I prefer the empanada to the arepa, that’s just my choice, you might differ. The empanadas we’re in have a vegetable filling and are served with chili dip and a lime wedge. They are deep fried and slightly crispy on the outside. The arepas here are cooked on a solid platter with lots of butter.
The locals of each nation put their own spin on what we now call arepas, pupusas and empanadas. The resulting dishes are so similar, Colombia and Venezuela both claim arepas, and Colombia and Argentina do the same with empanadas.
Pupusas are larger and flatter than arepas and are made from masa harina rather than masarepa. Masa harina is a type of cornmeal made from corn that has been treated with lye or another alkaline solution to remove the husks and germ.
The difference is that pupusas are filled with the filling before cooking, while gorditas and arepas are filled after cooking. Also pupusas and gorditas are made with an instant masa cornmeal made from corn like maseca. Arepas are made from pre-cooked cornmeal, also known as masarepa.
Arepas are unleavened (they contain no yeast, baking soda, or baking soda) and are commonly made with pre-cooked cornmeal for that characteristic golden color and corn flavor. You can find pre-cooked cornmeal (like P.A.N. ®) at Latin American or well-stocked grocery stores.
“The arepa, which is of pre-Columbian origin, comes from indigenous tribes in Colombia and Venezuela,” said Ronald Patiño, manager at Noches de Colombia. Both countries prepare their arepas from corn dough, but the way they are served is different.
A similar Mexican dish is called gordita (literally “little fat”), but gorditas are usually open at one end. In Venezuela they make arepas (where the dough is first boiled and then cut in half and stuffed much like a hamburger).
A taste between a tortilla and a tamale
But perhaps the best way to think about it is to compare it to the more popular tamale. Both foods are cornmeal based, and while tamales are generally steamed, arepas are typically pan fried — but the overall flavor profile is pretty similar (via Minimalist Baker).
Arepas, Venezuelan corn tortillas
Although they are made with corn, arepas are very different from Mexican tortillas in that they can only be made with masarepa flour, a special pre-cooked one , fine flour, texturized cornmeal, and nothing else (including Mexican masa harina flour).
The arepa is one of the most popular foods in Colombia. Served in almost every home, they are the equivalent of tortillas in Mexico and bread in Italy. I ate arepa every day growing up in Colombia! There are different versions of arepas throughout Colombia, each region has its own variation.
The only difference between them is that a gordita is sliced like a pita to make a pocket and so on. With sope, the dough is formed into a thick circle and the edges are pressed together to form a rim like a pizza or pie on which to place the ingredients.
Arepas can be enjoyed the way we first enjoyed them — with a filling of melty cheese — or stuffed with a variety of fillings, from chicken salad or sliced avocado and tomato to pulled pork. They taste just as delicious as an English muffin with a thin spread of butter or jam.
Arepas are cornmeal cakes that originated hundreds of years ago in what is now Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. Traditionally they were cooked in a pan called Budare. They can also be grilled, baked or fried.
How are arepas made? Arepas are formed primarily from corn or maize. This is combined with salt and water to make a smooth dough. The corn is often not ground finely, which gives the arepa a slightly grainy texture.
Traditionally, arepas are made by soaking and crushing dried corn in a pilón, a large mortar and pestle. The moist, pounded dough was then formed into cakes and cooked. Most people these days buy pre-cooked, dehydrated masarepa – arepa flour – that just needs to be mixed with water and salt to form a dough.