La Bodega,


Why Venezuelan, I venture by way of idle chit-chat as I lean over the counter at La Bodega which is round a corner and down the hill, a wee bit anyway, from main drag Dennistoun.

“My wife’s Venezuelan,” comes the reply from the man. “And she does all the cooking.”

Ah, I say moving on now to the menu above us and asking what flavour of Jarritos he would recommend.

“Hmm,” He replies. “I like the Mandarin.”

A few minutes later I’m at a table by the window with an ice cold bottle of Mandarin Jarrito in one hand and a chunky monkey bottle of Valentina Salsa Picante in the other.

High fives all round for the foodHigh fives all round for the food (Image: free)

The Jarrito’s taking this edge off the muggy weather which hangs low over the East End today while the Valentina is giving an ay-caramba kick-ass edge to my Patacon. Or twice fried green plantain sandwich with pulled chicken, cheese and aji, since you ask. There’s some sweetly spicy mojo, of course, micro diced peppers and tomato, vinegar, onion and maybe parsley, the smooshy, savoury-sharp tangs spooned onto everything.

I’ve already taken a bite too from my first just-made empanada: a Molida with spiced mince; have torn as well a chunky chew from the Cachapa, or traditional corn pancake with cheese and am briskly eyeing up that Arepa that may be billed on the menu as “served cold” but is pan-fresh from the, er, pan, all hot and puffy corn-based dough, and crisply fried edges.

I’m regretting the Jarrito already, not because it’s anything but refreshing but because everybody else in here is having far more interesting drinks. Well, those two ladies in the corner are anyway. They’re each supping multi-coloured many-layer things in jars which I’m guessing are from the bit of the menu I didn’t bother to actually read.

It’s labelled: FrÌo. Cocadas (coconut smoothie); Pina-Freas (Pineapple and strawberry smoothies), Papelon (hardened unrefined sugar and lime), Chica Venezolana (Creamy rice, milk, cinnamon) and more. But then I was temporarily blinded by a blizzard of new food information when I walked in that I just wasn’t expecting to find off Duke Street.

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I took a seat beside four workmen and while they talked about the football, passed the chilli sauce and rattled through empanadas before paying up and heading out the door, I was still trying to find something I wasn’t interested in trying.

Anyway. Moving on. I’ve spotted the cook, she darted out from the kitchen with some of those cute greaseproof-paper-lined baskets that carry the food and I’m sure I heard someone, maybe her, say: the Mechada is back on.

That will be the brisket arrived then. Too late for me. My Mechada, another of those freshly-made half-moon empanadas, contained juicy chicken and peppery spices instead.

Now, for a whole three minutes here I will have to stop, get Mr Google out, consider heading back to the counter to look at the little glued-on cut-outs showing what shapes Venezualan snacks are determined by, to know exactly what I am eating.

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Empanadas are empanadas, obviously, less than £3 each too. Hot, fresh, crisp, hand-made very good. Did I mention the Reina Pepiada (£4), in that corn puffed, yes, it’s the arepa, stuffed with so much chicken mayo and avocado I have to take a chunk out to stop it bursting at first bite.

Special moments are dedicated though to the Patacon. This may be my most surprising food of the year. It looks like a sandwich made of French toast, but it’s not French Toast because it’s er not toast at all. And it has the imprint of mashed, flattened, crisped and toasted plantain imprinted upon it. Actually, not toasted. Fried twice. I know.

It's not fancy, maybe more than a little plain Jane, but this cafe is full of surprisesIt's not fancy, maybe more than a little plain Jane, but this cafe is full of surprises (Image: free)

Plantain? Mr banana’s more boring cousin, but somehow it isn’t boring. It tastes like fried bread, but not oily, it has the texture of fried bread, but not hard, and this is just the outside of the sandwich. What a sandwich then.

Honestly, what a cafe. Not fancy, maybe more than a little plain Jane, but full of surprises.

La Bodega, 98 Bellgrove Street, Glasgow, 07801 292603

Menu: Empanadas, canoas, capachas and the Papelon: Venezuelan street food in a Dennistoun cafe. High fives all round. 5/5

Service: Relaxed, friendly counter service in what North Americans would call a Mom and Pop cafe. 4/5

Atmosphere: It’s a warm homespun place with only a hint of its culinary roots, comfortable enough 3/5

Price: Empanadas from £2.70 up to £2.95, Patacon £5.95, that Reina Pepiada just £4. Big bargain territory. 5/5

Food: That Patecon was the surprise sandwich of the year. The empanadas and arepas pan-fresh with all the benefits that brings. 8/10