Arepa

Arepa

[uh-rey-puh; Sp. ah-re-pah]

The arepa is a corn-based bread from the northern Andes in South America (from countries like Colombia and Venezuela), now spread to other areas in modern Latin American countries. It is similar to the mesoamerican tortilla. Arepas are most popular in Colombia and Venezuela.

Characteristics

The arepa is a flat cornmeal patty which is grilled, baked, or fried. The characteristics of the arepa vary with local culture. For example, in Colombia, the color, flavor, size, thickness, and garniture may vary from region to region. They may be stuffed with cheese, vegetables, or any other desired stuffing.

It is believed that arepa is a word from the dialect of the Caracas Indians (north coast of Venezuela) that translates into maize (corn).

In Eastern Venezuela, besides the most common variety of 3 to in diameter and half an inch thick, you can find larger arepas in diameter and two inches thick, made with either white or yellow corn. In the Andean West, you may find flat arepas, which are a quarter of an inch or less in thickness and 3 to in diameter. An arepa is often eaten as a sandwich; it is split in half and filled with cheese, deli meats, or other fillings, in which case it is called arepa rellena or a Venezuelan "tostada", although the latter term is not in common use anymore. An arepa is also sometimes dressed with toppings and eaten open-faced.

On the Caribbean coast of South America, the arepa-like cornmeal cake is often deep-fried and, in one variation, where a raw egg is added midway through the frying process, it becomes the arepa ´e huevo. This latter variation was most likely devised by the African slaves near Cartagena de Indias.

Making arepas

There are two ways to make the dough: the original, highly laborious method requires the maize grains to be soaked, then they are peeled and ground, this is done by pounding the grains in a larger mortar (pilón) to remove the pericarp and the seed germ, only the cotyledons of the maize seed are used to make the dough, this product (mortared maize or "maíz pilado") was normally sold as dry grain which were then boiled and ground into the dough.

The second, easier, and most popular method today is to buy pre-cooked corn in a dry flour form, specially prepared for making arepa and many other maize based dough dishes (hallacas, bollos, tamales, empanadas, chicha, etc.). The most popular brand name of corn flour in Venezuela is Harina P.A.N., and in Colombia is Areparina; it's usually made from white corn but there are yellow corn varieties available. This product was invented in the 1950s by Dr. Caballero Mejias, a Venezuelan engineer who used the profits from his patent to finance a Technical Schools system. The precooked form was widely industrialized from there. The flour is mixed with water and salt (some people add oil, eggs and/or milk). After being molded by hand, or in a special mold, into a patty, the dough is fried, grilled or baked. This production of maize is unusual for not using the nixtamalization or alkali cooking process to remove the pericarp. Arepa flour is lower in nutritive value than nixtamal with protein value reduced by 50% though protein digestion may be higher.

Electric arepa makers

In Venezuela, various kitchen appliance companies sell gadgets like the Tostyarepa, very similar to a waffle iron, which cooks arepas using two hot metallic surfaces clamped with the raw dough inside. In Venezuela, the arepa is traditionally grilled on a "budare", which is a flat originally non-metallic surface which may or may not have a handle on it. Arepas cooked this way are named "tostadas" (the plural form of "toasted"). Nowadays it's common to follow the grilling process which forms the "concha" or crust with 20 to 25 minutes in the oven at very high temperatures, very much like the ones used in broiling settings in North America. Normally an arepa takes fifteen to 25 minutes by side to be prepared in a regular grill; with the Tostyarepa, making arepas takes about seven minutes or less.

Electric arepa makers are not popular in Colombia.

History

The arepa was the corn bread of the Timoto-cuicas, a native American nation that lived in the northern Andean mountains of Venezuela who learned how to grow maize from the Quechuas (Peru) and Mayas (Mexico), where the crop originated. The larger native American nations of Venezuela (Arawaks in the central plains and Caribes in the East and in the rain forests, from Argentina to the Islands named for them) widely used the form of bread called Casabe, made from Yuca roots. With the colonization process the maize (corn) bread was widely spread throughout the country and into Colombia, then named Nueva Granada or Santa Fe.

Both Colombians and Venezuelans view the arepa as a traditional national food. The arepa has a long tradition in both countries with local recipes that are very delicious and varied.

Venezuelan arepas

Their preparation depends on two main factors: the personal taste or preference of each individual and the region in which they are made. The result is a wide variety of arepa types:

  • Traditional corn (Maize) arepa
  • Corn flour arepa (Arepa blanca or Viuda)
  • Wheat flour arepa (Preñaditas in Venezuelan slang)
  • Sweet arepa (Arepa dulce)
  • Cheese arepa (Arepa de queso)
  • Coconut arepa (Arepa de coco)
  • Andean arepa (Arepa andina)
  • Manioc arepa (Arepa de yuca)
  • Reina Pepeada - filled with avocado, chicken, and mayonnaise
  • Baked arepas (Arepas horneadas)
  • Fried arepas (Arepa frita)
  • Arepa pelúa - with yellow cheese and pulled beef
  • Arepa catira - with yellow cheese and chicken
  • Arepa de chicharrón - with crisped pork skin
  • Arepa de dominó - white cheese and black beans
  • Arepa de Perico - made with perico, a Caribbean type of scrambled eggs
  • Arepa viuda ("widow" arepa) - an empty arepa usually eaten with soup

Other fillings are guacuco (a shellfish), cazón (a kind of small shark), pernil (pork), huevos de codorniz (quail eggs), and octopus.

Colombian arepas

In Colombia, the arepa has deep roots in the colonial farms and in the cuisine of the indigenous people. In modern times, the tradition has not yet been forgotten, although arepas are prepared less frequently at home and more often manufactured and sold in stores.

Arepas are usually eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Common toppings include butter, cheese, chocolate, and hogao.

Besides plain, there are other kinds of arepas:

Stuffed arepas

  • Egg arepa (called arepa de huevo or, in the vernacular dialect, arepa'e huevo): originating from the Caribbean coast but a popular street food in most cities, this arepa is deep fried with a single raw egg inside that is cooked through by the time the arepa is ready. Egg arepas are made with the same yellow corn dough and deep-fried in the same manner as most Colombian empanadas, and are often sold from the same food stands. One variation has shredded beef inside along with the egg.
  • Cheese arepa (arepa de queso, arepa de quesillo): Another variety with grated cheese is placed inside the cake before it is grilled or fried.
  • Arepa Boyacense: Traditional in the department of Boyacá, these arepas are very hard and dense, about 3-4 inches across and filled with a sweet cheese.
  • Arepa Valluna: the variety traditional in the departament of Valle del Cauca, made with flour of corn, water and salt and it is greased with butter.

While less popular than in Venezuela, sandwich-like filled arepas are sold throughout Colombia as well.

Plain arepas

  • Arepa de choclo (or chocolo): made with sweet corn and farmers white cheese.
  • Antioquian arepa: Little flat spheroid-shaped arepa without salt served to accompany soups and mondongo soups. Very common in the department of Antioquia.
  • Arepa Paisa: Very large and flat arepa made of white maize without salt but accompanied with meats or butter on top of it. Very common in the coffee-producing region, often served with hogao, a traditional sauce (or stew) made of tomatoes and spring onions.
  • Arepa de arroz: Made with cooked, mashed rice instead of corn dough.
  • Arepa santanderiana: from the area around Bucaramanga, very yellow, usually dry but soft.

In the western part of Colombia, especially around Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, a traditional breakfast includes one portion of arepa, normally complemented with hot chocolate.

Companies like "Don Maíz" have begun to market less-traditional kinds of arepas in Colombian grocery stores that are nonetheless growing in popularity. These include yuca-flavored arepas (yuca bread is more traditional) and arepas made of brown rice and sesame seeds.

Similar dishes

In Colombia, the Arepuela is a distant cousin of the traditional arepa; it is made with wheat flour and optionally anise and when fried the layers expand and the arepuela inflates (similar to little tortillas or little pancakes). This is very common in the interior. In the north, bollos are popular for breakfast - these are made with the same dough as an arepa, but boiled rather than fried which gives them a texture similar to Czech bread dumplings.

In Costa Rica, arepas are made from batter, and are similar to pancakes, but taste slightly different. In Mexico there is a similar dish that are fried and called gordita not to be confused with tortillas. In El Salvador, similar flat cakes are called pupusas, and the most important difference is that the flat cake is filled before it is cooked, most commonly with some pork, white cheese or black beans.

References

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