Venezuelan food is a cultural melting pot, combining influences from places including the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, but it hasn’t received the same international acclaim as some other Latin cuisines, particularly in Australia. Papelon chef and owner Reveka Hurtado is on a mission to change that.

“My plan is to acknowledge that Latin food is more than tacos,” she tells Broadsheet. “[To have a place where] people can go and sit and enjoy and understand the Latin community through food.”

After migrating to Chile from Venezuela in 2016, Hurtado says she and her family opened one of the country’s first Venezuelan restaurants. They eventually grew it into a five-venue operation aimed at helping fellow Venezuelan migrants gain employment and transitional support in their new home. “We were opening the path for the people that were coming after us,” says Hurtado.

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In 2020, she moved alone to Australia. And though she didn’t originally have plans to pursue hospitality, she was drawn back to it, leading her to launch Papelon, a catering operation grown almost exclusively through Instagram, Whatsapp and word of mouth.

After two years of operating out of a ghost kitchen, selling food for pick-up, Hurtado attracted a loyal following. Now she’s opened a sunny, orange bricks-and-mortar restaurant on the fringes of Footscray Market, allowing her to showcase the dishes she grew up with and the greater breadth of Latin cuisine and culture.

Her menu is an extension of what she’d been cooking already – deep-fried corn-meal empanadas stuffed with chicken, beef or vegetables; breaded queso sticks called tequeños served with cane sugar (or papelón) syrup for dipping; and hallacas, corn-meal parcels filled with olives, raisins and meat, then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed to serve.

Mains include sancocho, a Latin-Caribbean stew made with starchy green plantains, cassava, potato, corn on the cob and beef broth; pabellón, a mixed plate of rice, black beans, pulled beef and the sweet contrast of ripe, fried plantains; and arepas with your choice of filling, from chicken and avocado to pulled pork and birria.

There are also dishes from Chile, Peru and Colombia inspired by the wider Latin-Australian community Hurtado has come to know and work with.

“I don’t only want to be a restaurant,” says Hurtado. “I want to make this space a cultural place to bring people together; to encourage people to embrace their culture and rebuild their identity through food.”

With Moon Dog opening down the street, Hurtado wants to eventually extend her hours to capture the late-night crowd and sees arepas as her gateway.

She’s hosted arepa-making workshops in the past and would like to introduce similar events at Papelón, offering a chance for the Latin community to reconnect with their culture and peers through food.

Papelón
190–194/81 Hopkins Street, Footscray
0426 837 005

Hours:
Tues to Thurs 3pm–10pm
Fri 10am–10pm
Sat 9am–10pm
Sun 9am–9pm

instagram.com/papelonmelbourne