It happened without our realizing it. An arepera popped up around here. And another one beyond. On the shelves of the supermarket, very far from Venezuela, appeared that Harina PAN whose simple sight makes the eyes of some immigrants shine. There is a revolution underway, a delicious culinary revolution, and I am so sorry my dear Colombian friends, but the world will soon be convinced that the arepa is Venezuelan.
The arepa has a circular and bulky shape, is prepared with corn and can be filled with chicken, ham, cheese, banana, meat, eggs or beans (and many other ingredients). It has existed since pre-Columbian times in the territory that today Venezuela and Colombia occupy and almost all Hispanic Americans know that both countries claim ownership of the arepa.
A week ago, the Venezuelan journalist Luis Carlos Díaz said in a thread on Twitter that in the countries where the diaspora of his country has settled, “Venezuelan gastronomy can be something like the next Chinese food.” Reading it, thinking about how practical arepas are, I agreed with him. And four days ago, the Mexican journalist Jordy Menéndez said in the Distintas Latitudes newsletter he reflected, regarding his craving for Venezuelan food and the same thread as Luis Carlos, the possibility of a future of porous borders, “where the taco and the arepa (and ajiaco and chori) naturally coexist in life’s menu “.
To the migrants, make no mistake, we owe international food. The customers of the first Chinese or Italian food restaurants spoke the same language as the owners and waiters. They were the meeting place of a community not yet assimilated. And, little by little, the immigrants were inviting their new friends, the new flavors enchanted the locals, and those restaurants flourished. I am thinking, for example, of the Cubans in Miami, who fed their nostalgia for the island with congri, tostones, guava pastries and old clothes. Do not forget that in the United States, Goya began as the business of a Spanish immigrant, and became an empire because he knew how to provide Latinos with those ingredients they missed.
That happens now with the Venezuelan diaspora. More than five million people who fled violence, insecurity, hunger and the lack of medicine in Venezuela; and they begin to build new lives in places where Spanish is spoken with different accents or in languages that are foreign to them and, unfortunately, enduring absurd xenophobia. But I think that they, charming, will soon win sympathy at the tip of arepas (and, with those masterpieces called Hallas that come out of their kitchens every Christmas).
I grew up in Ecuador, in the years when Venezuela was a destination for Ecuadorian immigration and the most successful soap operas on local television channels came from that country. The cultural influence was so great that I bet most of my generation understood what chamo meant, knew the Virgin of Coromoto and, although we might never have seen or tasted one in our lives, knew what an arepa was.
Today, the second Saturday in September, is World Arepa Day, which the Organization of Venezuelans in the World has celebrated since 2013 to promote the integration of Venezuelans abroad. If you have not tried one yet, it is the perfect day to do it and tell about it on social networks with the hashtag # DíaMundialDeLaArepa.
When you are away from home, there are no more intense memories than those triggered by the aroma or the taste of a bite. Happiness often takes the form of that dish that was enjoyed as a family every day, or that other one prepared only on special occasions. Let’s celebrate the arepa, which is the Venezuela longed for by immigrants, and little by little it will also become part of our Hispanic-American gastronomic heritage, such as ceviche or tacos: those typical foods that, in the blink of an eye, almost without our realizing it, they became international.