Weird Food for Sale in Venezuela But Nothing That Anyone Wants

  • Shortages ease except on staples like the beloved canilla
  • Hot-sauce sardines, anyone? Or perhaps with a little paprika?

Walk into a Caracas bakery these days and you’ll find a wide variety of freshly-made breads on shelves that were barren a year ago. You can buy a fat, dense loaf called the gallego, or a soft sobado, or a campesino for sandwiches, even a sweet andino lined with guava jam or corn or fruit.

A person sells canillas on the street in Caracas, on Aug. 30.

Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg

What you won’t find, though, is the one that Venezuelans actually want: the canilla, a soft, buttery take on the baguette that’s been the beloved bread of choice in this South American country for decades.

Why no canillas? Because its price, unlike for all those other loaves, is controlled by the government. And it is set at such a low level -- 1,500 bolivars versus the 4,500 to 7,500 a gallego commands -- that bakers complain it doesn’t come close to covering their costs. So they use new-found supplies of wheat in the country to bake every other kind of bread imaginable.

The canilla’s conspicuous absence highlights the state of affairs in an economy that has been mired in an unprecedented crisis since 2014. Shortages have eased up some over the past year after importers got their hands on more dollars in the black market, but the socialist country’s byzantine system of price controls still makes many sought-after items nearly impossible to find.

High price items fill a supermarket in the Chacao district of Caracas, on Aug. 24.

Photographer: Fabiola Ferrero/Bloomberg

Supermarkets have ample condensed and evaporated milk but few cartons of the fresh stuff. Sardines come in cans with hot sauce or garlic or paprika, everything except simply oil. There’s an abundance of sour cream and cream cheese, just very little butter. And thanks to relentless inflation, the items that are found on shelves are out of reach for average shoppers, leaving many here just as infuriated as they were a year ago during the very worst of the shortages.

“People say there is no food, but they are wrong. There is a lot of food -- at unaffordable prices,” said Maria Urosa, 44, an administrative assistant on a shopping expedition. She was in search of canillas, of course, but could find “only the fancy bread.”

It’s not that canillas have completely disappeared. Black-market peddlers hawk them in certain neighborhoods across Caracas, carrying the batons in plastic bags or sacks slung over their shoulders.

Some of the hundreds of bakeries that dot the city offer the bread at a set times. The manager of one shop near Plaza Bolivar recently explained it this way to people crowding around the store counter: “Get up very early, at 4 a.m., start your two-hour queue outside -- we begin to sell at 6 a.m.”

Read More: Venezuela’s meltdown -- a QuickTake explainer

Others suddenly start selling loaves at random moments and word gets out, which is why Domiciano Cespedes, who works across the street from a bakery, keeps his eyes peeled. When he sees a line start to form he dashes over.

An employee takes out freshly baked bread from an oven during the early morning at a Bakery in Caracas.

Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg

“I used to have a canilla as lunch every day,” the 83-year-old said wistfully, leaning on the broom he uses to sweep the taxi-cab stand that employs him as a porter. “Not anymore.”

Hours-long queues for bread of any kind were common as recently as March, when stocks of flour made from government-imported wheat ran thin. President Nicolas Maduro accused bakers of hoarding ingredients to make profitable products only the wealthy could afford. The police even made some arrests and closed a few shops accused of failing to produce enough regulated loaves.

Then the authorities pulled back on their patrols, bakers started buying black-market flour without repercussions and the government made a deal to buy wheat from Russia. And the latest chapter in the Venezuelan bread crisis began.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.