Between the pubs and print shops of Westow Street in Crystal Palace is a fantastic little restaurant serving authentic Venezuelan cuisine. Mi cocina es tuya (My kitchen is yours) bills itself as London’s only Venezuelan restaurant – perfect for our World in London series.. If you know better, let us know in the comments below!
I went to meet husband-and-wife team Alexis and Mary yesterday to sample their coffee, and find out about their unique eatery. What started as an events catering business with a stall in Camden Market now has a more stable base in this Crystal Palace restaurant. During the past three years, Alexis and Mary have served their traditional Venezuelan cuisine all over London, from the Carnaval del Pueblo to the Venezuelan Embassy. For the last seven months, they’ve been concentrating on developing Mi cocina es tuya.
The menu offers delicious-sounding empanadas (patties), asado criollo (grilled beef and rice) and arepas (corn bread with beef, chicken or cheese). The most popular dish, Alexis tells me, is the PabellÃ³n de carne: beef, black beans, rice and fried plantains.
“At first, finding the right ingredients was difficult. For example, this hallaca is a traditional Christmas dish, but it’s wrapped in banana leaves.” He shows me an intricately bound parcel of dark green leaves. “But, you can’t just buy banana leaves in Asda! Now, we’ve found out about the right vendors in Brixton, at the market, and we can make hallaca. Similarly, you can’t get the chilli beef for Pabellon de carne in a normal supermarket. Now, we go to a Columbian butcher in Brixton. It tastes just as good as the meat in Venezuela.”
As well as the traditional food, Mary and Alexis are proud to show me their Venezuelan drinks. Mi cocina es tuya is one of the few places in London you can enjoy typical Latin drinks like Malta, Sugarcane with lemon, and Cocada, which, I’m told, is like coconut milkshake, but much nicer.
“People are often surprised that our food is like food from Trinidad and Tobago, or Caribbean food. But really, we’re from the same part of the world. Chilean, Peruvian, Columbian, all Latin American people that come here will see and recognise the products we sell.”
Indeed, as well as being a lovely place for a traditional Venezuelan breakfast of Perico (scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes, onions and coriander, black beans, cheese and arepa, or corn bread – much healthier, I’m assured than the Traditional English they also serve), Mi cocina es tuya is also something of a Latin American deli. You can by the white or yellow “PAN” cornflour, as well as Malta drinks and other typical delicacies.
With guitars and maracas hanging from the walls, as well as plenty of gorgeous pictures of Venezuela itself, I think Mi cocina es tuya is a fantastic representation of Venezuelan London. And the wonderful hospitality of Alexis and Mary means I’ll be back for more. That, and the promise of trying some Dulce de tres leche next time!
Visit Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino at 61 Westow Street Crystal Palace, London, SE19 3RW. If you know any other examples of Venezuelan culture in London, let us know in the comments below.