Let’s talk about Arepas
It is sunny in Toronto and you have found yourself roaming through the internet because you are very hungry and you are hunting for delicious food. Some of us have been eating the same fast food out there, stuffing ourselves since we were kids; so let’s try something new and healthy, handcrafted and satisfying; something that will hit the spot; an Arepa, the newest tasty ‘street food’ in the city.
The Arepa is a traditional dish in the homes of Venezuelans and Colombians. Both countries have different ideas on how the arepas are served. One place is more about the fillings, while the other is more about the bread. But you may ask yourself, what is an arepa?
So let’s talk about arepas, and help you discover a delicious answer.
An arepa is a flatbread made of ground maize dough or pre-cooked corn flour prominent in the cuisine of the Northern part of South America. It is a corn bread in a circular shape of different sizes and thicknesses ranging from extremely thin discs to small and fat dumplings. It is eaten daily and can be served with various accompaniments such as cheese, avocado, and chicken to name a few. The term arepa comes from the word “erepa” which means corn bread in the language of the Indigenous people of Colombia and Venezuela. Although in some parts they are not as predominant, different varieties of arepas are prepared and consumed from Mexico, down to Chile. Arepas are traditionally roasted on a griddle. A griddle is a circular iron or clay plate, which is heated directly on the fire or embers.
There are many ingredients and fillings possible for the arepas. Traditional arepas are filled once they have been prepared with ingredients like butter, hams, cold meats, pickles, fish or seafood, beans, chopped egg or scrambled eggs with onions, tomatoes – and occasionally pork rind or chorizo – commonly called “pericos”. Additionally, arepas can be topped with home-made sauces to add extra flavour such green pepper sauce, garlic mayo, and hot sauce.
Arepas in Colombia are not only being a daily and essential food in the family home, but they have become one of the main courses in street food and even an alternative food to fast food chain restaurants. For Colombians, the arepa is synonymous for nutrition and it is a symbol of belonging to a region and a culture that has its deepest roots in the customs of our native ancestors.
Colombian arepas are used as daily bread, usually eaten with cheese or butter with a sweeter taste. Each region in Colombia has its own version of the arepa. In the Cundiboyacense highlands, arepas are prepared primarily from corn, with a color of yellow and a soft, dry texture, which is filled with cheese and frequently brown sugar or sugar is added.
In Antioquia and El Eje Cafetero, it is typical to make arepas very thin with milled, cooked and ground corn, without sweeteners or salt. In the Guajira Region, for their part, Cariaco corn is widely used for its larger grain which is either white or purple.
“La Reina Pepiada,” is one of the famous arepas from Venezuela. Its original recipe consisted of baked chicken stew, mixed with slices of avocado and peas. Its creator Heriberto Alvarez is from the Trujillo state. The name “La Reina Pepiada” dates back to 1955, in which the Venezuelan model Susana Dujim won Miss Mundo (Miss World). Heriberto and his family managed a small restaurant in Caracas. In honour of the achievement of Susana, they dressed a girl like a Queen, and this attracted the attention of Susana’s father, who by chance happened to be passing by the small restaurant. Attracted and curious he asked what the child was doing there and upon learning of the reason, he identified as the father of Susana and said he would bring his daughter to eat in the business of the Alvarez’. At presenting the corn bread toast stuffing with chicken and avocado in her honor, they called the arepa “La Reina” and as curvy women of that era were called “pepiadas” it became the name of the now famous arepa.
The difference between both Venezuelan and Colombian arepa recipes is not that one is better than the other, in fact, they are both as equally delicious as they are completely different from each other. Venezuelan recipes are more about what goes in the arepa, while Colombian recipes are more about how the arepa is made and the type of dough, ranging in size, color and thickness.
By: Arantxa Mirabal