Here’s how to prepare arepas, the signature dish of Venezuela

Arepa with cheese and carne mechada

Most people identify foods with a particular country. Pizza for Italy, tacos for Mexico and gallo pinto is 100 percent Costa Rican. Well, if you ever want to impress a Venezuelan, you should tell them how much you love their famous arepas.

Arepas are as important as gallo pinto and casados are for Costa Ricans. So what exactly is an arepa? It’s a warm circular corn patty that is usually stuffed with delicious foods such as pulled beef, cheeses, ham, salami, avocado, fried egg, tuna, or if you want, just a slab of butter. Two make a perfect lunch. One makes a perfect mid-afternoon snack. Lucky for you, they are easy to make and the ingredients readily accessible:

* Pre-cooked white corn meal (look for the yellow colored
packet called harina pan)
* Vegetable oil
* Water
* Salt

Pour 1/4 of a kilo of the corn meal into a bowl. Slowly pour an equal amount of luke warm water into the bowl and move the cornmeal around with your hands (feel free to add a bit more water). Add a teaspoon of salt and a few tablespoons of oil. Start running your hands through this corn dough so that it smooths out. Try to squash all the little corn balls that inevitably form.

Take a ball of about 150 grams into your hands and mold into a flat, circular patty. A good size is about 5 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. When both sides of the patty are flat, place on a grill, or pan, at low to medium heat.

Make sure the pan has a bit of oil on it so that the arepa does not stick. Cook on both sides for about six minutes. It is ready when the outside is a bit toasty and the inside is soft and gooey. When the arepa is cooked, just slice open like pita bread, stuff with cheese and you have got yourself an arepa de queso. You should get about four arepas out of that corn dough mixture.

However, if cooking isn’t your thing or if you’d like to try one made by a Venezuelan first, come visit my restaurant in downtown San José, Caracas Arepas & Juice Bar. We have got 12 different kinds of arepa stuffings, such as the popular carne mechada, and we also make great Venezuelan smoothies like the tres en uno, which has orange juice, beets and carrots.

Happy arepa making!

*Mr. Marin is from Boston where his Venezuelan parents live. His Web site is

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