Arepas are to Venezuela what tacos are to Mexico, burgers to the U.S.—part of the national identity. They’re crisp, cornmeal patties eaten at just about every meal, as likely to be sold on street carts as they are to be served at formal restaurants. And though they date back to pre-Hispanic times—the first ones were made by the hands of indigenous tribes, like the Arawaks and the Caribs, who called modern day Venezuela home—they’re as popular today as ever.
Typically stuffed with anything from mild cheese to hearty stewed beef, the best arepas are handmade right before serving and griddled to golden-brown perfection. With each stuffing, the name of the arepa playfully changes. Served plain, it’s called a viuda—a widow. With black beans and white cheese it’s a dominó, as in the black and white tile game. Served with pork it’s called a rumbera: a rumba dancer.
Perhaps the most beloved, though, is the reina pepiada, a variation fit for a queen. Literally. Stuffed with a tasty chicken and avocado salad, the sandwich was named after Susana Duijm, a Venezuelan beauty queen who, in 1955, became Miss World. The word reina means "queen" in Spanish, and the word pepiada is a euphemism for a curvaceous woman.
It also happens to be a delicious and fresh spring treat, and a fun and simple way to change up your weekday sandwich routine. This recipe comes from South Florida-based, Venezuelan-born chef Manuel Sulbaran, who makes them at his café, Bubble, in Miami’s Doral neighborhood, home to more than 100,000 Venezuelans.