Feb 23

Arepas, Love Them or Hate Them? The Great Arepa Debate

Arepa Costeña
Arepa Costeña

If you’re from Colombia, you may well be thinking yourself ‘The Great Arepa Debate? What debate? Whether arepas are awesome or incredible?’. This is because here in Colombia, arepas are a staple of the diet, akin to pasta in Italy, cheese in France or beer in England. As one of our Twitter friends says, ‘if you don’t like arepas you’re not really Colombian’.

Well, many of us living here in Colombia aren’t Colombian, and therein lies the debate. Many foreigners don’t see the fuss about arepas at all (although they’ll never admit it to a Colombian), and will go out of their way to avoid them. They see them as bland, overhyped and a poor replacement for bread.

Those passionate Colombians will tell you very forcefully that they’re delicious and refuse to hear otherwise, and many other travellers agre, but what’s the truth? Delicious snack or bland taste-bud attack? We here at the Colombia Travel Blog are never ones to shy away from controversy and decided to wade into the debate bravely (stupidly?) by going out onto the street and trying some arepas for ourselves, in the hope to settle once and for all whether the arepa is worth all the fuss.


PRO AREPA – JL
Arepa Ranchera
 – avocado, shredded beef, chicken, cheese, egg

 

 

The first time I was exposed to arepas in a serious way was back when Marcela and I lived together in Buenos Aires. As with everybody – I assume – one of the things that I miss the most about my country of birth is the food, but I had never seen anyone as determined to get her arepas as Marcela. She really didnt spare any effort to have her weekly assortment of Arepas, even if it meant having to cross the whole city to San Telmo to get them. I soon came to realize it was the same with all Colombians I met abroad.

Arepa Ranchera
Arepa Ranchera

So for the (almost) 2 years we lived in Buenos Aires before moving for good to Colombia, I had Arepas almost every.single.day. And at the beginning I really didnt get what was all the fuss about Arepas… why should I have to wait till they get cooked when I could just put  a slice of delicious bread in the toaster for 30 seconds and have a sandwich?

JL looks impressed

Marcela, as she does frequently, proved me wrong.  Cooking an Arepa is really an art. It has to be at the right temperature, cooked right amount of time and only then can you spread the delicious melting butter on top of  it along with some salt. That first bite is like heaven; a crunchy corn flavour that melts in your mouth.

Now that I actually live in Colombia we don’t eat arepas as frequently as we used to and to be honest I think I started to appreciate more the arepa culture even more by having them just once or twice a week.

JL looks impressed with his arepa
JL looks impressed with his arepa

So when we decided to write a post about arepas I couldnt be happier. The one I tried for lunch today – the ranchera – was stuffed with guacamole, chicken, beef, cheese and egg…  how could I say no? Are arepas better than tortillas and/or bread? Well, I don’t think so, they are just delicious on their own way. They’re quite different, and, once in a while, they’re a delicious treat.

AGAINST AREPA – Paul
Arepa Costeña – Shredded beef, egg, costeño cheese

I’ve been in Colombia over a year so by now I pretty much know what to expect from arepas, and I can’t say I’m a fan. Nonetheless, I went into today’s test with an open mind and I was ready to be surprised. Then again, every time I’m told by a Colombian to try a different style of arepa, I go in with an open mind and I’m severely disappointed. But on to today’s arepa: the Arepa Costeña.

Paul doesn't look convinced before trying his arepa
Paul doesn’t look convinced before trying his arepa

Stuffed with shredded meat, an egg and some of that famous queso Costeño, I’m actually optimistic. I put the first mouthful in and… I’m pleasantly surprised. The filling is good, and my first mouthfuls are all full of meat. Great stuff. Unfortunately, I then carry on eating and the further in I get, the less meat I have to eat, and the more arepa I’m faced with.

Without the tender saltiness of the meat, even the ‘salsa picante’ I put on the arepa doesn’t do more than add a layer of flavour on top of the arepa: I can still taste (strong word) the arepa itself, and this, unfortunately, is the problem.

Paul tries his arepa
Paul tries his arepa

I find arepas so insanely bland sometimes my tastebuds get mildly offended. I’m mostly enjoying this one because of the filling, but when I eat tortilla or bread, I like everything about it. One bite of arepa to me tastes like when you eat way too much of one thing and you can’t stomach any more, and as I finish my half delicious arepa, I can’t help but feel all the salt and butter in the world can’t save it from being bland, stodgy, and ultimately not as good as bread.

I try to like arepas, I really do. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a cheap snack that’s available everywhere? But as I struggle to put away the final bites of my now completely plain arepa, I can’t help but wonder why Colombians are so adamant that the arepa is something you have to try when you travel here. In my opinion, there’s so much better food here in Colombia than the arepa (like the soups) and it’s time we focused on them.

Still, today’s arepa has made me think: a little arepa-based imagination and things can get better.

27 thoughts on “Arepas, Love Them or Hate Them? The Great Arepa Debate

  1. CHORI “TOQUE COLOMBIANO” AGAMEZ on

    Paul may I suggest try arepa ocañera?because ocañera’s arepa hasn’t center , so the filling will be the principal.

    My English pretty bad , here you have the recipe if you want to try it.

    http://www.thecolombiantouch.com/2015/02/arepa-ocanera_7.html

    Reply

      JL on

      Thanks Chori, we’ll surely try it, looks good!

      Reply
  2. Michelle on

    Arepas all the way! Each country makes them their own way so I wouldn’t stop eating arepas in one country even if you ate them all the time in another. Arepas filled with cheese ae my fav!

    Reply
  3. Edinson on

    I have just made some arepas for breakfast. I mixed the corn flour with warm water then added butter, shredded cheese and salt to taste mixed all into dough, flattened them into thin circles and then roasted them on a coal barbeque… uhmm, uhmm, uhmmmmmm delishhhhh!!! Have it with some more butter on top and hot chocolate. Oh yeahhhh

    Reply
  4. Natalia on

    My GoD, arepa match with every thing… for breakfast, lunch or dinner it great. Arepas is this kind of thing that you don’t notice how much you like them until you don’t have it near.

    Reply
  5. Julia on

    I am definitely pro-arepa. And I’m lucky enough to live near an arepa place, so I get delicious sammiches whenever I want them!

    Reply

      Paul on

      Haha, is this in Colombia or elsewhere in the world?

      Reply
  6. Tess on

    Love them: with ham, cheese and creamcheese OR with chicken, tomato and union OR chicken and advocado!

    Reply
  7. Vinoth on

    To begin with ,as a non meat eater i feel colombian food is very bland ,i can survive with other colombian food but definitely not arepas..it was like eating the batter directly

    Reply
  8. Diana on

    Well, I am Colombian-American and I love arepas. My fridge is always stocked with extra-thin arepas that get really crisp when cooked. However, I must admit that A LOT of the arepas I get in Bogotá are horrendous and bland (ie the arepa that comes with bandeja paisa or when you order chicken – yuk). But an arepa con queso? Mmm, yum. An arepa topped with scrambled eggs? Pretty damn good. Arepa e huevo, to die for. We need to research the hundreds of arepas that exist around the country! Long live arepas!

    Reply
  9. Michael on

    I think arepa’s by themselves are boring are difficult to eat. I loved my arepa’s with lots and lots of cheese and beans. Tastes way way better.

    Reply

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