On Wednesday, January 18, Fitur, the most important international tourism fair in the world, began in Madrid. Venezuela was present in a modest pavilion with an offer of luxury tourism, with the pretext of attracting travelers who pay in dollars for millionaire destinations, with Los Roques and Canaima as the main attraction.
Táchira: Land of Kneading and Baking — A Poetic Tradition of Centuries
Along with them, a humble companion offered his goodness to the visitors: Tachira bread. Tachira bread? Yes, sir, the same bread we ask for with our morning coffee, the bread we commonly call Andean, which originated in those highlands where wheat flourished almost five hundred years ago.
With bread in their hands, they received the King of Spain himself, in a display of courage that only the Andeans have. With the grain brought by the Spaniards, the conquered set out to conquer the palates of the conquerors.
Tachira Bread is Now Cultural Heritage of State: Local Bakers Quietly Make Progress
Without making much noise, but with many loaves of bread, the bakers of Tachira and the whole community have made progress in the consolidation of an artisanal and unique product that has become an icon in the state and the country.
Last December 6th, the members of the Legislative Council of the State of Táchira unanimously declared the bread of their land, the Tachira Bread, to be the Cultural Heritage of the Region.
Now they are seeking UNESCO’s recognition as World Heritage. This day is now institutionalized as the Tachira Bread Day, thanks to the work of more than two thousand producers and 1350 bakeries that make up the great bakery family of the state.
For centuries, kneading and baking in Táchira was a family affair, where bread was made for the home and then some pieces were sold to order, where the kneading and baking was a meeting point, where the female hand was in charge of making, sewing and washing the fabrics needed to cover the dough, while the men were in charge of finding firewood and carving the wooden pieces necessary for its elaboration (trowel, rake, broom).
A whole tradition that led the poet Manuel Felipe Rugeles, from Tachira, to write:
“My house was the house of flour
and honey and milk and salt and yeast
that gave the bread the taste, smell and whiteness
of a warm loaf in the hand of a pilgrim”.
A manual is needed to understand the variety and differentiation of Andean bread, whose nomenclature resembles the intricate mountain roads, following recipes where indigenous flavors converge with Italian, Spanish, Colombian, Portuguese and German contributions.
What is so special about Tachira bread?
Andean bread doughs are distinguished by the oven and the kneading. The oven is made with adobe bricks on a stone base and a flat surface made with bricks, it has a square base and a round mouth. Other European influences introduced certain variations that were abandoned over time with the advent of industrial baking and new baking technologies.
What distinguishes Andean bread from others is undoubtedly the kneading. Long before sourdough became fashionable, it was used in Táchira, although under a different name: talvina. It is a fermenting mixture of water, panel and flour, a secret that only the master baker knows, the one who knows when the fermentation has its time, the one who gives strength to the bread.
Master Baker Pocho Suarez: Traditional Buttermilk and Sourdough Leavening in Táchira, Venezuela
In certain parts of Táchira, buttermilk is used as a leavening agent. Master baker Pocho Suarez (@pochove), currently in San Felipe, Yaracuy, keeps a sourdough in his workshop that he inherited from his great-grandmother. He calls it Mercedes, in honor of her and says that it dates from 1935 and that he is responsible every day for keeping it alive.
The Tachira poet and researcher Leonor Peña (@leonorpena9), who has dedicated her life to the gastronomy of the region, says that “wheat represented a wealth for the Andean region and was exported not only in flour but also in finished products such as biscuits and cakes, which fed the ships that came to Lake Maracaibo”.
Then, with the passion for Tachira that characterizes her, she adds:
“The aroma of Tachira fills the whole country with its kneaded bread, which makes our compatriots sigh with nostalgia, who feel like the worst exiles when they pass by a bakery in a strange country. The bread of the Andes, the bread of Tachira, is the true bread of Venezuela“.
Author of a real treatise like her book “Cocina Tachirense”, she is currently working on another one dedicated exclusively to this artisan industry, recognized as a cultural heritage.
For his part, Professor Rafael Cartay (@rafaelcartay) recalls:
“We grew up with this sweet bread, made by professional bakers and bakers and also domestically by our mothers and aunts, which must be rescued from oblivion. It is necessary to find a sense of life in serving people through bread, loaded with symbols and feelings linked to coexistence and conviviality”.
As we can see, tourism can live not only on beaches and tepuis. Now also bread, but of Tachira.
About Táchira in Venezuela
Táchira is a Venezuelan state famous for its gastronomic delights, traditional dishes and culture. Located in the west of the country, it is considered the gateway to Venezuela and the Andean region.
Tachira’s cuisine is a perfect blend of Venezuelan and Andean flavors, as well as a unique combination of Spanish, African and indigenous influences. This unique combination makes Tachira’s cuisine one of the most varied in the country.
Traditional dishes include Arepa de Cocadas, a corn cake stuffed with cheese and served with a tomato-based sauce and the popular Pabellon Criollo, a dish made with shredded beef, black beans, plantains and cheese.
Táchira’s desserts are delicious and varied. The most famous is churros con chocolate, fried strips of dough served with hot chocolate. Other desserts include the traditional Venezuelan tres leches cake and the popular melcocha, a sweet made with sugar cane and coconut.
Táchira’s culture is a blend of indigenous, Spanish and Afro-Venezuelan influences. The region’s traditional music is known as joropo, a lively and passionate blend of African and indigenous rhythms. The traditional dances of the region are the Marinera, a courtship dance and the Tambor, a celebratory dance.
The region of Táchira presents great gastronomic and cultural diversity. Its traditional dishes, desserts and music offer a unique insight into the culture and history of the region. If you ever find yourself in Venezuela, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the unique flavors, music and culture of Táchira.