Arepas are the bread & butter of Colombian cuisine. Well, I suppose just the bread, although sometimes they do also contain butter. Point is: they’re a staple. They’re served with almost every meal in some way, shape, or form. I could write an entire book about them! I won’t. It already exists thanks to some other dude who visited Colombia and fell in love with these carby delights.
In fact, in this post I will only be scraping the surface of arepas. Today I will not be expounding on the following styles: Venezuelan-style (the filled ones that my Minneapolitans know from Hola Arepa), arepas with cheese, grilled arepas in general, the crappy flavorless ones they eat in Medellín, plus a lot of other regional variations that I have yet to experience.
Rather, I’m going to share with you the three most common styles found on the Caribbean coast of Colombia where I live. I should say, these are the most common fried styles. Grilled arepas are also very common (and smell soooooo good), but they don’t quite fit in with this theme.
First up we have the arepa de huevo, or egg arepa. This is one I indulge in frequently, because the egg helps me pretend that it’s not too terrible for me. Also, it was something that my host mom during Pre-Service Training would give me for breakfast fairly frequently. I thought she made them until the day that I was assigned to get the recipe from my host mom and learn how to make them. She had the recipe, but none of the ones we made turned out perfectly like the ones that appeared on my plate everyday. These arepas are made by first creating a cornmeal dough that is rolled into discs. The discs are then fried, but only until they begin to puff up. At that point, they are removed from the oil. Wait a minute so you don’t burn the crap out of your fingers, and then poke a hole in the disc. Crack or pour an egg into that hole, and then patch it up with more dough. Fry again. If you’ve got the gift, you will create a perfectly round arepa de huevo. If you’re like my host mom and I, the egg will escape its shell and you’ll end up with an eggy oily mess (that still tastes good). Salty and particularly good with a good dose of hot sauce, the protein of the egg definitely doesn’t cancel out all that frying.
The other most popular kind around here is the sweet arepa. They come in at least two forms, and no, I don’t know the real names of these. The more common sweet arepa is made with the same white cornmeal flour as the egg arepa, and always has a hole in it. If you read about the egg arepa, you noticed that upon frying, they puff up. Poking a hole in the disc prevents this puffing from happening. While the flour used is the same, there is significantly less salt in these, presumably some sugar, and definitely anise. The other variety of sweet arepa is so good. I hadn’t had one since Pre-Service Training, and this just really hit the spot. Made with yellow corn flour, it has a more natural sweetness to it – almost like a cornbread flavor. While I don’t usually like anise flavor, in this sucker it’s just the best (especially topped with some peanut butter and honey).
*do we need a new “bread and butter” in America? I know that as I am trying to watch what I eat, these two foods’ appearances on my plate are actually very infrequent