Friday, February 11, 2011

Quick Bites: Arepas

After a night of drinking in Orlando, we were all struck with the munchies and looking for a quick bite before heading home. Matt and I were with A & J, and we were accompanied by J’s cousin Carlos, his girlfriend Deyra, and their friends. Carlos and company, like J, have Hispanic roots, and luckily they know where to go for some Latin-flavored midnight snacks.

We headed out to the more industrial side of town, where- at 3AM- everything was pitch black save for street lamps and the head lights of oncoming traffic. Later on, I discovered that the spot where we ate was actually across a BMW dealership, and that it was on one of the busiest streets in Orlando. But, being completely unfamiliar with the area, everything looked dark and a bit daunting.

Carlos wanted to bring us to his favorite taco joint, but unfortunately they were closed for the night. Instead, we just went to a food truck which was parked nearby. “Cool! A taco truck”, the silly chinita exclaimed. Carlos answers, “Nope. We’re having arepas.” Fine, I think to myself. Tacos, arepas, same thing. Of course, I soon discovered, that they are indeed two completely different things.

An arepa is a dish made of ground corn dough popular in Columbia and Venezuela. The dough is shaped into a disc and either baked, grilled or fried, and then topped or stuffed with meat, seafood, salad, tomatoes or cheese.

We walked towards the truck and tentatively weave through the crowd. I look at the menu on the side of the truck and tell Carlos that I’m having whatever he’s having. I was thinking that this could be the last time I’m having an arepa in a very long time, so I might as well make it count. While we patiently wait in line, I watch the spunky Latinas, probably inebriated after a night of drinking, make fiery exchanges in Spanish. A particular one catches my eye, really pretty and loud. A 200-pound Rosario Dawson. I subtly tell A to take a look, but she averts her eyes to the ground and whispers, “Dude, I’m trying not to make eye contact.” Probably a good idea.

It was below 30 degrees and it started to drizzle, so A and I ran back to the van and let the boys wait for the food. Carlos came back, minus Matt and J, and he said that they walked a few meters to the Chimichurri burger stand. We drove closer to the burger stand and prepared to devour our arepas wrapped in aluminum foil.

Mine, like Carlos, was stuffed with shredded beef, shrimp and yellow cheese. “Oh, it’s like a donner kebab”, the silly chinita mutters under her breath. Exasperated, Carlos says, “Nope. Totally different”. I finally take a bite and then discovered what Carlos meant. It surely is not a taco, and it most definitely is not a donner kebab. The arepa, slightly crunchy from the grill, has a slightly chewy, lightly grainy, consistency that is unlike any pita or leavened bread I have ever tasted. The subtle maize flavor perfectly borders the essence from the meat, the fresh zest of the salsa verde and garlic sauce, and the mild creaminess of the yellow cheese. The shrimps, just quickly heated on the grill, pop like cherry tomatoes in my mouth when I bite into them. “It’s (expletive deleted) delicious”, I say over and over again.

A few days after, I am already craving for arepas again. Matt and J go out with the boys, and they bring some arepas home for me and A. I was a bit skeptical, thinking that I might have been a bit tipsy the first time around and I could have overrated it. Everything tastes good at 3 AM after a night of wine and beer, the silly chinita thinks to herself. I take a bite.

Nope. It’s really good.

Thanks to A & J for the photos.

Arepas truck (near Tacos del Rio,
Right across the BMW showroom)
Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando, FL

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