After several years of selling in food markets around the city, David Gutiérrez set up Guasacaca’s first permanent stall in Elephant & Castle’s Mercato Metropolitano. In this converted industrial site, (home to other street food stalls, local producers, and even an Italian grocery store) Guasacaca’s modest stall came to life just a few months ago. The atmosphere of this large indoor food market is lively, yet relaxing, and is a fantastic place for a drink and some food with a group of friends.
Guasacaca serves arepas; flat, round patties of unleavened corn flour. The arepa (say: ah-re-pah), David tells me, is a Venezuelan staple, and can be eaten at any time of the day in Venezuela, often after one too many drinks in the evening. It can be baked, deep fried or grilled, and is served with almost any combination of meat, vegetables and sauces. The corn flour makes them gluten free too.
Guasacaca’s arepas are grilled, and come in four different flavours:
Cheeky Chicken; and
Two Little Pigs.
The stall is named after its signature guasacaca sauce, an avocado-based sauce that is to Venezuelan food what guacamole is to Mexican food. It is however, more watery, and is combined with vinegar and chilli peppers to give it a delightfully tart and ‘zingy’ taste. David’s guasacaca sauce is included with every order of arepas.
To best sample the menu, I had the Bembi Arepas (£16), which includes all four arepas in smaller sizes, with guasacaca sauce and a spicy chilli sauce on the side. In general, the arepas have a thick, bready texture, yet are sufficiently airy such that they aren’t too heavy. They are not crunchy per se, but have a satisfying bite. This perfectly complements David’s chosen ingredients.
I tried the Dominoes arepa first, a vegetarian option featuring black beans, white cheese and fried plantains. The sweetness of the plantains is the star of this arepa, and combines remarkably well with the salty cheese. They are (perhaps oddly to some) well placed in this savoury dish. I’m typically not a great lover of vegetarian food, but this greatly exceeded my expectations, and I would definitely order again!
Next was the Buffalo Beef arepa, which was stuffed with shredded beef, cheddar cheese, gherkins, and buffalo sauce. The shredded beef was moist and juicy, and some bites were a bit spicy. This arepa is even better when combined with the guasacaca sauce, which adds a refreshing tone without overwhelming the original taste of the beef.
The Cheeky Chicken comes with shredded chicken, tomato puree, spring onions, tomatoes and chili sauce, and is arguably the simplest item on the menu. It is by no means bad; the chicken was cooked well and the tomatoes give it a fresh taste, greatly enhanced if one adds the guasacaca sauce. However, the other arepas were more flavourful as compared.
Finally, the Two Little Pigs combines chunks of roasted pork leg, grilled goat’s cheese and a fantastic crispy pork crackling. The alternating textures of the sharp, crunchy pork crackling and the soft, salty cheese were remarkable. The smoky, meaty flavour of the roasted pork finishes each bite. This was hands down my favourite of the night.
In addition, I also sampled the Casava fries (£3.50) and the Tequenos (£5.50), which are fried cheese sticks. The cheese used in the Tequenos is the same cheese used in the Dominoes arepas. The Tequenos showcases the salty flavour of the white cheese far better than the Dominoes arepa, allowing one to detect its slightly buttery aftertaste. The Casava fries were also as addictive and as satisfying as normal potato fries. The naturally powdery, dry texture of the Casava plant (a root vegetable native to South America) lends itself perfectly to being deep fried.
The Polar beer (£4.50) is light and goes well with the strong flavour of the arepas. There is also a gluten free option, the Daura Damm beer for the same price.
Having never tried it before, I think Guasacaca is a fantastic introduction to Venezuelan food. David takes traditional flavours from his homeland and puts a modern, London twist to them, in a way that is as exciting as it is delicious. Guasacaca is highly recommended, and I fully intend to revisit soon.
SE1 6DR, London
Tuesday to Saturday: 12pm to 11pm
Sunday: 11am to 10pm