Venezuela has several national treasures, from super-sizedAngel Falls to the giant oil reserves that everyone wants to get their hands on. These features keep people talking about the South American country, but there is another calling card of Venezuela that has gone relatively unnoticed around the world, despite the fact that it is a quotidian aspect of Venezuelan life: the arepa.
Essentially a cornmeal pancake, an arepa is the Venezuelan equivalent of sliced bread, except arepas are even more versatile. Arepa dough can be fried, baked, poached, grilled, and cooked on a griddle, each method producing a different delicious result. Once prepared, arepas can be consumed in almost any way imaginable — sliced in two and slathered with butter, cooked into the Venezuelan version of a grilled cheese, stuffed with everything from meats and vegetables to caramelized apples, or on their own without any bells and whistles. No matter what you’re hungry for, you can probably cram it inside of an arepa and it’ll be delicious.
The precursor to arepas originated in pre-colonial Venezuela where a small group of indigenous people were known to soak corn in water, grind it into a paste, and then mold the dough into discs to be cooked. When European settlers came to the area, arepas were spread throughout the region and the country that arose hasn’t stopped eating them since. The mass production of cornmeal later helped to make the arepa more prevalent as people no longer needed to dampen and crush their own maize kernels, a process that sounds positively offensive to my delicate knuckles.
Colombia, Venezuela’s neighbor to the west, also claims ownership of the arepa — sound familiar? However, their version is flatter and more cake-like than the fluffy kind you’ll find in Venezuela. Outside of these two countries, arepas are typically hard to find in a commercial setting, although there are a few top-notch arepa restaurants in cities like Miami and New York where large Venezuelan populations reside.
If you don’t live around an arepa vendor (and chances are you don’t), you can always try your hand at making them yourself — just don’t skimp on the ingredients. We suggest ordering P.A.N. Pre-Cooked White Corn Meal online for the best tasting and most authentically Venezuelan arepa, and if you want them to be perfectly shaped, Black & Decker even makes an arepa griddle. Too much of an investment for something you’ve never even tasted? Trust us, after the first bite you’ll be eating them like you live in Caracas.