Is she Colombian or Venezuelan? (Why this is so important)

(CNN Spanish) — Neither Colombian nor Venezuelan. Arepas are American.

The debate that Colombians and Venezuelans have faced for a long time about the origin of one of their most favorite and traditional dishes, arepas, may even be considered unnecessary by some experts. blandTaking into account the importance of this delicacy in the gastronomic culture of both countries from pre-Hispanic times to the present.

If you want to trace an origin, you must first recognize that arepas are made of corn, a plant native to “tropical America,” according to the Royal Spanish Academy, and a pre-Hispanic continent’s food base. Compared to wheat in Europe and rice in Asia.

And if you want to get into the broader meaning of the word, the etymology of arepa takes us back to the Cumanacoto tribe, who said “ereba” to name corn, according to Venezuelan historian Miguel Felipe Torta. In his book Long live the Areba!.

The Kumanagotos They were an Amerindian people who lived in what is now known as the north of Anzotegui province in Venezuela.

Arepa, Venezuela’s most popular and traditional dish, is cooked on a wood-fired iron stove in the community of Los Violetas, Sucre state, Venezuela, on December 19, 2020. (Credit: YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Experts consulted by CNN agree that the arepa is neither here nor there, but it was a common dish in both countries’ cuisines dating back to pre-Hispanic times, even when the current geopolitical divides didn’t exist.

“The origin of the arepa is American, which means it is a native product of the United States,” Colombian chef Carlos Gaviria Arbelez, a gastronomic researcher of Colombian cuisine who wrote the book, told CNN. Colombian Arepas.

“The arepa is about 900 years old,” Venezuelan author Ricardo Estrada Cuevas, author of the book, told CNN. Arthropologist, indicating a time when both countries were not yet established. “It’s not from Colombia or Venezuela. It’s eaten in this part of America, both parts.”

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Gaviria Arpelez insists that political divisions should not be confused with geographic divisions when trying to explain the origin of this dish.

“The arepa doesn’t have a passport, they don’t have a citizenship card, they don’t get a DNI,” the Colombian chef says of the arepa’s origins. While the name arepa may have originated in what is now Venezuela for anthropological reasons, he adds, it should be highlighted that cornbread is a common dietary staple throughout the Americas.

“Each continent has a food base that is part of the population: in Europe there is wheat, in other words, everything is served with bread; in Asia everything is eaten with rice, and in America corn fulfills that function. Cereals for one and all are eaten with the arepa.”

Arepas are made from corn and are most commonly grilled or fried in some parts of Colombia. (Photo by FEDERICO PARRA/AFP via Getty Images)

Arepas Here and There: Colombia vs. Venezuela

Arepas are traditional breads made of disc-shaped corn, which are cooked in a hot pan (they can also be fried) and consumed in different ways. That’s where consumption is worth distinguishing Colombian arepas from Venezuelans.

Both experts agree that appearance is not as important as the function that arepas fulfill in each country’s cuisine.

On the one hand there are Colombian dishes that are “accompanying,” appetizers to the main dishes, though they can also be the main dish, Gaviria says.

“While some arepas are stuffed and eaten stuffed, most of our arepas are accompaniments,” Gaviria says of Colombian arepas. “What do you eat arepa for breakfast? There are perfect marriages like arepa with an egg, or arepa with cheese, or chorizo.”

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In Colombia, it is normal to serve arrepitas, small arepas, with a broth, a chocolate or a plate of suckling pig.

Colombia has at least 60 types of arepas that can be paired with any other food, from neutral, peeled corn to pre-cooked corn, but there are also sweet arepas or another type: cassava. , rice, potato, banana etc. , Gaviria reviews in his book Colombian Arepas.

A traditional Venezuelan arepa filled with cheese and other ingredients. Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)

And in Venezuela, the filling is coming.

“The filling is different from Venezuela and Colombia,” Estrada said. That filling gives Venezuelan arepas a distinctly different culinary character than their Colombian sisters.

“In Venezuela, you eat shredded meat, yellow cheese and ‘belua.’ You can eat rumpera with pork leg with yellow (cheese),” Estrada points out about the variety. Arepa fillings in Venezuelan gastronomy.

Chef Alfredo Lopez prepares arepas in the kitchen of Areba Lady restaurant in the Queens borough of New York City on January 27, 2022. And that rich smorgasbord is best served in Queens. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

The “universal” areba

The arepa, a delicacy with indigenous roots, is “daily bread” in Colombia and Venezuela thanks to migrations.

It is common to see stands selling Venezuelan arepas in the Colombian arepa factories in Argentina, Chile, Mexico and the United States, which Disney sold in his movie. Charm As a food with “healing power,” it is not because it has medicinal properties, but because it is a food that calls to family tradition.

“Even though they’re part of the daily diet, it’s totally a comfort food,” says Carmen Angel, chef and co-owner of Carmen restaurants in Cartagena and Medellin, Colombia.Last year.

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“I feel that arepas are one of the foods that almost all Colombians eat every day, regardless of where they live, regardless of their religion, regardless of their (socioeconomic) status,” Angel said.

As for the eternal debate over whether they’re from Colombia or Venezuela, Gaviria settles the debate with something very simple: “I don’t think it’s a thing to fight over,” he says. “It doesn’t have to create exclusions, rather it has to create additions.”

And Estrada, the author of the book, sums up the spirit of Areba ArthropologistHe laughs and says he’s not going to get into who invented what, settling the debate in one sentence: “The arepa tastes whatever you put it in,” he points out.

Esmond Harmon

"Entrepreneur. Social media advocate. Amateur travel guru. Freelance introvert. Thinker."

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