Arepas: Colombia’s Iconic Food

Arepas – a classic street food

“Arepa, arepa, arepa” the street vendor sings on the street. Welcome to Colombia, the home of the arepa.

The arepa is a flat, round, unleavened patty of corn meal. It can be as big as a silver dollar or as large as a hamburger bun. Arepas are made from corn kernels soaked in water, boiled,  then ground into a corn ‘masa‘ and formed into patties. Griddle cooked, fried, baked or grilled over hot embers, there are more than 75 ways to make them.

Served with every meal, the arepa is the iconic food in Colombia.  It is part of their cultural heritage and considered a symbol of gastronomic unity.

In Colombia and Venezuela, arepas are eaten daily. They can be topped or filled with meat, cheese,  fish, tomatoes, avocado, egg or chocolate. Arepas are a street food, a Colombian fast food. And they are literally everywhere.

Arepa masa being formed into patties

The arepa is a pre-Colombian dish and has gone, unchanged, as a daily staple for centuries. 

Arepa making instruments have been found in archeological sites throughout the country. The Spanish,  unimpressed with arepas, were the first to bring wheat to Colombia and taught the people how to make bread. And while Colombians love their breads today, arepas have remained the number one starch to accompany every meal.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of plain arepas. But I do like them filled. Every meal in Colombia comes with arepas – plain and simple.

Please don’t tell your host or server you don’t want or like arepas.  They have no sympathy and will stop in their tracks to ask  you why.  If no one told you that you’d  be eating a lot of arepas in Colombia – I’m telling you now. 

And don’t ask them to substitute bread for arepas because you will probably get a slice of white sandwich bread – which is even worse. So just surrender. Eat the arepa. Or at least take a bite. Or wrap it in a napkin, take it with you and  go feed the pigeons in the park.

Packed Arepas – Some Serious Eats

If you are currently in Colombia and are still trying figure out arepas,  I suggest your hit the street and look for arepas with any of the following fillings: golden yellow deep fried egg filled arepas; arepas filled with warm, stringy cheese; arepas de choclo – a pancake made with sweet corn cooked on a hot griddle. Arepas as a sandwich bun stuffed with any kind of filling makes for some serious eats.

And if those don’t win you over, then visit the bakery on the way to lunch and come to the table ready to break bread with your own baked goods.

(see article: ‘Healthy, fresh, Colombian fruit juices’)

Please leave your comments, personal experiences or any questions you may have in the comment box below and we will get back to you. 

Author: Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at:

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