Before the hunger epidemic hit modern-day Venezuela, it was estimated the average Venezuelan ate around 750 arepas a year. This means when given the chance, Venezuelans would consume a minimum of two arepas a day, which doesn't even take into account the Harina PAN used for hallacas and empanadas.

Now, in Venezuela, the arepa is hanging by the last of the water supplied to the cities and replaced by lines of people stretching miles to obtain one loaf of bread to last weeks. There's no amount of Juan Luis Guerra and Bacilos one could play in the background to push that kind of heartbreak to the side.

Even when the knot in your throat tightens and memories of rides in your grandfather's 1968 peach-orange muscle car in Caracas overwhelm, you must never forget the power of a good arepa. Because there is absolutely nothing more Venezuelan than an arepa. 

The Basics

With the use of the Venezuelan brand Harina PAN, which is now manufactured in Miami, a little water and a little salt, a Venezuelan can be transported back to the country that once led Christopher Columbus to refer to it as "paradise on Earth."

Water and dough combine to create the perfect consistency for the arepa. The intense aim to form the balls that would eventually be flattened into a “corn patty” complements the sizzle of churned butter swirling around the edges of the pan. It performs a tribal dance of sorts, indicating its readiness. Each individual arepa is placed with strategic care. Cue the applause.

But it’s not over yet.

The Preparation

Arepas require work. Patience. Love. And the occasional flip to acquire the ideal crisp. Its fillings are taken equally as seriously.

The deviled ham we call “diablito” is to be carefully handled to avoid pricking your fingers with the sharpness of the metals that covers the cans. One may argue it offers a near disturbance to the avocado and cheese duo, but man, does it make its presence known with its meaty flavor. 

For us, the first time grasping the mixing bowl and gingerly kneading the Harina PAN dough as your father cuts into the ripe avocados to form nearly perfect crescent slices is a rite of passage. The spice of Queso Paisa being grated into ½ inch slivers that makes the bulk cheese nonexistent provides the ultimate garnish for later. 

The Many Fillings

While the classic avocado, cheese and deviled ham trio is one of my personal favorites, it doesn't stop there — that's only one part of the Arepan culture. The versatility of the arepa represents a variety of fillings, from classic ham and cheese to chorizo con queso Manchego or shredded beef and chicken. It can be classically “asada” or fried with a hole in the middle. The definition of an arepa is truly what one makes it to be

Arepas are the centerpiece of Venezuelan neighborhood get-togethers, where pound-bags of Harina PAN make their way into the crevices of the stove and stealthily hide on marble counters.

Similarly, the arepa continues to seep itself into culinary scenes around the world, from Richmond to New York, San Francisco to the Pacific Northwest, Barcelona to Paris. They're a cultural movement here to stay. Here to remind us that we’re proud to be Venezuelan and that no matter where we may be, we will always bring along our Harina PAN, taking precarious steps to ensure our arepas taste like home.