Arepa are a South-American flat bread that was traditionally made by the natives while the European ruling classes ate bread made from wheat. Arepas is now eaten by all classes.
In the traditional process, you started with kernels of corn that you would process yourself into a dough (see Arepa Flour.) The process takes a good 7 to 12 hours. Nobody does that anymore, they just buy the special flour, allowing Arepas to be made in 30 minutes. Most people seem to buy the brand called "P.A.N." Many people prefer the white cornmeal version over the yellow. The corn flour is mixed with water, then formed into discs and traditionally baked either on tiles called "aripos", or on a griddle or baked in an oven (if the family had one.)
Now, of course, they are just as likely to be baked in a specially designed electric Arepas cooker. It has six wells that you fill with the Arepas batter. You close the lid, and have ten minutes to catch up on your soap before the Arepas are ready to eat.
Arepas are cooked when they sound hollow when tapped.
Venezuelan Arepas are about the size and thickness of what North Americans would call an English muffin. They can be baked, fried, grilled, griddled or poached -- but they are usually fried. Particularly when fried, the outside will be crisp; the inside may be chewy or fluffy. Occasionally, they may be sweetened with papelón (the Venezuelan word for Panela, brown sugar cones), and flavoured with aniseed.
To serve, an Arepa is split open, and then has a filling put inside it. The filling can be grated cheese, meats or other things. One version in Venezuela, called "la reina pepiada", is stuffed with chopped meat, avocado and cheese.
Young people eat them after clubbing, buying them from Areperas: small food stands or restaurants that make and sell Arepas with fillings, like sandwich shops. The available fillings are on display in a buffet style cold / steam counter. The Arepa is split open like a hamburger bun, leaving it partly attached at the back. The vendor will scoop out and discard some of the inside to make more room for filling. Then the vendor will put your choice of filling in it, wrap it in waxed paper, and hand it to you to eat standing up.
Arepas are also traditional at breakfast for Venezuelan families, at which time they may just be buttered.
Arepas made in Columbia are thinner, more like a pancake. They'll use two to make a sandwich with, rather than trying to split them in half. One popular way of serving them is to sandwich two of them together with a layer of cheese in between, butter the outsides of the sandwich and grill it until crisp and golden.
To make Arepas use equal parts flour and water, along with a splash of oil and a dash of salt. Blend into a dough.
Pat into round, palm-sized flat cakes (3 inches / 7.5 cm), 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick, with smooth, even edges. For Columbian-style, make them 4 inches (10 cm) wide and 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.
To cook, either:
Fry in 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) oil OR
For Venezuelan-style, brown first on a skillet or griddle, and then bake in a heated oven for 15 minutes; OR
For Colombian-style, brown on a skillet or griddle.
When freezing Arepas, freeze while still warm, each separated from each other by plastic wrap. Reheat in oven wrapped in tin foil for about 10 minutes (at about 350 F / 175 C.)
Arepas is pronounced "ah RAY pah".
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