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Have you heard of the gluten-free bread, arepa?

Mexico has tacos, while Venezuela has arepas. Now, these gluten-free breads are getting popular for their versatility

A cook prepares arepas in the kitchen of the Arepa Lady restaurant in New York. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
A cook prepares arepas in the kitchen of the Arepa Lady restaurant in New York. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

A South American staple, especially in Columbia and Venezuela, is currently making waves in parts of North America and Europe, according to a story published by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) today. Arepas are cornmeal breads which are grilled and eaten for almost every meal. They only need three ingredients—salt, water, and a special pre-cooked corn flour called masarepa—thus making them a perfect accompaniment for a main meal.

A National Public Radio (NPR) article, titled Arepas are conquering the world–but dying at home in Venezuela, published in 2017 goes into the unique history of the arepa. In Venezuela, women would soak maize kernels, dry them, and then grind them into a fine flour. They would then knead the flour with water to create dough. When cooked on a hot pan, the sides would be crisp but the insides would be left soft and moist. According to the story on NPR, these days, Venezuelans eat at least two arepas every day of the year.

Arepas are cooked on a griddle, like rotis, but they can also be fried, baked, or boiled. Filling choices can differ from region to region but popular ingredients are meat, eggs, beans, pumpkins, cheese, and more. A Venezuelan favourite called reina pepiada is an arepa filled with a mix of chicken, mayonnaise and avocado.

Recently, with the immigration of more than seven million Venezuelans, the arepa has become popular in cities like New York, Paris and Tokyo. Marlyn Quiroga runs Arepa La Newyorkina, a restaurant specializing in this bread and other Venezuelan dishes in New York. In an interview with AFP, she said that people of New York now prefer these gluten-free stuffed breads.

Food trucks selling arepas are also on the rise in several cities. Arepa Zone in Washington DC has already won multiple awards such as Best New Food Truck, Breakthrough Dish, and more, since opening in 2020. Luis Fernando Machado, a Venezuelan expat, started a food truck, Ajidulce in Paris. Now, he shared with AFP, his small business has 10 employees.

The popularity of the arepa can be attributed to its versatility and being gluten-free, which make them a good snack or an accompaniment to a heavier meal. It can also be eaten on its own without any filling, and this version is called the viuda, or the widow. As Patrick Ribas, the translator for a book about this bread, titled Arepologo told AFP, the arepa “is a food that has no social class.”

With inputs from AFP.

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