The arepa: an indispensable accompaniment of northern South America
The round, flat corn flour arepa is a daily staple accompanying meals in Venezuela and Colombia. It originates in the indigenous tribes of South America and can be found in a wide range of recipes depending on the region and the food it accompanies. Nowadays this product is considered a cultural icon of both nations.
Arepas derive from the food customs of the tribes who inhabited the north of South America, more particularly the territory of present-day Venezuela. These recipes come from the Timoto-Cuicas, a Native American people living in the Venezuelan Andes. In their ancient language, the word « erepa » meant « corn bread”. Arepas are thus comparable to Mexican corn tortillas, although they are used as an accompaniment, more like a piece of bread than a pancake. Due to its high-carbohydrate contents, the dish was quickly adopted and adapted by the Spanish colonizers and spread throughout the territory of the ancient Viceroyalty of New Granada. The indigenous Arhuacos and Caribs used to consume cassava, a similar recipe prepared with manioc flour, which has led to variations such as manioc arepas.
Mode of consumption:
Nowadays the arepa is a daily accompaniment used for an endless number of typical dishes in Colombia and Venezuela. Apart from being a base for fast food, many consider it an indispensable element for any breakfast. Dough preparation and cooking (roasted on a hot plate with or without butter) tend to immediately precede consumption. It is important to note that the taste, appearance and way of consumption of the arepa depends on the type of corn used in its elaboration, on its size and eventually on the type of cheese that is added, or even on the way the cheese is added, whether it is incorporated in the dough or as a filling. For example, a typical Andean breakfast is usually served with white corn arepas 10 to 13 cm in diameter and approximately 1 cm thick filled with fresh cow cheese in the dough, together with a chocolate drink. The Colombian coast, on the other hand, serves breakfast with egg arepas, a fried arepa with a thin layer of yellow corn containing a fried egg (the egg being fried inside the arepa).
Many regions have their very own type of arepa, eaten as a snack between meals or as a light dinner with a hot drink. For example, in Boyacá there is the boyacense arepa, a sweet arepa about 8 cm in diameter and 2 cm thick whose dough contains yellow corn flour, wheat flour, farmer cheese and sugar. In Santander there is the arepa santandereana, of a size and colour similar to the boyacense arepa, but salty, because instead of cheese and sugar it contains minced bacon in its dough. In Antioquia there is the Paisa Arepa, a very thin arepa about 5 cm in diameter made almost exclusively of white corn flour, with a very basic taste contrasting with the strong flavour of the accompanying foodstuffs, such as chorizo or beans. In the countryside of Colombia, you can eat the arepa de choclo, made with a type of yellow corn called choclo or corn and with milk, grated cheese and sugar added to the dough. They are relatively large arepas (more than 15 cm in diameter), deep fried in butter and served stuffed with a slice of fresh white cheese, hence constituting a dish.
In Venezuela it has become very common to eat stuffed arepas as a fast food that can be compared to the Turkish-German Doner Kebap. These arepas made of white dough and ordinary-tasting, are larger, thicker and more resistant, so they can be opened just like Arab bread and filled with meat or chicken preparations in sauce, with cheese and corn grains or even with vegetable preparations, according to the creativity of their creators and consumers.
Breakfast Arepa Recipe:
Below is an authentic Colombian recipe for medium-sized arepas used for daily breakfast:
- 1 cup of white cornflour
- Grated fresh cheese
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of melted butter
Blend ingredients and arrange them like a small volcano. In the middle, slowly add hot water (no more than a cup) and knead, to form a compact mass to make the arepas. The dough must be left to stand for a few minutes, then each arepa is made by rolling and rounding a portion of dough against a flat plastic surface. The arepas are roasted on a griddle or grill with a little butter until they become golden on each side and cooked inside.
Author: José David Montoya
Translated by: Laurane Mandin
For further documentation:
- Arepa, el pan nuestro. En: El Tiempo. Bogotá, Marzo 10 de 2001.
- Historia de la arepa: el mejor desayuno del mundo. En: Latinamente (blog cultural), Marzo 27 de 2014. http://www.latinamente.com/historia-de-la-arepa-el-mejor-desayuno-del-mundo/
- Las arepas colombianas. En: SlideShare, Noviembre 20 de 2012. http://de.slideshare.net/jhonjairorubio/las-arepas-colombianas-15273240
- Arepa. En: Prezi, Septiembre 29 de 2014. https://prezi.com/9ikyu3lzcisq/arepa/
- Receta cortesía de la Sra. Sigrid Cristina Solano Gómez