The eyes of Fabiana Marquez brightened after she took the first bite of a savory, crescent-like bread stuffed with ham and cheese. Memories flooded her mind. The Venezuelan immigrant hadn’t eaten a “cachito” in almost five years until she stumbled across a vendor outside her country’s embassy in Mexico.
Marquez left her South American homeland in 2017 amid a social, political, and humanitarian crisis that has now driven more than 6 million to migrate across the continent and beyond. She has worked as a nanny, housekeeper, waitress, and other jobs to make ends meet, mostly in outlying parts of Mexico. In the process, she severed deep roots in her country, including the food close to her heart.
“It gave me great pleasure because I hadn’t eaten Venezuelan food in many years,” Marquez said standing next to the vendor, who had plastic containers stuffed with a variety of Venezuelan food along a street in a tony Mexico City neighborhood. “Since I arrived in Mexico, I had eaten just a few arepas, but I had completely disconnected from what Venezuelan food is.”
But if she feels cut off from the cuisine of her homeland, many Mexicans have come to discover it. The Venezuelan diaspora has brought shops selling arepas — stuffed corn cakes common to that country and neighboring Colombia. They also are increasingly filling their fellow immigrants’ yearning for cachitos, empanadas, and pastelitos while earning much-needed money.
Many of the shops are concentrated in the trendy Roma neighborhood, but they’ve also emerged in middle- and working-class districts, as well as cities such as Cancun and Acapulco, Puebla, and Aguascalientes, Metepec and Culiacan.
Nelson Banda used to own a clothing factory about 80 miles west of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, and sold school uniforms across the country. But as soaring production costs due to inflation ate up any profits, he closed shop a year and a half ago, sold off equipment, and joined relatives in Mexico City.