were so tired we just had to sleep.

The sleeping-in-a-bus experience wasn’t a good one.  The seats were small and narrow.  Not to mention the front of the bus was freezing, while the back was hot.  The ladies behind us begged us to put our seats upright so they wouldn’t smash against their knees.  Meanwhile the ladies in front of us had their seats reclined as far as they could go.  My friend and I didn’t care.  We were prepared for this trip to be tough.  She had advised me to bring a pillow and a blanket and I did.  However, it was still a rough first night.  I barely slept.  I woke up about 4 times and slept a total of about 4 hours.  It rained most of the night.  At some times, the soft rain tapping my window would make it easier to sleep.  At other times, the bright light from the lightning would wake me up, as I felt there was someone right outside my window taking a picture with a very powerful flash.

We had several stops along the way.  We wanted to keep them short since we were already running late from our delay when leaving.  It was quite a funny scene.  Everyone rushing, but not exactly for the bathroom or the food, instead everyone ran to be the first one to find an outlet and plug their phones, tablets and laptops.  Some smart travelers, probably from traveling before in October, had brought power strips that allowed for several passengers to plug into one outlet.  After plugging the devices, they could go to the bathroom calmly knowing they would be back at 100% batteries in no time.

We arrived to New Orleans on Sunday morning just after 6:00 am.  We stopped at the French Press Coffeehouse for breakfast.  It was pouring.  I couldn’t help but laugh as I heard Venezuelans on the bus trying to figure out what kind of coffee to order.  You see; this isn’t Miami.  They don’t have cortaditos, marroncitos, café con leche, or guayoyos.  Venezuelans are very particular about their coffee.  I helped Mr. Augusto try to figure out what kind of coffee he should order.  We finally concluded he would get the Café Latte and add an extra shot of espresso in order to make it seem like his favorite marroncito.  I was happy to help, since I had spent 5 years in Alabama trying to order the perfect café con leche for myself.  I sat with Mr. Augusto and he told me how his daughters had lived here in the US for almost 30 years.  They didn’t have a Venezuelan ID, so they couldn’t vote.  He told me how his wife was sick, and she couldn’t vote either.  So he came alone.  A couple of other passengers joined our table, the ‘charging-station’ table.  Mr. Augusto was telling us about this doughnut-type thing he had once before in downtown New Orleans, and perhaps he would take a trip down there after voting just to have it again.  We figured out he was talking about these famous beignets.  They were sold at a famous place called Café Du Monde.  Mr. Augusto didn’t realize that we were right across the street from a second location of that same Café.  So he decided he was going to get up and go buy some for us to try.  I decide to go with him, rain and all.  We crossed the street carefully and Mr. Augusto bought two orders of three each of these famous beignets.  We crossed back, soaked.  And he shared them with the table, and the table next to us.  These beignets were really good.  They were worth crossing the street in the pouring rain.

Beignet

Beignet

Now that we lifted our spirits with some non-Venezuelan coffee, some fried treats, recharged our devices and visited the restrooms, we were ready to head out and vote.  We arrived at the Pontchartrain Convention & Civic Center around 8 or 9 am, I can’t remember, I was too excited to care for the time. It was chaotic and it was still pouring.  We weren’t sure of how the actual process would be, so we didn’t know if we should take our backpacks, or purses with us.  One organizer found out that they would hold the bags for you at the door, and then give you a ticket for you to retrieve it after voting.  That was a relief, since I wanted to at least change my shirt.  We put on our ponchos and took out our umbrellas and got off the bus right in front of the building.  My friend saw a Venezuelan actor, and we were about to take a picture with him, but we heard one of the many volunteers as she kept shouting “People from the Venezuelan Brotherhood bus: put on your ponchos, take out your umbrellas and follow me.  There is a lot of walking and you will get soaked”.  She took us to the right side of the building, around the building, to the back of the building.  We came in through the back of the building into a big convention-like room, and began to stand in a line that went like a snake from one side of the room to the other side several times.  As we stood in line, my friend’s dad said hello to many of his customers that recognized him.  I heard one person say, “What’s his name again? The cheese-guy?”  There was a man standing on a platform with a megaphone, and he announced he was going to say something and we should listen and sing along.  He began singing the Venezuelan national anthem.  Everyone started singing with him.  It was an exhilarating moment.  It took me back to when I was a kid and I had to stand in line in the school’s patio and sing the national anthem in front of the flag.  Back then it didn’t make me feel anything but annoyed that I had to do that.  Now I felt something in my heart that I couldn’t describe with words, something gave me goose bumps.

The line moved at a good pace.  We finally got to a door and I gave my Air Force backpack to the volunteers and they gave me my blue ticket.  I went through the doors and then realized they led outside the building.  Good thing it was no longer raining.  I passed a checkpoint and the girl told me what table number and what book volume I would be in and then she wrote it with a sharpie marker on my hand.  She told me to go down the stairs and then make a left.  So I went down the stairs towards the outside of the building, then made a left to go around the entire building again.  Then I arrived at a different entrance to the left side of the building.  I entered and had to go through a security checkpoint.  They checked my purse and everything.  Then I entered another door and finally saw the voting tables.  I showed the guy my hand, and he told me table 9 all the way in the back to your right.  He was wrong; table 9 was to the left.  I got to the table; the lady checked my Venezuelan ID number, looked for me in the list.  She told me to sign next to my name and stamp my right thumb fingerprint next to that.  Then the next person, a man, told me exactly how to mark my selection on the ballot and to fold it four times.  I went behind the cardboard, made my selection.  Folded the paper in two (I forgot he said four), I came back out, retrieved my ID, deposited the ballot in box number 2, and then the lady proceeded to dip my pinky into the ink.  She told me this wasn’t the same ink used in Venezuela, because US customs didn’t allow them to bring it into the country.  So this ink would wash out easily and it was black instead of blue/purple.  She told me not to rub it, so it would stick.  And so I did, I kept my creepy looking black pinky all day long.

This was the first time I had ever voted in an election.  I felt proud, dignified, and splendid.  I felt so good, I wanted to share something with the world, and I wanted to try to inspire others to vote, so they too could feel as good as I felt.  I posted the following words on Facebook (I posted this in Spanish, but here is the translation):

Dear Venezuelans,

In the past 14 years I have seen you complaining.  I have seen you in thousands of photos wearing the colors of your political party.  I have seen you in manifestations.  I have seen you in protests.  I have seen you criticizing the other political party.  I have seen you supporting your party.  I have seen you making fun of the other candidate.  I have seen you leaving the country.  I have seen you crying.  I have seen you upset.  I have seen you asking all your contacts to add your new PIN number, and to delete the old one, because you were mugged and your Blackberry was stolen.  I have seen you afraid.  I have seen you disappointed.  I have seen you willing.  I have seen you defeated.  I have seen you kidnapped.  I have see you searching desperately for Harina PAN.  I have seen you counting your bills.  I have seen you in the daily traffic jam on your way to work.  I have seen you going pharmacy to pharmacy in order to find your medicine.  I have seen you looking for and selling your American dollars.  I have seen you… or better yet, I haven’t seen you, because there was a power outage.

Sadly, and luckily I have only seen all of this through the TV, Facebook, Twitter and text messages.  However, the fact that I don’t live in Venezuela doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt me to know that my country is going through this situation.  That it doesn’t hurt to know that thieves have entered my family’s home and robbed them, while they were inside.  That they knock on their car window while they drive and steal their cell phones.  That I am unable to communicate with them because there is a power outage almost every day.  That they have no future, because they are unable to get into the University unless they pay someone, even if they have the best grades. That they don’t receive their pension from the government.  That not only they have to be strong to fight Cancer, but they also have to be strong enough to endure long lines, waiting and searching for the medications needed for the treatment. That the little money they have isn’t enough to buy the heart medicine required for them to be able to sleep at night.  That they are afraid to go outside of their homes every single day.  That they are unable to find jobs. That they are unable to come visit me and attend my graduation because it is impossible to find American dollars and even if they could find them, the little money they have isn’t enough.  That they have to sell what little they own because they are afraid it will be taken from them.

For all of this and a whole lot more I am here in New Orleans.  After paying for my bus ride.  After 16 hours in a bus, after 860 miles.  After sleeping only a few hours.  After the neck pains.  After being soaking wet from walking under the rain.  After my much needed morning coffee to get enough energy.  After standing in line to enter the Pontchartrain Center.

I have proudly exercised my right and my duty to vote for my country.

Please, consider what is at stake here and vote; it doesn’t cost you a thing.  And if it does cost you a little, I think it is worth it.”

After I voted, on my way out of the voting room, back into the large convention-like room and out towards the front of the building, I picked up my backpack.  I waited for my friend, and as I was waiting I noticed that a woman on the outside of the building asked a security guard if she could go back inside to use the bathroom.  He told her that once outside you couldn’t go back inside.  Once my friend came out, I told her I was going to use the bathroom before I went outside of the building.  I just wanted to change my shirt and use some moist towelettes I had brought to attempt to freshen up.  In the bathroom there were two lines, one for the stalls and another one to charge the phones.  I changed my shirt and freshened up, washed my face and brushed my teeth, brushed my hair and put some makeup on.  I couldn’t help but remember that movie ‘The Terminal’ with Tom Hanks.

I left the building and looked for my friend and her parents.  They were deciding whether to stay there in the outskirts of the building where other Venezuelans who had already voted were dancing, singing and waving the Venezuelan flag, or if they wanted to take a cab and go somewhere like downtown, a shopping mall or restaurant elsewhere.  The cab fare was a bit pricey, so I decided to stay put and simply wait for the bus drivers to take their required sleeping time before we headed back to South Florida.  The rest of the day was mostly sunny, but still a bit windy, and cloudy at times.

Venezuelans Vote In New Orleans

Venezuelans Vote In New Orleans

I felt right at home, listening to Venezuelans discussing politics, singing Venezuelan songs with their cuatros, dancing and making this voting experience a celebration of our rights and duties.  I walked around with some little cards I had printed out to promote this blog.  As I handed them out to random strangers, it felt more like handing them out to members of my family or friends.  I would say “Here you go, free Venezuelan recipes online”, and people would say, “great, thank you”.  Some would ask questions about what kind of recipes I had and even share their recipes and stories with me.  I walked back and forth all over and around the building and interacted with everyone I could.  Of all the people there, I only saw two Venezuelans friends, one from South Florida, and another friend who went to my same school in Venezuela.  I saw the voters who came from South Florida by plane later on during the day.  They certainly seemed a lot more rested and refreshed than the early bus-traveling voters.  But they all had the same energy and enthusiasm to vote.

Venezuelans Vote In New Orleans

Venezuelans Vote In New Orleans

It was almost time to leave.  We had to be back at the bus at 3 pm. So we walked towards the bus passing the hotel next to the Civic Center.  Once we got there we had to wait around 15 minutes in order for the bus to cool down, because the inside was very hot from sitting in the sun all day.  Before we left, we took a group photo in front of the bus.  After boarding, people’s hopes were high.  We expected a big win. Several voters on the bus shared their prayers, their stories and more.

One traveler, the son of one of the organizers, was unable to vote.  He had already voted back in October, but this time his ID was questioned and he wasn’t allowed to vote.  I felt bad for him, he traveled so far, he was the designated bus ‘flight-attendant’, he passed out all the sandwiches, drinks and even took our trash, but he wasn’t allowed to vote.  Another traveler, Mr. Pedro told his heartbreaking story, of how his daughter is still in Venezuela, graduating this year from college and as he choked up, he told us how he hasn’t seen her, kissed her or hugged her in 5 years, and how he has to tell her he loves her via text, Facebook, and tweets.  I really sympathized with Mr. Pedro, because I haven’t seen my mom since August 2007, and my dad since September 2006.

There was an 80-year-old couple, in the front of the bus.  They were originally from Cuba, and immigrated to Venezuela a long time ago.  They lived in Venezuela for a long time; I think a decade or so.  They came to the US most recently escaping a second dictator.  They were an inspiration, not only were they married for a long time, but they seemed so loving and romantic still, holding hands almost the entire trip.  But they were also an inspiration, at that age, to take such a long trip of around 860 and then back, just to cast their vote for a second home, a second country.  Truly inspirational.

Another couple of travelers didn’t travel to vote.  They were a reporter and a photographer from South Florida’s Sun Sentinel.  They came along the trip with us, they endured the same heat, rain, cold, cramped, long tedious journey just to document our stories.  Doreen, the reporter, shared with us how she had lived in Venezuela, how she had been there documenting the massacre during the protests back in April 2002.  How she interviewed a teacher who had witnessed a victim dying right in front of her.  She expressed how that time in Venezuela was tough for her, and how she hasn’t visited Venezuela ever since.  Then she told us how much she had enjoyed this trip.  Reconnecting with Venezuelans, our culture, our people, some words she had forgotten, and how she was glad she could join us on this journey.  Read her story here, watch a video here, and view photos from photographer Michael here.

Several other travelers stood up, took the microphone and told their stories and prayers.  Then we made a couple of stops.  Everyone was mostly worried about charging their devices so we could see the results as they were announced.  After the last stop, as we all had our batteries filled to the max, we waited for the results.  Once we heard it, the bus was just silent.  We couldn’t believe it.  We were upset, sad, we felt indignation, and we didn’t know what to say.  I personally couldn’t contain the tears.  My friend hugged me, and comforted me, but there was nothing anyone of us could do… after everything we did do.  I was so tired and sad, I barely texted my husband and my sister, and I fell asleep.  The rest of the night I mostly heard discontent, rain, sniffles, crying, snoring, and the bus’ horn.  We stopped a couple more times before we made it back home.  The ride was uncomfortable, I couldn’t sleep, but at the same time I was so tired that I couldn’t wake up.  It took all my energy to just get up every time we stopped, and get off the bus to go use the bathroom.  The ride back was definitely the worst.  Defeated, tired, hungry, cold, and sad.

Once we made it back home, it was Monday morning around 8 am.  We still had some energy left, and maybe some hope that something could still be done.  Demand a recount.  That is our hope.

As I hugged my husband when he came to pick me up, as I ordered another empanada an a tequeño, and an arepa at Café Canela, and as I told this entire story to my husband, all I wanted to do was to be there, in my country, figuring it out, protesting, demanding a recount. But there is little I can do from here now. I can listen to the news all day long, I can post on Facebook and twitter any important news I find, I can write this blog, I can urge people to sign this petition to Call upon the International Community to urge that a full recount of votes be done in Venezuela’s presidential elections, but that is as much as I can do. What I could do, I already did. I voted, and no one can take that away from me.

Vote

Vote

%d bloggers like this: