During school vacations as a child, the sounds of Carlos Gardel and Julio Jaramillo‘s melodies woke me up mixed with my grandmothers off-tune singing and the grinding of corn for arepas. I’d help turn the handle on the maquina de moler (grinder), reaching high with my arms and turning it over until my arms ached and the corn became unrecognizable masa (dough) ready for arepa making. My grandmother confidently kneaded in bits of cheese into the dough, separating and forming chunks that she would nimbly work into arepas paisas, thin arepas that refused to crack under her experienced hands.
Those familiar with Venezuelan and Colombian cooking may recognize arepas as the corn dough or corn meal tortilla-like food. Arepas come in a variety of width, they’re made from different types of corn and with flavors that change and are representative of different regions. There are fried arepas, arepas de choclo, stuffed arepas, arepas boyacenses, and the list goes on.
My grandmother’s arepas, however, carry an added nostalgia of my childhoood – memories of cousins and neighbors filling the house to taste salt and buttered arepas with tinto. Our move to the U.S. meant arepa-less weekends, devoid of my grandma’s culinary art and musical preferences. The day my mother decided to make her own arepas, I recall my look of surprise. Where did she think she’d get corn, a maquina de moler, and did she really believe that it’d be easy forming perfect corn discs?
Come in masa PAN, the yellow or white cornmeal package that with the help of Venezuelan friends in Indiana, brought the taste of home into our lives. After accepting that these arepas would never taste like my grandmother’s, they took a life of their own. My step-father came up with ways to make them thinner and together with my mother, concocted an array of toppings that constitute the traditional Sunday brunch.
Back in Colombia, I’m now more aware of all the arepa stands. This is either thanks to my age, the gluten-free crazy (just google arepas and gluten-free) or because since my grandma’s passing I’m in the search for the perfect arepa. The best arepa in Bogotá? I’ve yet to find it, but I’m open to suggestions.