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Arepas – Street Food of South America

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Two passionate Vanlife cooks and the creators of Vanlife Eats.

What are Arepas and What is the Origin of This Street Food?

Arepas are versatile corn flour patties that can be eaten plain, stuffed or combined with just about any filling you choose. These gluten free patties are a popular street food across South America. Their versatility and simplicity make them an ideal option for a quick snack, easy lunch meal or even the perfect midnight snack. Enjoy Arepas stuffed, topped, or simple and plain.

Arepas, a popular staple of Latin American cuisine, are versatile, delicious, and perfect for a delicious quick cook. Made primarily from pre cooked corn flour arepas are flat, round patties that can be grilled, baked, fried, boiled, or steamed.

Origin and History of Arepas

The Roots in Pre-Columbian Times

Arepas have a long history dating back to pre-Columbian times. Indigenous peoples of the region that is now Venezuela and Colombia are responsible for the creation of arepas. These early versions were made using the same ingredients: cornmeal, water, and salt. Corn was a central component of their diet and culture, revered as a sacred crop and a gift from the gods.

Evolution and Cultural Significance

With the arrival of European colonists, arepas began to adapt to suit European flavours. Arepas soon became the culinary traditions of both Venezuela and Colombia, where it remains a classic today. Each country has developed its own variations and styles, making arepas a symbol of national pride and cultural identity.

In Venezuela, arepas are often filled with a variety of ingredients such as cheese, meats, avocado, and beans, creating a hearty meal that can be enjoyed at any time of day. The Colombian arepas, while similar, tend to be simpler, frequently served with cheese or a simple spread of butter.

The Modern Arepas

The popularity of arepas has spread far beyond the borders of Venezuela and Colombia. Today, you can find arepa stands and restaurants in major cities around the world, from New York to Barcelona. Their versatility and adaptability to various fillings and toppings have made them a favorite among street food enthusiasts globally.

How to Make Arepas

One of the beauties of arepas is their simplicity, making them an excellent dish to prepare in a tiny kitchen or with even the most basic of equipment. Here’s a traditional recipe for you to try.

Basic Arepas Recipe


  • 2 cups of pre-cooked cornflour (such as Harina PAN)
  • 2 1/2 cups of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (for frying or grilling)


  1. Mix the Dough: In a large bowl, combine the cornflour and salt. Gradually add the warm water, mixing continuously until a dough forms. The dough should be moist but not sticky. It will feel like kids play foam.
  2. Shape the Arepas: Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball and then flatten it into a patty about 1/2 inch thick.
  3. Cook the Arepas: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the arepas for about 5-7 minutes on each side, or until they develop a golden-brown crust. Alternatively, you can grill them.
  4. Serve and Enjoy: Once cooked, arepas can be split open like a bun and stuffed with your favorite fillings. Popular choices include cheese, ham, avocado, scrambled eggs, or black beans.

Tips for Perfect Arepas

  • Consistency: The dough should be smooth and pliable. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water. If it’s too wet, sprinkle in more cornmeal.
  • Cooking Surface: A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is ideal for cooking arepas as it provides even heat distribution and a perfect crust.
  • Storage: Uncooked arepa dough can be stored in the fridge for a day or two, making it easy to prepare fresh arepas on the go. Better still, freeze a batch of the pre made patties!

Variations and Toppings

The beauty of arepas lies in their adaptability. Here are some popular variations and topping ideas to inspire you.

Venezuelan Arepas

  • Reina Pepiada: Shredded chicken with avocado and mayonnaise.
  • Arepa de Pabellón: Shredded beef, black beans, plantains, and cheese.
  • Arepa de Queso: Simple yet delicious, filled with melted cheese.

Colombian Arepas

  • Arepa de Choclo: Sweet corn arepas often served with cheese.
  • Arepa con Huevo: Deep-fried arepa filled with an egg.
  • Arepa de Queso: Similar to the Venezuelan version, typically served with cheese either inside or on top.

Arepas are a cultural staple food that connects people to the history and traditions of Latin America. For street food enthusiasts, arepas offer a versatile, energy-efficient, and delicious meal option that can be enjoyed at any time of day whilst on the go.

As we travel in our van, Apreas have become a regular snack, lunch and dinner! We have tried so many combinations of filling and it’s ideal to use up leftovers or whatever you have available in the fridge.

Enjoy making these and let us know what fillings you use in yours.

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