What is an arepa?
“A griddled cake made from white cornmeal, salt and water, the arepa is the alpha and omega of the Venezuelan diet. It is usually the first thing a Venezuelan eats for breakfast and often, especially after a night of carousing, the last thing she eats before bed.
Mashed with milk or butter or fresh white cheese, the arepa’s tender interior crumb is the first food, besides its mother’s milk, that an infant puts in its mouth — those first soft bites are the beginning of a lifelong habit.
The arepa has been, like the potato for the Irish or Cod for the Portuguese, not just a staple of the Venezuelan diet, but a force in their history. About five years ago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez tried to nationalize Harina P.A.N., the white cornmeal used to make arepas and succeeded in stopping distribution of the flour. A generic, universally hated version was made available by the government.” (Read more from John Broening at the Denver Post)
So how is that I had my first Arepa last week? Admittedly, I am not Venezuelan. I wasn’t lucky enough to cut my teeth on them. But I frequent many of the Farmer’s Markets around town where food trucks are dishing out all kinds of tasty street food including arepas. I go out of my way to attend street food events such as weekly summer and fall Civic Center Eats and Justice League of Street Food bashes. We attend the annual DISH event which supports various organizations such as Growhaus. Perhaps it was because I was obsessed with the Gastro Cart and The Porker this past summer. Or…maybe it’s because I can’t pass up Sugar Lips’ mini donuts. Oh, I try but I have to see Sugar Lips’ hat of the day. And, if I am going to gawk over her fancy hat, I might as well get a little bag of minis.
So, I guess I was just too busy to try an arepa. But that was all about to change. Enter Zengo and my first arepa.
Oooohhhhhh….crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, full on corn flavor. I had to have more and luckily there were four mini arepas on the plate. I ate them all and we ordered a second plate!
I knew then that I would be making arepas over the weekend. As it would turn out, they are super simple. Using pre-cooked arepa cornmeal (PAN Harina is the best but I could not locate it locally), simply add hot water to make a formable but not sticky dough. Some recipes add a little oil, butter or milk. Let the dough sit under a damp tea towel for about 30 minutes, form and fry, bake or grill until golden. Split the patty open and fill with whatever savory topping your heart desires.
We chose a spicy pulled pork called Machaca. There are so many variations so we pulled bits and pieces from multiple sources to create our own version.
Warning: Machaca will seriously increase the time needed to EAT an arepa but it was time well spent!
Filling/Topping Recipe: Spicy Pork Machaca
We REALLY enjoyed the final dish and will be making these again and again with an assortment of fillings. An arepa party? I think so. Arepa Eggs Benedict? Yes. Mini arepa pizzas? Sure! If you decide to make your own arepas, please stop back and tell me how you filled/topped them!
Linked to Make it with…Monday.