HISTORY OF THE AREPA

 

The Venezuelan AREPA has its origins  hundreds of years ago, cooked by the various indigenous tribes across the country (Arawak, Carib, Timoto-Cuica, Cumanagoto, Karina, among others).  What was initially made with fresh corn is today usually made using pre-cooked white corn flour. Whether made with fresh corn or packaged corn flour, the AREPA represents Venezuelans’ daily bread. It is eaten across the country, across all socio-economic groups, at all times of day.  The AREPA has its name from the word EREPA, the indigenous word for this corn bread.  Today, the plain AREPA, a round, thick bread (very much like an English muffin), is  commonly referred to as the VIUDA (widow) when not filled.  Up until the 1950′s, when AREPERAS (joints or restaurants serving AREPAS to the public) were few and far between, AREPAS were  eaten primarily as a bread accompanying food or filled simply, with just cheese.When AREPERAS started growing in popularity, people became more innovative with their fillings.  Initially the filled AREPA was referred to as “TOSTADA” but now it is simply called a filled AREPA or AREPA RELLENA.  The fillings vary and there are no set rules (just like with any sandwich, filling options are infinite).  But there are some recipes that have now become tradition: the Pelu’a (shredded skirt steak and cheese), the Reina Pepeada (chicken salad with creamy avocado), the Pernil (pork) and the Catira (sauteed chicken and cheese). Yet there is always room for innovation; here at Pica Pica, we have introduced a few vegetarian options that appeal to our Californian vegetarian audience, using tofu, plantains, beans, tomatoes and avocado.AREPAS can be made in different sizes (silver dollar pancake to burger size), thicknesses (as long as it can be cut lengthwise); and can be baked, fried or grilled (delicious over coals!).  They can be eaten alone, with butter, some cheese or any one thing that can act as a filling.  But Pica Pica has found that our most traditional recipes are the most popular ones, such as the Pepeada (below). I guess it just tastes Venezuelan…Corn –it is thousands of years old, with hundreds of  native species from Canada to Argentina.  Historically it is a defining ingredient in the cuisine of the Americas, predominant in most civilizations, with great mythological as well as nutritional value.   In Venezuela the species primarily used to make the AREPA (fresh or with white corn flour) is called CARIACO (or Amapa) since it grows in abundance in that region. 

How to make the AREPA the way indigenous tribes did?  Back then they would shuck ears of corn, then dry them for preservation.  You can use fresh or  dried corn.  If using dry corn kernels, boil for 30 minutes and let soak in water overnight. After soaking, rinse well and drain.

Once the corn kernels have been soaked and  broken down, they must be ground.  I use a meat grinder at home but you can substitute with a grain grinder or a mortar & pestle.  Once ground, I add some water and salt to make the AREPA dough.  Make sure the dough is moist; the AREPA will dry during the cooking process, so add enough water to avoid cracks on the exterior and ensure a  doughy and moist interior.

In some regions in Venezuela (and in other parts of the Americas) ground limestone or ashes are used to break down the hull of the corn.  This produces a slightly different result, with subtle color, texture and flavor changes (the particular flavor of corn tortillas comes from this process).  The precooked corn flour Harina P.A.N used in Venezuela doesn’t have lime in it, so while you can substitute with tortilla flour your AREPAS will look, feel and taste a bit different.  

As I mentioned earlier, the AREPA can be cooked in a variety of ways. At home I like using an ANAFRE, a handmade tin oven that is traditionally placed over coals and acts as a grill/oven.  If making these at home, seal the AREPA in a hot pan by searing both sides quickly; then finish the cooking process in the pan, or transfer to a grill or a conventional oven and continue to heat until the AREPA is golden brown and the outside is crunchy.
AREPAS made the old way, from fresh corn, are simply delicious.  While it is a very time consuming process, it’s fun to do every once in a while! In the meantime we are lucky to have modern pre-cooked flour to make our beloved AREPAS readily available!This corn bread is highly versatile: in essence it is a corn pocket that can be filled with pretty much anything.  For example, one of our favorite vegetarian fillings came inspired from an Israeli friend, Shuli Madmone, who owns the spice store Whole Spice in Napa, California (in the Oxbow Public Market).  We toss diced tomatoes and avocado with a special concoction of his spices and mix it with black beans.  It is spicy and tastes completely different from our traditional Venezuelan recipes; but it was fun to create and continues to please  both our vegetarian and meat-eating customers!The Pabellon Vegetariana takes two of the main three ingredients of the traditional Pabellon, plantains and black beans, and replaces the meat with grilled tofu and avocado.  It’s Venezuela with a touch of California, a surprising combination of textures and flavors.When the Reina Pepeada was introduced in honor of the Venezuelan Miss World 1955 Susana Dujim,  it was unique to any other AREPA filling.  Today, it is one of Venezuela’s most popular flavors for an AREPA RELLENA. So who is to say that there is just one way of doing things? Back then when AREPAS were just starting to be used as sandwiches, people experimented, and some combinations have withstood the test of time! The Pelu’a gives center stage to the traditional Carne Mechada (shredded skirt steak made in a sofrito base) with “Queso Americano o Amarillo” on top.Pernil is usually served with slices of roasted pork shoulder.  At Pica Pica we serve it with pulled pork, avocado and tomatoes.
Here is the favorite in many Venezuelan households and at Pica Pica – Pabellon.  This dish embodies our mestizaje: the corn AREPA and black beans are indigenous to South America; the plantains were brought over from Asia; and the stewed meat exemplifies one of the European influences found  inVenezuelan food.  A bite into this dish brings together the sweetness of ripe plantains, the savory and slight sourness of the meat, the crunchy and moist texture of the AREPA and the delectable firmness of the black beans. All in one bite,  it is the history of our ever-changing cultural heritage. 

BACK TO TOP

AMY FOTHERGILL | getting corny with the family chef - [...] nationwide.  To learn more about the arepa, its origins and how it is made, check out this post:  The History of the ArepaAmy’s recipe for her vegetarian chili used some very simple core ingredients and was enhanced [...]

Arepa - This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. The article is nice and it’s pleasant to read. I have known very important things over here. I admire the valuable advice you make available in your expertly written content. I want to thank you for this informative read; I really appreciate sharing this great.

Elizabeth Almenar de Garcia - Gracias por estar al alcance de los venezolanos que estamos fuera de nuestro hermoso pais. Un restaurant y unas paginas hermosas las que tienes!!!
Aprovecho para hacer una acotacion. Cuando hablas del “Anafre” (hornillo portatil) es correcto porque es una derivacion de la palabra “Anafe”. Asi se dice en Mexico, por ejemplo. Pero para nosotros los venezolanos, tal y como decia mi abuela se debe decir tal como lo indico: anafe.(Del ár. hisp. annáfiẖ, y este del ár. clás. nāfiẖ, soplador). Gracias de nuevo!!!

Paisa - I have read the article,and I want to say thanks to you for exceptional information. You have provided deep and easily understandable knowledge to us.

Adriana Lopez - Hola Elizabeth he estado revisando libros etc y no encuentro el uso de la palabra ANAFE, sino mas bien todos los autores usan la palabra con R, ANAFRE. Seguire investigando, pero si sabes de algun autor que lo use asi, me encantaria tenerlo. Primera vez que oigo esta diferencia de uso de la palabra, asi que estoy curiosa! Mil gracias por tu comentario,
Adriana

Miami Culinary Tours - Amazing post! We have been trying to find a good explanation about what Arepas are to introduce our guests to them and had a gard time finding something interesting. This post is exactly how I would like to present them!
Thank you – excellent photos!
Grace Della

Adriana - Grace, I am really excited to read your comment. It means a lot to me to have people from around the U.S. think that this is a worthy piece of information and that it is presented well. Please let me know if you have any comments or improvements to the ideas presented. Thanks again,
Adriana

Food blogs we love: Adriana Lopez - [...] post:  There are two posts that have really attracted people and that I really enjoyed making: the arepa and hallacas. The arepa is a core offering at Pica Pica Maize Kitchen.  I thought it was key to [...]

Toronto, ON - Arepa Cafe (Best Arepas) Gluten Free | Follow Me Foodie - [...] from fresh or dried corn, or maize grains, and grilled over coals – read more about it here. It is rare to find anyone making it the old fashioned way even if you are in Latin [...]

Anonymous - i love arepas

Anonymous - they are nom noms in my tummy

Anonymous - AREPAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In 18 Tagen von Bogotá nach Bern | Pinkfusstölpel's Blog - [...] empfingen und sogleich in ein traditionelles Restaurant zu Chuzo (Fleischspiess) und Arepa (Maisfladen) ausführten – ja, danach war alles schon ein bisschen besser . Dass wir in den nächsten [...]

Lucia Thomas - Un artículo maravilloso!!!! Excelente! Muchas gracias :)

Anonymous - Great blog to be shared with my misses as she thinks Arepas are not great, Love them!

Adriana - Thanks! What about arepas doesn’t as like? Send her my way an I will convince her otherwise!!

Heaven Artisan GF Cuisine - Hola Adriana,
Que buenos estan tu web y tu blog!,
Creo que podemos llamarnos colegas arepologas… Tus restaurantes fueron fuente de inspiración para el que abrimos hace apenas 10 meses en Calgary, aquí no tienen idea de que es una arepa, pero les encanta! Gracias por relatar la historia de la arepa, aprendí algunas cosas que no sabía.
Ahora, nosotros no abrimos una arepera como tal pero mas bien el único restaurante 100% gluten free de la ciudad; he tenido clientes que han estado en San Francisco conocen Pica Pica.
Patricia

Adriana Lopez - Oye Patricia, que bien! Me encanta saber que Pica Pica puede ser una inspiracion para otros y que el blog ha ayudado a difundir nuestra herencia. Como te esta yendo? Es dificil ingtroducir un producto nuevo, asi que te recomiendo paciencia… vale la pena. Hang in there! El tema de ser 100% libre de gluten tambien ayuda mucho. Te deseo mucha sierte en tu nueva emoresa.

Saludos,
Adriana

Isa - Adriana – soy venezolana viviendo en USA. Previamente en California y desde hace un ano en Seattle. Me encantan tus arepas. Siempre voy a tus restaurate (s) cuando visito el area. Tienes alguna recomendación de donde ir a comer arepas en Seattle? Yo las hago pero quiero variedad.

Nina - So that traditional way arepa dough can also be made in to empanada right? How about after “Once the corn kernels have been soaked and broken down”, we dry them then grind it, is it equal to arepa flour? We have many corn here where I live, but the use of it is still limited, guess just have to find the inspiration from the sources. Thanks.

Student Presentation-The Flavor of Venezuelan | The College of Chicago's School Blog - [...] overall information of the origin of the Arepa and their evolution. You can find the information at http://picapica.com/blog/2011/05/history-of-the-arepa/ the author of this blog is Adriana [...]

otto villafane - Te cuento que soy de barranquilla Colombia y Para mi la arepa es uno de Los mejores. Desayunos

Kaliyah - I was trying to make hem arepas si

Edwin - Hey there Adriana Lopez. I’m a fellow Venezuelan living in the New York area. I’m taking a course in college about Cultures and Values. One of our assignments is a research paper pertaining a dish or something related to food. I had the lovely idea to investigate the history or origin of arepas but it is very hard to find information about it. I ran into your blog and I love the explanation you gave. My question to you is, where did you get this information? Can you share your references?
I would really appreciate

Your email is never published or shared.