Until recently, all I could think about was GDPR. Now it is the World Cup. After the World Cup, maybe it’ll be Christmas shopping or Brexit or Jurassic Park 5. Who knows. Before GDPR, however, it was Arepas. An absolute go-to for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner; a bona fide hero of the street food pantheon.
What are Arepas?
Arepas are Venezuelan & Columbian maize cakes/patties/crumpets (crumpet is a stretch) which are commonly served with cheese/avo/beans/meat. They are tasty. For a time, they numbered among the Tostones, Sancocho, Hallacas of this world- i.e. Latin American foods I hadn’t heard of. Then, feeling peckish in a cafe on Goodge St, the Arepa seemed the obvious option. Then there’s a guy serving them at a small farmers’ market near our house on Saturdays.
I suppose that they’re authentic and have stood the test of time, which is why they are so tasty- same deal as pizza, paella, tacos, po’ boys, etc. etc. etc... These foods are all the product of very specific factors that were part of their origin and formation. It makes them authentic, because they’re usually tied to a place and/or circumstance. It also makes them compelling for us Londoners, possibly because we [foodies] are [generally] not limited by circumstance, geography or availability when it comes to food, so our palettes, menus and preferences are global and it is difficult for ‘local’ or consistent patterns to make their way into our cooking (or shopping lists). So Arepas sit with the food served in the street that is full of the joy and possibility that comes in response to limitation. The Arepa seems also to have regional variations according to the way the recipe and concept has developed in the different areas that cook them. This is the same, lovely, story as Italian pasta variations, Roman pizza vs Neapolitan pizza or even pizza in the USA.
The Moral of the Story (maybe)
In the song Hand in my Pocket, Alanis Morissette sang, “I’m young and I’m underpaid”. Some time after this we can assume she stopped being underpaid (Jagged Little Pill sold 33 million copies). There would never subsequently be a song she could write where a reference to her pay bracket could be as authentic a lyric, or where she could write it with the same degree of emotion, even though it’s compelling and marketable. It might be the same with food- the real flavour of the story gets altered as people buy into it.
In London we have access to all sorts of stuff that hitherto was the food of humble rural communities in real, far-off places with names I can’t pronounce. Now it’s part of our marvellously varied diet. It’s a privilege. But the one thing we don’t have, if we have all this, is a single, refined, story-telling cuisine that’s brimming with the reality of decades and which speaks of the landscape we’re surrounded by… Thames Eel might be the closest we get to this (but I can’t think an eel that’s been living in the Thames would taste that nice to be honest. I was told the Dutch buy most of our eels.)
Maybe limitation, struggle, obstacle is, in a way, helpful?
What to do
There’s no time to lose. Cool Arepa places are opening up in London... Try one at Love Life Cafe on the corner of Goodge and Newman St. There’s a guy selling them at the farmers’ market at the south end of Putney Bridge too. It would undoubtedly be good to go to Colombia or Venezuela for one, so you could try that as well.