We think Venezuelan arepas are one of the most perfect foods: a carb-y masa shell, perfectly handheld, filled to the brim with tasty fillings (often including cheese!). Due to this perfect formula, it is no surprise then that arepas are increasingly popular worldwide. We even had arepas in Porto, Portugal (not to mention a few times in Chicago and Cleveland). One of my favorite arepa joints is located off the beaten path in Astoria, Queens, Arepas Cafe (33-07 36th Ave, Astoria, NY 11106). Lucky for me, Arepas Cafe is located conveniently near my cousin’s place, so I get to go there whenever I visit NYC.
Arepas Cafe is a humble storefront that does a brisk takeout business. We started out our lunch with my favorite Venezuelan drink, the limeade-like, Papelón con limón ($3.50), which is like the best, sweetest version of lemonade you have ever had (or the Brazilian “Swiss lemonade”). For appetizers you can get mini versions of arepas, empanadas, and cachapas (fresh corn pancakes) or the classic fried yucca ($5 for any). Though the arepas are the main draw, you can also get heartier meat entrees including the Venezuelan national dish Pabellón Criollo ($13) – shredded beef, white rice, black beans, cheese and fried sweet plantains.
The bulk of the menu is made up of arepa varieties (All of the arepas are $8 or less). There are combos for vegetarians and meat eaters alike – and we really enjoyed the Arepa Pabellón Pernil – roast pork with black beans, white cheddar and fried sweet plantains and the Guayanesa Tropical – Guyanese cheese (white fresh cheese), fried sweet plantains and avocado (pictured above). The pernil was tender and juicy and the sweet platanos maduros complemented the fresh cheese particularly well. Beyond our favorites, you can also get arepas filled with cheese, mushrooms, black beans, tuna, shrimp, chicken and more (I included my favorite arepa infographic above to give you some potential combination ideas). Arepas Cafe’s arepas are generously sized and delicious, and we have never been disappointed by our selections. Arepas Cafe is an absolute steal for NYC, and is the perfect place for a quick, hearty lunch.
Happy first day of Hanukkah – now it’s time for the treats! We wrote a little bit about the classic Sephardic Jewish dessert fritters, Buñuelos, in the past. However, we underestimated just how popular these little fried dough treats from Spain were. Though they are symbolic Hanukkah dish, and the frying of the dough represents the oil that burned for 8 nights, Buñuelos are also enjoyed as a Christmas treat. Buñuelos, (aka Bimuelos, Burmuelos, among other names) were initially created by Spanish moriscos centuries ago, but have since spread in popularity across Latin America.
Just how many Buñuelos varieties are there out there? It’s hard to say, but here we have tried to compile just a few variations on the humble Buñuelo:
When we go to NYC, we always enjoy getting arepas – Venezuelan corn masa patties with a variety of fillings – but we didn’t really have a go-to arepa spot in Chicago (pupusas, yes, but not arepas). When we were back in town, my sister recommended we try BienMeSabe (1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613) in Ravenswood, a new arepas spot that has been making waves in the Chicago food scene. Apparently, it is even becoming a go-to place for MLB players from Venezuela. The inside of BienMeSabe is clean and simple, and an attractive seating option is the large outdoor patio. BienMeSabe was so new, that when we visited, the mural they were putting up on the wall was not even finished being painted. Another key feature of BienMeSabe is that it is BYOB. When we got there on Sunday for lunch, many people were enjoying the BYOB option on the patio.
BienMeSabe’s menu mostly consists of arepas with a variety of veggie and meat toppings, each running between $8 and 10. We sampled the Reina Pepiada (Chicken Avocado Salad & Gouda Cheese), Caribbean (Caribbean Cheese, Plantain & Avocado), and the After Party (Roasted Pork, Gouda Cheese, Avocado slices). If you are not in the mood for arepas, there are also meat-heavy mains including grilled steak, fish, and the national dish of Venezuela, Pabellon Criollo. We began our meal with the shrimp tostones and the fried yuca. The shrimp tostones consisted of grilled shrimp on top of fried green plantains, and were particularly good, we really loved the spicy avocado-based Guasacaca salsa. We were also excited to see that we could get some classic Venezuelan drinks: chicha – a rice milk drink similar to Mexican horchata, and papelon con limon limeade.
The areaps are decently sized for the price, and they are not stingy with the fillings. The arepa toppings were good overall, but a little bit of a hit or miss. The roast pork on the After Party was flavorful and tender, and we think it was our favorite arepa of the day. Though the fried plantains on the Caribbean arepa were delicious, there was just too much of the somewhat flavorless shredded cheese. And for me to say there is too much cheese, there really has to have been a lot. Despite this, we really enjoyed the arepas overall and we are happy to have a Venezuelan place in the hood. We will definitely be back to BienMeSabe to sample some of the other arepa varieties and maybe a tres leches cake!
There is nothing better than a pastry and some coffee in the morning – especially freshly made sticky buns! We have been getting more into Venezuelan food recently – and we were delighted to learn about a Venezuelan take on the sticky bun that even includes fresh cheese and a touch of anise flavor – the golfeado. Golfeados are native to the capital city of Venezuela, Caracas, where they are typically topped with a slice of queso de mano cheese. If you know how to make sticky buns you pretty much know how to make golfeados – and if you don’t – it’s not that hard to learn. This version from Miami employs piloncillo, which is called papelón in Venezuela, though versions with cinnamon are common, too. We might try to make some for brunch this weekend to combat the gloomy weather blues.
Christmas food is all about comfort, and nothing is more comforting than tamales! Venezuela has their own special Christmas dish that is a close cousin of the Mexican tamal, the hallaca. A mix of European, African and Indigenous foodways, hallacas consist of masa steamed in a plantain leaf, filled with a mixture of beef, pork, chicken and olives. If you are really planning to have a big nochebuena dinner, here is a recipe to make 50 hallacas, or a slightly more modest 25. The tradition of making hallacas at Christmastime has also spread to Trinidad and Aruba, both of which are very close to the Venezuelan coast.
I found this infographic by Sorelys Liendo about Venezuelan arepas floating around on Pinterest (follow ETW if you haven’t already!) and I thought it was too good not to share. Check out all of the combinations – including the viuda (widow) – which has no filling. Arepas are one of the most popular foods in Venezuela and consist of a fried or grilled masa pocket filled with…pretty much whatever you want, as the graphic demonstrates. Adriana Lopez has a great history of the arepa for the curious, and here is a simple recipe. They really couldn’t be easier to make.
Pabellón Criollo from Wikipedia
Many congratulations to fencer Rubén Limardo, winner of Venezuela’s first Olympic gold medal since the 1968 Mexico City games. In honor of this achievement, it’s time for some Venezuelan food! When we think of Venezuelan cuisine what immediately comes to mind are arepas – filled pockets of corn dough that strike the perfect carb-to-filling ratio. Though arepas are popular – the quintessential Venezuelan dish is Pabellón criollo (which translates roughly to “Creole Flag”) – a comforting dish of rice and beans with shredded beef. Similar variants of the mother dish of rice and beans are popular throughout South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. Fried plantains are also an essential component of Pabellón criollo and for a variation, you can get your dish served with a fried egg, which is called a caballo (“on horseback”). The secret to the dish, however, is in the sofrito, the fragrant triumvirate of bell pepper, onion and garlic. What’s for Eats has a delicious-sounding recipe as does Venezuela cooking (with each component broken into a separate recipe)– seems like good party food!
93 1/2 E 7th St
New York, NY
There is something about carbs with tasty fillings (especially cheese) that get us every time. Pretty much every culture has a national version of this combo – and Venezuela has arepas. In New York one of the hottest places for brunch makes some killer arepas.
On our last trip to NYC we headed to Caracas with a group of NYC-native friends for a Saturday morning brunch. Seems like we were not the only ones with the idea for some mid-morning arepas. There was a wait out the door – so we took ours to go and eat in nearby Tompkins Square Park.
I ordered the A10, the La Del Gato, which was filled with guayanés cheese, fried sweet plantains and avocado slices ($6.25), but they forgot it and gave me a chorizo arepa instead, a bit of a bummer. We didn’t find out til we were well into Tompkins park so I ended up trading for A-14, La Jardinera ($6.25) vegetarian with our all too accommodating friend Ashley (Thanks Ashley!). Too bad for me though, since I hear the Del gato is amazing.
But in the end, I really enjoyed my trade-in. The Jardinera had grilled eggplants, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions and guayanés cheese. The arepa was near-faultless except for the fact that all of the cheese was concentrated at the bottom M ordered the A-20 La Sureña ($7.50) grilled chicken and chorizo, with avocado slices and chimichurri sauce. M loved the chorizo arepa, which had a bit of a kick.
As we noshed in the park we also split an order of fried plaintains. In the end we did not miss eating in the cramped space and enjoyed the warm weather outside. Other than the mix – up on our order. Guess it gives me an excuse to go back and order the De La Gato someday.
Some of the best known drinks of summer are the colorful Aguas Frescas from Mexico, However, here at ETW when the sun is shining we have a new favorite drink from Venezuela – Papelón con limón. It’s very simple to make – basically just limes and sugar – so think of it as a Venezuelan lemonade. What sets the drink apart however is the use of Papelón, hardened, unrefined sugarcane juice, available as piloncillo or panela in many Mexican grocery stores. Here’s a very simple recipe:
Papelón con limón
2 Cups of Papelón/Piloncillo/Panela
Juice of 4 limes
1 1/2 Liters of Water
Dissolve the sugar in warm water. Mix and serve chilled!
Lime Project by Yannick