Yes, arepas are very filling, but no, that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about filling them with something. Arepas are basically the Venezuelan “sandwich”, and more likely than not, whatever you can put in a sandwich, you can put in an arepa.
There are several classic ones, like the “reinapepiada”, the “perico”, and many more that I guess I’ll have to explain, for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about. The most common filling is definitely the cheese. Now, cheeses in Venezuela are freshly hand made and probably NOT FDA approved because of how they are prepared, but they ARE delicious and safe to eat. We have several different types of cheeses for all kinds of taste buds.
The first thing you have to do is cut open your arepa from the side as soon as it is ready, so it is still hot inside. Then you take out a bit of the dough from inside (to make some space for the filling). But don’t you dare throw that dough away… IT IS THE BEST PART! Next, you have to add butter, because… well, everything is better with butter. You spread some butter inside so it will melt, and some on your extra dough you removed earlier. Now you fill it with… pretty much anything.
The most common type of cheeses for Arepas are what we in Venezuela call “Queso Blanco”, or simply white cheese. There are several different kinds of white cheeses in Venezuela like the ones pictured below. My favorite? I can’t say, because I like them all, but I think for the Arepas there is a three-way tie between Queso Telita, Queso Guayanés, and Queso de Mano, which I don’t know how to make… yet.
The word “perico” is actually what we call parrots or parakeets. But for some weird reason we also refer to a very common arepa filling when we talk about “perico”. I would imagine it’s because the colors in this filling would somehow resemble those of a parrot or parakeet, but I have no clue if I am right. Perico is made by sautéing some onions and tomatoes thinly chopped and then adding salt and pepper along with beaten eggs in order to make this scrambled eggs concoction. Some people also add bell peppers to the mix.
The reinapepiada is probably the most famous arepa in the country. The word “reinapepiada” is a combination of two words “reina” and “pepiada”. The word “reina” means “queen” and the word “pepiada”, as far as the name of this arepa goes, refers to the “curviness” of a Venezuelan beauty queen who won the Miss World back in 1955, Susana Duijm. The actual filling consists of a salad made with chicken and mayonnaise, to which avocado is added. Some, like the original recipe, also add some petit poise (small sweet green peas).
As you can see arepas can be filled with anything, from the simple cheese ones, to the rich and famous ones like the reinapepiada. You can fill them with tuna, shredded beef, chicken, turkey, ham, black beans, salmon, nata, etc. I even once saw someone eat one with jam (I don’t recommend this, but you can try it if you wish). This is why the arepa is the most versatile and multipurpose meal in Venezuela. There are even restaurants or “stands” that are solely devoted to selling arepas. These are called “areperas”. You can have an arepa with perico in the morning, because it has eggs in it. You can have a reinapepiada for lunch, because it has chicken salad. You can have one for dinner with just cheese, or ham and cheese, because it’s lighter. And you can also have one at 4 am in the morning when you are on your way home from a rumba (party) and you are starving because you burned all your calories dancing merengue and salsa. Either way, you can always have an arepa.
El Batiburrillo de Bila
One arepa filling you won’t find anywhere else is “El Batiburrillo de Bila”. My great grandmother, Nery Russo (95), journalist, writer, poet, editor, cultural promoter, composer, painter, sculptor, magazine owner, Venezuelan “Miss Princesita” pageant creator, investor, politically involved, and even current blogger, CLEARLY didn’t have time for much cooking… however, one time when I visited her she resolved to feed me arepas (because they are so easy to prepare), and then filled them with her own weird concoction, which later I heard from other family members that this was referred to as “el batiburrillo de Bila” (Bila is our nickname for her). The word “batiburrillo” means a mixture of random things that don’t match, or something like that. Well her filling is precisely that. She takes “diablito” (deviled ham in a can) and mixes it with cream cheese and then adds that to arepas.