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Noshtalgia: Relishing the Past One Arepa at a Time

A “peluda” arepa, stuffed with shredded beef and shaved gouda, served at La Caraquena in Falls Church, Va. (Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

The man who taught me how to eat was not a trained chef.  

But the late Gustavo Rojas did enjoy spending time in the kitchen.  

He strived to instill in his children an appreciation for home-cooked meals, family dinners and, perhaps most of all, the cultural traditions that bound us to our ancestors.  

Which is why on any given weekend morning of my youth you would likely find him cha-cha-ing with the stove, his favorite Oscar D'León album playing in the background, one hand wrapped around his coffee mug and the other carefully sliding hand-made corn patties into furiously boiling oil. He’d take a sip, sing along for a few verses, then slowly fish out the gorgeously bronzed cakes with long-handled tongs, all so that his still-slumbering family could roll right out of bed and enjoy the most lovingly crafted breakfast spread this side of the Equator.  

I’ve eaten my share of arepas since his untimely passing in early 2013.  

And with every mouthful — whether consumed at a kiosk operating in the shadow of a Las Vegas overpass, at a free-roaming cart slinging ready-made constructs in Bean Town or a family-run restaurant in Tampa catering almost exclusively to Caribbean expats — I’m constantly searching for that rush I felt the first time I sunk my teeth into the suddenly trendy snack.  

Oye Mi Canto For those who’ve yet to lift a still warm arepa to their lips, the question is: What are you waiting for?  

According to Adriana López Vermut, a Caracas-born cultural anthropologist turned restaurateur, the arepa has been a staple of the Venezuelan diet dating back to pre-colonial times.