If you ask Colombians what food they miss most from home, you can be certain you’ll hear the word “arepa”. “At my house, there was always a freezer full of arepas. It’s like bread, you eat them every day with everything,” explains Carolina Talero.
Arepas are cornmeal patties, which are fried in a pan and served plain or with toppings. They’re popular in Colombia and Venezuela.
Arepas are cornmeal patties, which are fried in a pan and served plain or with toppings. They’re popular in Colombia and Venezuela, and have been eaten by Indigenous people long before the colonisation.
“Two generations ago, they were always made at home, but now, because most families eat them almost every day, you just buy them. Just like bread, you can make it, but most people buy it,” says Santiago Villamizar.
Talero and Villamizar came to Australia 15 years ago to study IT and industrial design. They loved the Melbourne cafe scene so much, they decided to open their open place. “Back then, South America was still very exotic and no one knew that much about it. We liked the idea of showing a bit of South America, combined with good coffee,” says Talero.
They first opened Sonido! in Fitzroy, with a menu revolving around arepas. After almost a decade of success, they’ve opened a second cafe in Preston, Arepa Days. There, you can also find their new “arepa lab”, a kitchen dedicated solely to making arepas from scratch.
“We get whole corn from Queensland. We soak it, cook it, grind it, mix it and flatten it. It was a very long process before in Sonido!’s kitchen because we had to wait for the place to be closed, but now we can do it all in one day,” says Talero. “We don’t use any flour. It’s only water, salt, vegetable oil and corn.”
“We make them the old-school way, like how people would make them two generations ago. Nowadays, when people make them at home, they buy cornflour. It’s like making a cake from scratch or making it from a Betty Crocker box. The taste is very different,” adds Villamizar.
They make a regular arepa and one filled with mozzarella cheese. You can pick the type of arepa you want and then decide how to dress it: fried egg, beans, chorizo, Vegemite, morcilla, avocado, chicken, feta, and more. Both Sonido! and Arepa Days have around eight different suggested combinations, but the sky’s the limit here, you can add anything from the menu to your plate.
For the full Colombian experience, also order the hot chocolate. It’s spiced with cinnamon and cloves and comes mixed with mozzarella. “In Colombia, you usually get cheese with hot chocolate, you don’t even have to ask for it, you always get cheese. You put it inside the hot chocolate and it melts, it’s very stringy,” says Villamizar.
Around 1300 to 1400 arepas are prepared in the arepa lab every week, and you can buy a pack to take home. They will keep in the fridge between one and two weeks, and for several months in the freezer. You can use a toaster if you’re in a hurry, but they will taste better grilled in a pan.
25 Preston St, Preston
Mon – Sat 8 am – 3 pm
69 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Mon – Fri 7:30 am – 3:30 pm
Sat 9 am – 4 pm
Sun 10 am 4 pm
This Colombian snack food consists of a cornmeal patty cooked in a frying pan and served simply with butter and salt or with any number of fillings. Split the arepas open and fill with avocado, cheese, tomato, meat, fried chicken, beans or salsa. Or try the "arepa pizza" where chorizo, cheese and spicy chicken or beef strips are used as a topping rather than a filling. In northern Colombia, fried egg arepas are a favourite – the egg is fried into the patty. Arepas are also a good accompaniment to main meals.