Los Inocentes Gorditos p4: The Arepa Addition

22 Feb

I’ve spoken about arepas, but I haven’t really given much space to them in this blog relative to the space they take up in our lives, here. AREPAS! They are delicious and versatile, often featured (in one iteration or another) at breakfast, lunch, dinner or somewhere between meals, the perfect go-to snack.

I would love to link to a great recipe online, but the most popular recipes seem to be stuffed arepas, and that is not something we do, here (with one exception: the arepa de queso). The arepas that are most popular in Medellín are simple, somewhere between a tortilla and a corn biscuit, although that doesn’t do them much justice. They are flat round discs about 1/4″ thick made very simply with water, cooked cornmeal flour, salt and oil. Any food store–from a big supermarket to a small corner store–will have an array of arepas to sell. In small, Antioquian pueblos (like Jardín, Jerico and Santa Fe), they may even sell arepas that are made by the locals, with stickers like “Doña Luisa” or “Sra. Vasquez”  plastered on the front. We buy them pre-made from one of the many corner stores here, but I imagine we’ll have to learn before we leave!

When we first arrived we had an arepa with eggs and hogao every morning, care of Gloria. One cab driver told us a joke about the ubiquity of arepas for breakfast: “If you’re bored of arepas and eggs, you need to switch it up: one morning have an arepa and eggs for breakfast; the next morning have eggs and an arepa!” Actually, he told Greg that he needed to tell his wife to switch it up when she’s cooking breakfast. I wanted to punch him in the back of the head, but he was driving and that’s bad manners, etc.

SO! AREPAS! Delicious corn vehicles for anything you might want to eat. I tend to use them only for savory food, like eggs, meat, avocado, hogao, cheese, etc. Greg has ventured so far as to have PB&J on a toasted, crispy arepa; he’s still standing so I guess that’s OK, too.

Normally we buy the flat arepas to top off with an array of deliciousness. Sometimes, though, we splurge on arepas de chócolo. These are a bit thicker–almost like pancakes–and play a sweet-savory game. They’re made with fresh, sweet corn kernels. Sometimes an arrant husk will get stuck in a tooth or two, but it’s a small price to pay for something so hearty and delicious. As almost every online recipes attests to, the best accompaniment to an arepa de chócolo is some kind of fresh cheese. Here, we use quesito, which is a little tart and a little sweet and a lot of delicious. I think Greg used maple syrup once, and again–still standing. We don’t buy these every time because to me they aren’t as versatile as run-of-the-mill arepas (I don’t like topping them with eggs, avocado, meat, etc) but they really are wonderful. In fact, I recall Erika loving to get an arepa de chocolo with quesito and a piping hot cup of chocolate to wash it all down with. So much yum in that sentence.

Finally, the arepa de queso. This is the kind of arepa you might buy in the town square in the evening, or you might find a woman with her cart set-up at a festival or big event during the weekend. In fact, the famous Arepa Lady in New York serves up arepas de queso to late-night revelers who–I’m sure–savor every bite. Arepas de queso are made in the traditional arepa way but with a generous helping of cheese thrown into the mix and then fried on a griddle. These arepas are definitely an indulgence, especially if you get them done up in the traditional way: with a nice coating of sweetened condensed milk on top. Yes, that was the sound of your mouth watering and your heart hurting.

The only arepa that I do not endorse is the one that most restaurants serve alongside a bigger meal. These arepas are about the size, shape and consistency of a hockey puck. They are supposed to function like a biscuit, but they are dangerous and terrible biscuits that I hate.

OK, writing this made me hungry…it’s arepa time.

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