We Need More Colombian Food in OC, Parte Dos

Okay, we've waited long enough. Turns out the power of suggestion was not sufficient to correct our county's dearth of comida colombiana. (Though Dave Lieberman and I were helpful enough to suggest road trips to Burbank or Hollywood.) Looks like we need to spell out what's at stake here, people. Let's start with the basics.


Ah, the arepa. It's not a Colombian meal without one. But if you think
you know what they're about because you swung by Mil Jugos a couple of
times, think again. Those are Venezuelan arepas, a thicker, puffy-on-the-inside corn cake (which are great for stuffing meat, cheese and beans into). The Colombian versions are much thinner and
flatter and cooked in a dry frying pan or (more commonly en la casa) on
a little wire grill placed over a stove burner.

You can get 'em with white masa, yellow masa, or the
arepa de chocolo, which is made with a wetter, sweet cornmeal dough
(like a very moist johnny cake). Melted white cheese sandwiched between
a couple of arepas de chocolo and griddled in a propane-powered
pushcart is a popular street food, both in Colombia and in Miami. I can
still hear the cry of “Aaa-repa-repa-reeeepa!” echoing off the walls of
the old Miami Arena, not only pre-LeBron and pre-Shaq, but pre-Pat
Fucking Riley. Good times.

The hand-flattened, stove-grilled
arepas are usually a breakfast thing. And let me be clear: Arepas
really are pretty damn bland. But if they're hand-patted nice and thin
and grilled up right, with just a bit of char, they have a thin,
crunchy outer crust that offers a note of popcorn, giving way to a
chewy interior with a subtle maize flavor. At breakfast time, a smear
of salted butter does just fine, or add a couple of slabs of soft queso
blanco–to go with your chocolate (as in Mexico, usually made with
water rather than milk). If you've got a bigger breakfast in front of
you, rip the arepa into pieces to push your eggs onto your fork.

speaking of Mexico and breakfast, on this last trip, I was treated to a
Colombian primo of the Tex-Mex fave known as migas. While the North American version mixes scrambled eggs and tortilla strips, Colombian migas make use
of yesterday's dried-out arepas, crumbling them into sauteed tomatoes and
onions, seasoning them up with salt and pepper (maybe oregano), and then scrambling them with
eggs. Rehydrated in this delicious concoction, the arepa bits take on a
delicate, almost hash-brown potato consistency. Riquisimo.

guess I do have to talk about the thicker, smaller, disc-shaped arepas, like the one
that appears in the opening photo of the chuzos platter. Hum. Well, some people
seem to like them, but to me, they always seem like undercooked corn
pucks. Even if there's a good crust, the masa inside is always too
pasty for my gringo palate.

The corn puck is about the only thing left on my plate when I order…


… a bandeja paisa. Next time, an ode to this and other
tipica classics. For
now, if you want to try your hand at making your own arepas, you can
pick up the masa at most Latino grocery stores, or at Sara's Mercado:

Sara's Mercado, 7134 Westminster Blvd., Westminster,
(714) 903-0900.

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