Food Focus: Arepas

By: Dylan Rodgers

Imagine with me, if you will, the softest, most delectable corn tortilla sitting in front of you.  Resembling a flattened English muffin, this tortilla is moist with butter.  You can feel the heat coming from the arepa.  Its hot scent caresses your nostrils turning your mouth into a faucet as you eagerly snatch it up from the plate.  With the first bite, you realize that this is not a tortilla-English muffin hybrid.  No, it's a heavenly gusher stuffed with shredded chicken, smushed avocado, and red onion in perfect combination to make any foodist feel true love (at least to the extent that a human can love a food).

You might be thinking that this is a little extreme.  All I can tell you is that the first time I tried homemade arepas the meaning of "good food" was entirely redefined.  I would even go so far as to say that arepas are no more a food than Carlos Valderrama is a mortal man.

Down on the Equator in South America, the arepa is the bread and butter of Colombia and Venezuela.  In fact, they are rooted deep in the cultures of the neighboring countries.  There seems to be some debate as to who has the best arepas, but I assure you, both are great.  It just depends on what you're in the mood for.

There are plenty of ways to eat them:  plain, con queso, with chicken, sausage, pork, anything you can think to put inside.  Colombians like them with cheese and butter, with breakfast foods, or with shredded beef and chimichurri sauce.  Venezuelans tend to focus more on the chorizo, chicken, and avocado sometimes with mango and guava spreads.  Arepas come big and flat, regular, or bite-sized.  No matter how they come, you can bet that they'll be spectacular.

Here in New York, good arepas can be hard to find.  For authenticity, the chefs have to ship in some ingredients from Miami or just do with what they can get here.  But if you're in the mood for Colombian-style arepas go have brunch at Cafecito Bogota or check out Bogota Latin Bistro in Brooklyn.  For a more Venezuelan touch, the Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village, Guayoyo in the Bowery, or Shachis in Brooklyn.

Photo: avlxyz