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Venezuelan cheese-filled arepa

An arepa is a bread made of corn originating from the northern Andes in South America, and which has now spread to other areas in Latin America (e.g. Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic, where it is now popular). It is similar to the Mesoamerican tortilla.

The word "arepa" may originate from the language of the Caracas natives (north coast of Venezuela) that means "maize."[citation needed]


[edit] Characteristics

The arepa is a flat, unleavened patty made of cornmeal which can be grilled, baked, or fried. The characteristics of the arepa vary from region to region: It may vary by color, flavor, size, thickness, garniture, and also the food may be stuffed with.

[edit] Making arepas

There are two ways to prepare the dough. The traditional, labor-intensive method requires the maize grains to be soaked, then peeled and ground in a large mortar known as a pilón. The pounding removes the pericarp and the seed germ, as only the cotyledons of the maize seed are used to make the dough. The resulting mixture, known as mortared maize, or maíz pilado, was normally sold as dry grain to be boiled and ground into dough.

The most popular method today is to buy pre-cooked arepa cornmeal. The flour is mixed with water and salt, and occasionally oil, eggs, and/or milk. After being kneaded and formed into patties, the dough is fried, grilled, or baked. This production of corn is unusual for not using the nixtamalization, or alkali cooking process, to remove the pericarp of the corn kernels. Arepa flour is lower in nutritive value than nixtamal, with its protein value reduced by half.[citation needed]

[edit] Arepa flour

Pre-made arepa flour is specially prepared for making arepas and other maize dough-based dishes. such as hallacas, bollos, tamales, empanadas, and chicha. The most popular brand names of corn flour are Areparina in Colombia, and Harina PAN in Venezuela. Pre-made arepa flour is usually made from white corn, but there are yellow corn varieties available. Pre-made arepa flour 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 flour was later mass produced and sold in larger quantities.[citation needed]

[edit] Electric arepa makers

In Venezuela, various kitchen appliance companies sell appliances like the Tostyarepa, 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. Arepas cooked this way are called tostadas. Nowadays, it is common to follow the grilling process that forms a crust, known as a concha, within twenty to twenty five minutes of cooking at high heat in an oven. Electric arepa makers such as the Tostyarepa reduce cooking time from fifteen to twenty five minutes per side to seven minutes or less.

Electric arepa makers are not popular in Colombia, with most households choosing to prepare them traditionally.

[edit] History

Varieties of native maize or corn

The predecessor of the arepa was a staple of the Timoto-cuicas, an Amerindian group that lived in the northern Andes. Other Amerindian tribes in the region, such as the Arawaks and the Caribs, widely consumed a form of the arepa known as casabe made from cassava (yuca). With the colonization by the Spanish, the food that would become the arepa was diffused into the rest of the region, known then as Nueva Granada(Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama).

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.

[edit] Venezuelan arepas

In Eastern Venezuela, the most common variety of arepa is usually about 3 to 8 inches (200 mm) in diameter and 3/4 inches thick. Larger arepas can be found, made with either white or yellow corn. In the western Andes, arepas are flatter, and are typically quarter of an inch or less in thickness and 3 to 4 inches (100 mm) in diameter. An arepa can be eaten with a filling, similar like a Salvadorean pupusa. However, the arepa is split after cooking, and filled with ingredients such as cheese or deli meats. A filled arepa is called an arepa rellena or a Venezuelan tostada, although the latter term is not commonly used today. An arepa can also be dressed with toppings such as cheese and eaten open-faced.

Venezuelans prepare arepas depending on personal taste or preference and the region in which they are made. Venezuelan varieties include:

  • 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 include guacuco (a shellfish), school shark or cazón, ham, quail eggs, and octopus.

[edit] Colombian arepas

In Colombia, the arepa has deep roots in the colonial farms and the cuisine of the indigenous people. Today, arepas are prepared less frequently at home and are usually purchased in stores, either pre-made or in flour form.

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

Colombians may eat arepas plain, or consume other varieties.

[edit] Colombian varieties

While less popular than in Venezuela, filled arepas resembling sandwiches are sold throughout Colombia as well.

  • Egg arepa (arepa de huevo or, colloquially, arepae'huevo) - this variety originated from the Caribbean coast but is popular in most major cities. This arepa is deep-fried with a single raw egg inside that is cooked by the frying process. Egg arepas are made with yellow corn dough and fried in the same manner as Colombian empanadas, and are often sold alongside other traditional Colombian foodstuffs at food stands. One variety of egg arepa has shredded beef added as well. The egg arepa was most likely created by African slaves near Cartagena.[citation needed]
  • Cheese arepa (arepa de queso, arepa de quesillo) - the arepa is filled with grated cheese before it is cooked (grilled or fried, in this case).
  • Arepa Boyacense - these arepas come from the department of Boyacá. They are very hard and dense, and are typically about three to four inches across and filled with a sweet cheese.
  • Arepa Valluna - the variety unique to Cali and the rest of the Cauca valley. It is made only with cornmeal, water and salt, and it is buttered before eating, much like toast.
  • Arepa de choclo (or chocolo) - made with sweet corn and farmer's white cheese.
  • Arepa antioqueña - small, spherical arepas without salt served to accompany soups, expecially mondongo. Very common in the department of Antioquia.
  • Arepa Paisa - Very large and flat arepa made of white maize without salt but accompanied with meat or butter on top. Very common in the coffee-producing region, often served with hogao.
  • Arepa de arroz - This is made with cooked, mashed rice instead of corn dough.
  • Arepa santanderiana - This arepa originates from the area around Bucaramanga. It is also called Arepa de maiz pelado. It is made with yellow corn and has a distintic flavor due to the pork fat added during the preparation. It is usually dry but soft.
Colombian arepas: Chócolo (front) and Quesito (back)

In the western part of Colombia, especially around Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, a traditional breakfast includes an arepa with traditional Colombian hot chocolate.

Companies such as "Don Maíz" have started to market new, less traditional varieties of arepas in Colombian grocery stores that are nonetheless growing in popularity. These include cassava-flavored arepas and arepas made of brown rice and sesame seeds.

[edit] Similar dishes

In Colombia, the Arepuela is similar the traditional arepa. It is made with wheat flour and sometimes anise, and when fried, the layers expand and the arepuela inflates, similar to miniature tortillas or pancakes. This is very common in the interior of Colombia. In the north, bollos are popular for breakfast, which 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 can be made from batter, and may be similar to pancakes. There are at least two sorts of arepas, the "pancake arepa" which is made with baking powder, and the "big flat arepa" which is made without baking powder. These big flat arepas are in size not unlike the big tortillas that you find in Guanacaste (Northern Costa Rica), (i.e. some twelve inches in diameter) and are made of white floor and are sugary. Once perfecly cooked they should ressemble a "giraffe skin", or a "jaguar skin" (i.e. white/yellowish with brown spots).

In Mexico, there is a similar dish that is fried and called gorditas, which is different from the tortilla.

In El Salvador, similar flat cakes are called pupusas. The most important difference is that the flat cake is filled before it is cooked, usually some pork, white cheese or black beans.

[edit] References

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