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A Sandwich Tour of Latin and South America

March 14, 2010

Though I’ve studied Spanish for more than 10 years, I had surprisingly never had an arepa until recently. The pita-like cornmeal breads are common in South America, and often stuffed with some combination of cheese, guacamole, chicken, shredded beef and veggies.

The filling looked almost like guacamole, but tasted less avocado-y thankfully.

To introduce me to the world of Venezuelan arepas (and to see me before she left for Costa Rica, lucky) Mili suggested we go to Caracas Arepas for dinner on Thursday.  The restaurant is kind of a hole in the wall, but it was packed to the brim — with a line out the door — for the softball-sized sandwiches. I got the Reina Pepiada, a very traditional arepa according to the waitress, which came with shredded chicken and an avocado salad. I’m not a huge fan of avocados, but it was pretty good.

The winner on the menu was the tinto de verano, a wine and lemonade concoction that we used to drink in Madrid. It’s very popular in the Andalucía region of southern Spain, and apparently, in Venezuelan restaurants in NYC.

The deliciousness of the arepas lingered on my tastebuds, so when Keith and I were looking up brunch places on Saturday, we picked Yerba Buena, in the West Village. They have a Lower East Side location too, but that was completely booked. When we got there, the arepas (chicken, scrambled eggs and avocado) looked good, but the Cuban sandwich, with BBQ pork, serrano ham, brie, pickles and chipotle mustard sounded better. In high school one of my best friends was Cuban, so I’ve had my fair share of amazing Cuban food. This sandwich came close, but was a little too pork-y for me. Keith’s burger was good though, and the shoestring fries with herbs were delish.

Our favorite parts of the meal were the manchego croquettes with pickled jalapeño. Everybody at the restaurant ordered them, and for good reason — they were little bites of tastiness. The orange juice was really nice too, freshly-squeezed and slightly sweet. It reminded me of the zumo I used to drink every morning in Spain!

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