Try it now: cornmeal arepas, the Latin American staple taking London by storm

Originating in Colombia and Venezuela, the arepa has become a must-try street food here in the UK — and not just in the capital. Find out why the Latin American cornmeal cake is here to stay, and the best places to order them.

By Ella Buchan
Published 1 Jun 2020, 08:00 BST
Selection of arepas

Whether stuffed with chicken, beans or avocado, the arepa is the ultimate South American street food.

Photograph by Getty Images

The basics

Arepas — round cornmeal cakes typically stuffed with meat, cheese or beans — have been a staple in the north of South America since pre-Columbian times. They’re most popular in Colombia and Venezuela, but also prevalent in Tenerife, where Venezuelans make up around 5% of the population. Their appeal lies in the fact they’re as filling as sandwiches, yet gluten-free; crisp and golden outside, they give way to something akin to a fluffy, savoury sponge cake inside. The key ingredient is masarepa — ground cornflour cooked in water and dried — combined with water and oil and shaped into patties. There’s heated debate as to which is best: Venezuelan or Colombian (the latter typically featuring a drier, thinner cake that’s sparsely filled, often with just melted cheese).

Where to find them

Venezuelans Gus and Kathe Salguero opened Arepa & Co, in Haggerston, east London, in 2014, with a second spot following in Bethnal Green in 2019. They serve arepas with shredded beef, black beans or roasted vegetables. Maize Blaze sizzles, slices and stuffs the savoury snack at its Colombian food stall in Camden, while Peruvian restaurant Floral by Lima, in Covent Garden, serves them extra crisp with spicy chicken or veg and goat’s cheese. Beyond the capital, Yakumama has been serving arepas at markets and events across the UK since 2014, and last year opened a restaurant in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. Elsewhere, Arepa’s Station serves Venezuelan-style arepas at markets in and around Cambridge.

The fillings

Reina pepiada
A popular Venezuelan combination of shredded chicken and avocado.

Named for its contrasting colours, this vegetarian filling comprises black bean stew topped with cheese.

Carne mechada
Slow-cooked, shredded flank steak served with guasacaca (avocado cream).

In this Colombian classic, arepas are deep-fried with an egg inside or stuffed with egg once cooked.

Published in Issue 8 of National Geographic Traveller Food

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