It’s a good thing that I came off of my no-carb diet for this vacation, because the staple of almost every Colombian meal is a flattened corn cake known as an arepa (definitely not allowed on the diet!). Prior to going on this trip, I knew that arepas were popular in Colombia, but I now realize that they account for about 50% of all meals. Seriously, if you’re being served a plate of food in Colombia, chances are that there is an arepa hiding somewhere on your plate. It could be hiding under your eggs, or buried under your meat, but it’s there…trust me!
I haven’t been in Colombia for more than 12 hours now, and I have already consumed more than three different varieties of these delicious corn cakes. I had my first one last night with Carne Machada (shredded beef), after a long night at the “Chupteria” (aka shot bar…I don’t know why these don’t exist in America!). And I must admit that guys sport the mullet hairstyle here as abundantly as arepas appear in the Colombian diet. I could not get over the number of rat-tails that I saw when I looked around the bar last night. I felt like I was trapped in a horrible 80’s film or something. And it wasn’t even a traditional mullet, it was more like a sea-horse hairstyle, where the hair gradually gets longer as it nears the center of the skull and the nape of the neck. I don’t know if this was their attempt at bringing the mullet into the 21st century or what, but it was still God awful. In fact, I would have almost preferred the traditional mullet, as like a vintage homage to the 80’s.
Anyways, let me end this tangent and get back to the food. My first arepa was actually disappointing, granted it was from a really budget-looking food window and only cost like $2 American dollars. It was far too overcooked and kind of charred on the bottom. The meat was the polar opposite of tender, in fact it had the stiff and sharp texture of hay. But did this stop me from drowning that bad boy in hot sauce and scarfing down the whole thing?
Most certainly not! Nothing a little hot sauce can’t remedy!
My second arepa was for breakfast this following morning at the hotel (pictured above), and that redeemed my experience from last night. It was fresh, tender, and delicious. Again, I ordered beef (this time skirt steak), and also avocado. The beef was seasoned just right and the avocado added a delicious creamy texture that mimicked cheese. The highlight of my breakfast though was my coffee and my Coconut Lemonade Smoothie. The coffee was divine, served with steamed milk and chocolate shavings. And the Coconut Lemonade was out of this world. It reminded me of a Pina Colada without the overbearing sweetness, and a lemonade without the mouth-puckering tartness. In fact, I want to start using Bacardi Limon in my Pina Coladas, because I think that will imitate the flavor of this drink. Incredible.
Also very good were the Fried Plantain Chips with Avocado Crème Fraise, which came out as a starter to the meal. They were not too oily and the dipping sauce was a perfect compliment to the salty flavor of the chip.
My third arepa, and so far the best of the entire trip, was enjoyed once we got to my friend’s Uncle’s house in the mountains. It was served with shredded chicken, stewed tomatoes, onions, and salsa picante. Unfortunately, I ate this one so fast that I forgot to even take a photo, but the reality is that no photo would have even done it justice. All of the food during our stay at the ranch this weekend (formerly owned by Pablo Escobar….how cool?), is being cooked Colombian natives named Marta y Maria. I only wish I could whip up the kind of things that they have been putting out for us to eat.
For those of you looking to get a delicious arepa in Miami, I suggest going over to European Corner in Sunset Place. Although it is a Venezuelan restaurant/market (don’t ask me why it’s called European Corner, when Venezuela is in South America…still beats me), they serve incredible arepas that I actually prefer over Colombian ones. My favorite is the Arepa con Carne Machada. They stew their meat until it is perfectly tender, and the flavor is ridiculous. The arepa itself is also delicious, and it’s never burnt! I usually get two because they are small, and make sure that you try some of the hot sauce (or creamy sauce, if spice isn’t your thing) because it adds another layer of flavor to the dish. To start, I recommend the Taquenos, which is queso blanco wrapped in bread dough and fried. They are perfect as an appetizer or even snack to go. And you must—I repeat, MUST—try the Passion Fruit Juice (parchita). It is the most delicious juice that I have ever tasted and I literally go out of my way to get it here at least 4 times a week.
The only downside to European Corner is that you need to be proficient in Spanish to avoid the “Gringo Tax” and ensure that you get what you want. Abuelito (the elderly man that owns the place) doesn’t exactly speak the best English and he will tack on a fee to your bill if you make him. I paid my dues all last year, and now I try to speak Spanish as best I can with him. I like to think I’m getting better because he now lights up with a smile and calls me “mi nina” when I walk into the store. Of course, the reality is that he is probably just happy because he knows I’m a “Gringa gorda” that will spend about $20 on my extravagant breakfast/lunch there. But hey, at least I pay what the Venezuelan’s pay now!