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September 19, 2018

The Quintessential Arepa

by Anne Paddock

When my daughter was little, my friend from Columbia taught her a Spanish pattycake-like song which went something like this:

a-re-peat-a, ma ma ma

a-re-peat-a, pa pa pa

While they sang the song, they would pretend they were shaping cornmeal batter into an arepa – a round, thick corn cake  (think of shaping play doh into a thick round disk and you get the idea) that is very popular in South America and particularly Columbia and Venezuela.

In their simplest form, arepas are often warmed and then covered with a light layer of butter or cheese but these delicious corn cakes can also be sliced and filled with black beans, cooked plantains, avocado, tomato or almost anything you can think of. The arepa is the vessel – albeit a moist delicious one – and is what the tortilla is to Mexico, bread, bagels and English Muffins to America, the baguette or croissant to France, and what knekkbrød is to Norway.

In New York City, and specifically in the East Village there is a small storefront (as in really tiny, so little that no more than 6 or 8 people can fit in the store at one time) on Avenue A (at the corner of East 9th Street), across the street from Thompkins Square Park, called the Arepa Factory that specializes in arepas.

There are dozens of ways to enjoy an arepa (as illustrated below in their menu sign) but my favorite is the first option listed on the menu: the Del Campo:  a warm homemade arepa filled with steaming hot black beans, sweet cooked plantains, sliced avocado, and tomatoes. 

All for $9.25.  If you’re inclined, ask for extra avocado for $1.75; it’s worth it.Or, choose your own fillings that also include caramelized onions, arugula, watercress, tapenade, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, roasted pine nuts, and more.

Open 6 days a week (Mon-Sat) from 11 am – 11 pm and on Sunday from 11 am – 9pm. Located at 147 Avenue A in the East Village in New York City. No website. The phone number is 646-490-6828.

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