November 17, 2011
I get abnormally excited when I hear of a person defined by what they cook. If you’re know as “THE ______ man/lady”, I’d like to think you make a damn good ______ (whatever that may be).
The Arepa Lady was no exception. When I first heard of her, I immediately put her on my bookmarks list without doing any research whatsoever. (I mean, if you’re THE Arepa Lady, I’m going to assume your arepas taste like clouds stuffed with rainbows.) Only later, when I actually read more about her, did I realize that she’s:
- Sort of a big deal on the internet (the foodies, they love her!)
- Located on 79th and Roosevelt in Jackson Heights (a bit of a trek but okay)
- Only out late on Friday and Saturday, usually around 10pm or later (…wait, what?)
So if I wanted to meet this Arepa Lady, I would have to schlep out to Queens (a good 45+ minute train ride) in the middle of the night on weekend? Just to eat street food? Oh, great. This isn’t ever going to happen.
…But wouldn’t you know it, because of coincidence and a little bit of luck, I recently found myself in Queens at 11pm on a Friday in time to visit her cart! It may have taken me a while but I finally tasted the arepas from The Arepa Lady.
Before I get to The Arepa Lady’s arepas, a little background about arepas in general: My first arepa experience was at Caracas Arepa Bar, where the arepas were hard and crispy on the outside with very little doughiness in the middle. After Caracas, I began seeking out arepas in LA; all the ones I found were also crispy on the outside. Therefore, I (mistakenly) assumed that that was just the way all arepas were.
The Arepa Lady opened my eyes to a totally different variety of arepas. All those arepas I’ve had in the past? They were Venezuelan-style arepas. The Arepa Lady, she serves Colombian arepas.
Unlike Venezuelan arepas, which are first cooked and then stuffed with filling, Colombian arepas are usually eaten with the filling either mixed into the batter before cooking or piled on top afterwards. Filling on top vs. filling stuffed inside…doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? In actuality, it creates very noticeable differences in both flavor and texture.
For example, The Arepa Lady’s arepa de queso is made by mixing corn flour with mozzarella cheese and then topping it with butter and queso blanco once the patty has been cooked to a light brown. The resulting consistency is a soft and tender, almost doughy disc – a completely different texture than the crispy pockets you get at Caracas. (Btw, I’m using the word “doughy” loosely. The arepa is neither gummy nor mealy nor does it taste undercooked, it’s just very, very soft because of the mozzarella cheese which melts while cooking.)
Then there’s her arepa de choclo, which is essentially a large sweet corn pancake. Sweetened plain corn batter is poured onto the griddle, cooked on both sides, then sprinkled with queso and folded in half. I found that, while the arepa de choclo is described to be the sweet to the arepa de queso’s savory, both arepas have a slight sweetness from the corn flour. The arepa de queso does have more cheese though, which means more salt to offset the sweetness.
Now if you really want something salty to go with your arepas, order a skewer of meat. She has chorizo and chunks of pork, which can be topped with either lemon juice, bbq sauce or hot sauce with your choice of a potato, small arepa biscuit or bread on the side. I’d recommend the potato – there’s something so satisfying about chowing down on a hot potato when it’s cold outside.
Lastly, if you don’t live in New York or don’t feel like trekking to Queens for arepas, she did publish her arepa recipe for you to recreate yourself. However, I think I’ll still make the trip the next time I get a Colombian arepa craving – after all, she IS The Arepa Lady.