“They’re like a ridiculously good sandwich,” says Hannah Lovett, co-founder of street food business Yakumama, which she runs with partner Marecelo Sandoval. Together, they’ve been serving up Latin American inspired small plates at pop-ups, street food events, weddings and festivals in and around Manchester for the last four years.
Yakumama’s specialities include arepas with slow cooked tamarind pork, as well as chicken thigh with guacamole, homemade aioli, coriander, pink onion pickle and a piquant mango and aji amarillo hot sauce. For vegans, options include plantain and black bean, charred oyster mushroom with pink peppercorn and habanero hot sauce, and crispy tofu.
Yakumama add a touch of cumin seed to ground corn, oil and seasoned water to make their arepa mixture before pressing, grilling, filling and serving them. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Hannah and Marecelo will soon be selling their arepas in a permanent bricks and mortar venue in Todmordan.
The new taco?
Brett Heyneman, chef and founder of Brighton-based street food stall Brett’s Arepas, has been selling them for the last six months and regularly sets up pitch at Brighton’s Street Diner market at Brighthelm Garden (Fridays, 11am-3pm). Brett makes a number of delicious fillings for his corn snacks, including BBQ beef brisket with the fried plantains, chimichurri mayo and black bean salsa, and reckons arepas have the potential to be “next big thing”
“People are always looking for new and exciting food,” he says. “Plus, the cuisines of
Venezuela and Colombia are still relatively underexplored in the UK.” Brett also attributes their rise in popularity to them being 100 per cent gluten-free, and easily adaptable for the growing vegan and vegetarian sector.
Food from Venezuela and Colombia is still largely underrepresented in the UK
But it’s not just street food vendors who are cooking up these tasty offerings. At London’s
Peruvian restaurant Floral by LIMA, it’s a case of shallow frying the arepas “to get a bit of crispness on the outside” and a warm, moist dough on the inside, explains Gabriel Gonzalez, owner of the LIMA restaurant group.
When it comes to fillings, Gabriel’s personal favourite is a traditional arepa from Venezuela called the reina pepiada. Filled with chicken salad and avocado mayonnaise, it’s named in honour of Susana Duijm, the first Miss Venezuela to become a Miss World in 1955, and a popular Venezuelan celebrity.
But Floral by LIMA’s own offering is just as enticing. On their lunch menu, you’ll find two types of arepa: chicken in a chilli and parmesan sauce, or for vegetarians, mushrooms with onion, grilled courgettes and goat’s cheese (£8). Meanwhile, the a la carte menu, there’s a toasted arepa with hoisin duck, cucumber and carrot (£12).
“I think some of the reasons why arepas are becoming so widespread is because they taste great, and are fun to eat,” says Gabriel. “They’re also in line with a lot of today’s eating trends: simple, authentic, flavoursome, and a good price. Plus, they’re as versatile as you want them to be. Put all of these elements together and you have a winning dish.”