Canada has poutine. Vietnam has pho. Ukraine has borscht. Venezuela? They have arepas.
A puck-shaped all-in-one gluten-free meal, arepas are eaten at any time and anywhere in Venezuela. They are comparable to Mexican gorditas in that they can be stuffed with any savoury filling, though they require a different type of flour.
Arepa restaurants and food trucks are springing up to cater to a growing Venezuelan population, and to introduce them to curious Albertans. Harina PAN, the corn flour used to make them, can even be found at some grocery stores.
When asked how to make perfect arepas, Patricia Capuzzi and Marco Scagliati of Heaven Artisan GF and Xavier Rabasso of Arepa Boss, agreed that everyone has their own way of making them. Some add oil and some add sugar; some deep-fry them and some barbecue them. There isn’t a set way of doing it.
The basic recipe for arepas is pre-cooked corn flour, water, and salt. But like many traditional recipes, there is not an exact ratio for how much of each ingredient to use. It’s all trial and error. According to arepa experts, when kneading the dough, if it cracks on the sides, then the mix needs more water. If it melts in the hand, then it needs more flour.
At Heaven, Capuzzi and Scagliati make the dough a little watery. They let the dough rest for five minutes to absorb all the liquid, and then let the griddle evaporate the water. Conversely, at Arepa Boss, Rabasso recommends using cold water, and adding sugar to the mix – about half as much as salt – then mixing the ingredients very quickly, and kneading the dough thoroughly to avoid flour pockets.
The dough is made into balls, and flattened to make traditional palm-sized puck shapes, then thrown on a grill to give a crunchy shell. After a few minutes on each side, when the crust has hardened, the arepas go into the oven for a few more minutes to finish cooking on the inside.
When the arepas are cooked – some Venezuelan grandmas say they’re done when they sound hollow – they’re slit open to make a pocket, and filled with cheese, meat, or avocados – or all of the above.
Whether your arepas end up being big or small, a little soft or crunchy, a little salty or bland, the perfect homemade arepa is achieved through trial and error – but even the errors taste pretty good!
Looking for a quick arepa fix?
In Calgary check out:
Heaven Artisan GF, 1013 17th Avenue SW
Arepa Boss food truck @ArepaBoss
Arepas Ranch food truck @arepasranch
In Edmonton check out:
Ávila Arepa, 10760 82nd Avenue NW
El Fogón Latino, 8026 118th Avenue NW