Having met a group of Venezuelans few summers back, I have been learning more and more about latin culture; the music, the spirit, the dancing and of course, the food.
So, I enlisted the hungriest latinas I know to show me the best of Venezuelan cuisine for [smiths] tries, and to finally taste arepas, of which I had heard so much about.
A long standing tradition, arepas have been a part of South American culture for centuries. There is some debate between Colombians and Venezuelans over whose are better and who actually created them. Arepas are circular pockets made of corn meal that can be baked, grilled or fried. The fillings vary and there are no ‘rules’ – with almost every family having their own version of the recipe.
Arriving at Arepa & Co in Haggerston sees us in a colourful little restaurant, while it is small and cosy, it has heaps of character. Rustic wooden furniture is surrounded by bright primary colours, alternative artwork on the walls and floor to ceiling windows that give a beautiful view of the Kingsland basin.
For starters we had tequeños; crispy cheese filled pastries with a fruity, spiced dipping sauce and patacones canaima; fried plantain topped with shredded beef, guacamole and coriander sauce. These bites paired with a speciality “beso del diablo” martini were a great combination to wet the appetite. Though, if you are not a fan of chilli, definitely avoid this cocktail! Any cheese lover will adore the tequeños – delicious morsels that burst with flavour.
For the main event, I ordered a mariana arepa – shredded chicken with cheddar cheese, guacamole and fried plantain. As a spice fiend, I then topped mine with the chilli dipping sauce that my fellow diners avoided. Succulent, flavourful and filling, my first taste of a real Venezuelan arepa did not disappoint.
Isabel and Fabiola, the Venezuelan friends who brought me to this wonderful little restaurant explain how common arepas are back in their home country.
“We eat arepas every day and for everything. At breakfast with eggs, cheese and butter or a traditional Venezuelan sour cream which tastes amazing! They are so fresh all the time because of the rich agriculture in our country,” says Isabel.
Despite feeling absolutely stuffed, I was assured that to come all this way and leave without trying one of the most famous Latin desserts; Tres Leches cake, would be a sin. So naturally, I had to make room for the final course. Layers of deliciously light cake, soaked in various kinds of milks such as evaporated, condensed and heavy cream to combine into a gorgeously silky custard-like sauce tasted heavenly. Arepa & Co finish theirs off with a toasted meringue hat and top it with a raspberry.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself hankering for arepas once more and made some myself with the help of a Colombian friend. Since then, I have unwittingly orchestrated an ‘arepa off’ between said Colombian and proud Venezuelan, Isabel. Winner gets eternal glory and a bottle of rum. More to follow…
Words & images, Vicki Shadbolt