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The History of Arepas

The arepa is a pre-Columbian dish from the area that is now Colombia and Venezuela. Instruments used to make flour for the arepas, and the clay slabs on which they were cooked, were often found at archaeological sites in the area. Although it has not been specified in which country an arepa was cooked for the first time, it has been possible to define the oldest dates of the presence of maize (the base ingredient in an arepa) in Colombia and in Venezuela.

In Colombia, the first record of the existence of corn dates from about 3,000 years ago, while in Venezuela the estimate is about 2,800 years ago.

Throughout its history, the arepa has stayed mainly unchanged from the arepas that pre-Columbian native peoples would have consumed, making the arepa one of the few pre-contact traditions that have remained popular in the years since colonization.

Corn, which is the base ingredient of the arepa, has its origin in pre-Columbian times; anthropological evidence shows it has been a prominent food in Colombia for about 3,000 years, and in Venezuela for around 2,800 years. Much like wheat or oats in Europe, corn formed the basis of the indigenous peoples’ diets; the Timoto–Cuica people ( found in present-day Mérida, Venezuela), living in what is now Colombia, even considered corn a gift from the gods. In most tribes, women were in charge of its preparation, from soaking the corn grains to grinding them in order to make the flour that is later turned into dough.

No one knows for sure when and where the first arepa was consumed – though it is said that the Cumanagoto people, in the territory that would eventually become Venezuela, called their cornbread “erepa”. Whatever its origin, today the arepa is the most recognised icon of the Colombian and Venezuelan gourmet traditions.

The Variations:

Here are some Colombian Arepas:

Arepa de huevo – Found mostly on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, this arepa is prepared with ground maize, and is bathed in garlic water before frying, to give it a crunchy texture. Just before the arepa is fully cooked through, an egg is cracked into it. Some like to eat it with hogao, a tomato- and onion-based sauce.

Arepa de choclo – This preparation comes from the department of Valle del Cauca, in southwestern Colombia. It has a spongy texture, and is prepared with sweet corn and stuffed with cheese. These are generally eaten at breakfast or as a snack.

Here are some Venezuelan Arepas:

Reina pepiada – Named in honour of the late Susana Duijm, a Venezuelan celebrity and winner of the Miss World pageant in 1955, this arepa is filled with chicken salad made with mayonnaise and avocado.

Tumbarrancho – Originally from the state of Zulia, in Venezuela’s northwestern corner, this arepa is prepared by placing a slice of mortadella in the already roasted arepa, and then closing it and dipping it in flour and egg, before frying in oil. Finally, it’s filled with cheese, minced cabbage, tomato, tomato sauce and mayonnaise.


“De los timoto-cuicas a la invisibilidad del indígena andino y a su diversidad cultural” by Luis Bastidas Valecillos

“Labor Versus Empire: Race, Gender, Migration” edited by Gilbert G. Gonzalez, Raul A. Fernandez, Vivian Price, David Smith, Linda

“Obtención y caracterización de harinas compuestas de endospermo - germen de maíz y su uso en la preparación de arepas” by Blanca D. Hernández, Marisa J. Guerra and Francisco Rivero


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