Monday, May 4, 2009

Battle of the Arepas- Colombia vs. Venezuela

Continuing on our journey to explore the passionate world of Latin cuisine, we embark on a mission to figure out which country reigns in the art of creating South America's beloved flatbread, The Arepa!

A bit of research and common knowledge has led me to understand that Arepas are rooted deep in the cultures of two neighboring countries, Colombia and Venezuela. Leaving recent political rivalries aside, we put these two countries to the test in a Battle of the Arepas.

Since Venezuela is credited for pioneering the Arepa movement in the US, we decided to take a trip to Brooklyn's Caracas Arepa Bar (718.218.6050/ 291 Grand St. b/w Havemeyer St. and Roebling St.). Located in the heart of gentrified Williamsburg, the ambiance of Arepa Bar is very hipster-trendy, using recycled and raw building materials as decorations. Their outdoor seating and open windows create the perfect springtime atmosphere. We arrived at the perfect time, exactly half an hour before people were waiting in line to be seated and the employees, who had been chatting with us about the place, began racing back and forth shouting orders in the already fast-paced Venezuelan dialect.

To accompany the arepas, Venezuelans have created one of the most refreshing non-alcoholic drinks i've tasted, papelón. It's simply made of sugar loaf or panela (compressed sugar cane extract), water and lime. I would call it upgraded limeade! The papelón below was almost empty when I took the picture not only because of how refreshing it was but because it was Jaquie's drink. Her mutant ability is to absorb liquid very fast (Tribute to the X-Men craze).

Split open like pitas and stuffed with a large variation of ingredients, the Venezuelan masa (dough) is a bit greasier than its Colombian counterpart. From what I understand, it's also consumed more commonly as a nighttime food in Venezuela whereas Colombians consume arepas mainly during breakfast.

Before I get into what we ate, I have to admit that I have a weakness. If I see chorizo on a menu, any dish containing this spicy Spanish sausage becomes my number one choice. I think Jaquie has the same weakness because we ordered the only two arepas that had chorizo. The first was called Los Muchachos (The kids), which was stuffed with grilled chorizo, spicy crisped white cheese, jalapeños and green peppers. I was expecting a little more spice and it was a bit too greasy, but that's what you get if the main ingredient is chorizo. Overall very tasty and the crispy cheese added a crunch that went well with the arepa.

The second arepa was la Sureña (The Southerner). A chorizo and chicken stuffed delicacy with avocados and, as the menu describes, the always enigmatic spicy chimichurri sauce. (See Don't try to Eat Argentinaaa post for a link to an amazing chimichurri recipe). This arepa was also quite tasty but again greasy and had way too much going on at once. “Venezuela, you make a great arepa and you sure do know how to market it in the urban scene.”

Now let me introduce the competitor, the Colombian Arepa, which eaten alone is probably less enjoyable than regular white bread or a plain pita. Zero salt or oil is added creating a bland taste. It’s really all about the toppings, the crunchy exterior and the soft inner texture. Colombians traditionally place their toppings on top of the arepa, though the stuffed arepa is beginning to surface more and more as it crosses the barrier of homemade breakfast to a nighttime street food.

Arepas Pues Mixtas (83-15 37th ave/ phone # does not work) is owned by a middle-aged Colombian couple that began their venture by selling arepas in Flushing Meadows Park. The chatty lady reminded me of one of my aunts because of her comforting nature. While she mentioned that they haven’t had much success with advertising, it looks like word of mouth seems to be working just fine for them because a few minutes after we arrived, the very small eatery was jam-packed with Colombian arepa lovers even after their closing time.

The place has no menu and only two choices: Arepa mixta or arepa with butter and cheese. The new aged, non-traditional arepa mixta has all the main proteins stuffed in one arepa. It starts with my absolute favorite tasting thing in the world, chicharron (pork rinds). Think not of the stuff you get in the bag but instead bacon on steroids. Next is a layer of chicken followed by shredded beef, which Jaquie enjoyed much more than I did. She described it as tender and juicy. I was too busy trying to dig up the chicharron. Lastly, it's topped with shrimp in salsa golf (ketchup and mayo) which is used on practically all Colombian street foods.

We then had a more traditional butter and cheese arepa, which I thought would come served with the butter and cheese on top instead of inside, but I guess Arepas Pues Mixtas is sticking to their modern ways.

After much deliberation, Jaquie and I concluded that even though Venezuelan arepas are well worth the buzz and several trips to Brooklyn, Colombia comes out on top. The simplicity of the traditional butter and cheese arepa is so satisfying that it becomes a staple food you will constantly crave and go out of the way to prepare again and again. The new-age arepa mixta has three things that destroy its Venezuelan rival:

1. Chicharron
2. A lighter, healthier, crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside arepa
3. Salsa Golf

Need I say more?

You can do it yourself!! I've included a picture of a supermarket bought arepa which I toasted, buttered up and placed Colombian cheese and two eggs on top. This is the Colombian breakfast of champions.
Caracas Brooklyn on Urbanspoon


  1. Danny! I love this post....Arepas are my favorite food!
    Everytime I go to Colombia to visit, I go to a restaurant J & C Delicias. They have arepas with everything.
    Venezuelan arepas look delicious too.

  2. Love the post my friend! But I beg to differ Venezuelan arepas are much better than Colombian! You need to try the very basic Venzuelan arepa. Arepa rellena de queso o de diablito and then we'll talk ;)

  3. I've had both and for some reason I think Colombian arepas are a lot better. Here is another spot that I was telling Danny to hit up

  4. My Mom is Colombian so I grew up on Colombian I'm kinda partial to Colombian arepas. Great post!

  5. Wow cous of course I knew the Colombian arepas would win!! Man I love aprepas morning noon or night!! They look very yummy and I will definetly be hitting us the Colombian spot. I love your blog!

  6. Lleni-
    I must say I have very limited experience with Venezuelan Arepas so until I try the ones you are talking about, let's call it a tie.

    Those arepas look unbelievable. We must definitely check this place out.

    My bias will always be Colombian when it comes to Arepas being that they are my number 1 comfort breakfast. I hope they become as popular as burritos. Then I will start my next site Nobody take it!!

    Buen Provecho,

  7. Thanks for the comparison and the different places. I am Colombian and grew up eating the simple arepa con queso or arepa con mantequilla, so I am partial to that one. I have not had many of the Venezuelan ones, but I won't knock 'em. They love their arepas as much as we do. Lets all enjoy them!

  8. Hahahaha I just discovered your blog and I'm loving it!!! I like your writing style and the premise of the site. I'll continue to visit you for sure.
    I've heard of the Caracas Arepas bar (I actually saw it on Thorwdown with Bobby Flay) and my only critique is that they seem to step away from the traditional (PERFECTION) and authentic Venezuelan arepas, to make room for funky fillings. I'm Venezuelan so that's my clear choice, but my nanny was Colombian while I was growing up, and she always made her arepas, which I remember enjoying! I think each has its own charm :)

  9. Tengo entendido que en Colombia y Venezuela se comen las arepas por tradición. A mi me encantan las Arepas Colombianas porque soy bien Colombiano!. Para terminar, debo felicitar al autor de este artículo que es muy ameno, entretenido e interesante. :)

  10. I am venezuelan and i have never tried columbian arepas. Im sure that they are just as delicious as the venezuelan arepas! but we have to stop the constant dispute about which country founded arepas! as long as they taste good that's all that matters!!! QUE VIVAN LAS AREPAS!!!

  11. Great blog mate, here at Colombian Arepas we are trying to educate people in Australia and all over the world of this simple yet yummy snack!!!

  12. i totally agree with this post. colombian arepas are better in my opinion aswell...

    venezuelan arepas are tasty too, but not as much addictive

  13. Well I have to disagree, I am Venezuelan and I make my areas soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, not greasy at all. My brother does not like them crunchy, so it really is a matter of taste, especially in a restaurant in New York, the owner decides what goes. When you try them in an "arepera" in venezuela, we can talk (You can tell the cook how you prefer the arepa). PS: We do eat them for breakfast most often than anything else, but we will eat an arepa pretty much at any time of the day, and they are the BEST after a night of clubbing

    1. I am a gringo married to a Colombina. My wife is from the border city of Cucuta. Lots of Venezolans in Cucuta. I have eaten both the area Colombiana and the area Venezolana. This gringo likes both, but I like the arepa colombana more. Viva Colombia!

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. I'm Venezuelan & I've actually tried both & have to say Venezuelan Arepas are better! ( not because I'm Venezuelan) you don't have fill your Arepa with greasy food. You can also simply just have them with Ham & cheese for breakfast, so good!

  16. I live in Chile, but I work with a lot of Colombian and Venexuelan people; and I know for sure this will never be settled (just like Pisco for Chile and Perú).
    I realy like going to this Colombian arepa place called Doña Arepa.
    But when it comes to home made, I am a fan of Venezuela for sure.

    Again, this will NEVER be settled... but it's fun to eat and compare! right? :)

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