Arepas, patacones and pastelitos are on the authentic menu
Whether you want crepes, carnitas or comfort food, you’re bound to find those, and more possibilities, when you stop at a Tallahassee food truck. There are so many choices, offering ethnic specialties as well as typical treats like chicken wings or cheesesteaks.
Here’s one more must-try, hidden gem, nestled in a small lot just south of Mattress Firm on the east side of Thomasville Road. You turn in, go past the gate and you’ll find DéjàVu, a food truck serving authentic Venezuelan fare. The spot is enhanced with plants, picnic tables, lively music, and oh yes, the food.
If you haven’t been to DéjàVu before, you’re missing out on a taste of South America.
“The food truck quite gives you a feeling of dejavu — the sense of nostalgia upon arrival inspired the name,” said Aydana Quiva, whose father, Joan, owns and operates the truck. “Dejavu means a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.”
Those of Venezuelan heritage won’t be the only ones with that experience. People from “neighborhood countries can also feel like they’re at home with the music, the coziness of the place and the food,” she said.
Aydana said the family has seen an increasing number of Venezuelans coming to Tallahassee and they are finding their way to the food truck.
Joan Quiva is from Maracaibo, which is in northwest Venezuela, the second largest city in the country. Joan, who had a small market and pizzeria in Maracaibo, and his family came to visit Florida about six years ago. They decided to move here because of hard conditions in Venezuela.
Joan worked for a few companies in Tallahassee, all the while cooking Venezuelan classics for family and friends who praised his dishes, especially his patacones and pastelitos. About two years ago, he took the leap and launched his food truck.
I heard about DéjàVu from chef Jessica Bright McMullen, chef/owner of KitchenAble cooking school and catering. “I always get their pork patacones –- they are killer,” she said. “And I love their sauce.”
Patacones are made with fried plantains (green and/or sweet) and filled with your choice of stuffings. Jessica and her daughter Madeline love the pulled pork patacones with chopped ham, boiled egg, raw cabbage, chopped ham, white cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup and DéjàVu sauce. Aydana said the sauce is made with mayo and various herbs, including cilantro and parsley. .
Joan’s menu features arepas, empanadas and pastelitos (meat-filled patties), tumbarranchos (breaded arepas with stuffing), tequenos (a snack with white cheese wrapped with a crunchy and slightly sweet dough) along with burgers and hot dogs and often specials like fish or chicken with white rice or spaghetti.
Venezuelan-style arepas are made from corn flour, cooked on a griddle and have a slightly crisp shell. They’re soft inside and made with a variety of fillings, including shredded pork, chicken, beef and ham and cheese.
A historic note: arepas were cooked by indigenous tribes across Venezuela. The name arepa comes from the indigenous word Erepa, which means corn.
My husband is a fan of their hearty agüita e sapo, two fried arepas filled with flavorful, shredded pork, fried cheese, cabbage, ketchup and DéjàVu sauce. I devoured my chicken and beef empanadas, which have a light, flaky shell. We shared a mandoca, which resembles a Venezuelan version of a doughnut but is a sweet ring of cornmeal. Note to self: We each need our own mandoca.
While you’re loading up on all this authentic food, don’t miss the classic beverage, Chicha, a sweet, creamy drink made from rice.
Venezuelan cuisine has been influenced by the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, the West African, and the traditions of its indigenous people. What a joy it is to be transported to another culture without hopping on a plane. For those who complain about the lack of food choices in Tallahassee, here’s a chance to experience a taste that’s comforting yet captivating.
When you go …
DejaVu is at 3537 Thomasville Rd.; 229-585-2784. dejavuvenezuelanfood.com Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday. Closed Wednesday and Sunday.