6 Essential Arepas in Bogotá

By flavorsofbogota on September 15th, 2015

If you ask a Colombian what the national dish is in his country, you just might hear “arepa.” Undeniably, arepas are everywhere in Colombia.

When someone visits Colombia – anywhere in the country - the first thing they are likely to pop into their mouth will be an arepa. They are sold fresh at little mobile kitchens on the streets, where they are grilled on the spot and sold steaming hot. Arepas are served with the popular bandeja paisa dish, or tucked next to a bowl of hot soup. Arepas are everywhere – on the street, in cafés and bakeries, in the refrigerated section of your favorite supermarket, and they are even served in the finest restaurants in the country. In some areas, arepas are eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as at snack time – every day. Yes, Colombia is in love with arepas.

Courtesy of feistyfoodie.com

Just what is an arepa?

Arepas go back to the very roots of Colombian society. They were prepared by indigenous groups before the Spanish even thought of sailing there. Usually made of corn flour or ground corn, they are generally formed into round, rather flat patties and cooked on a griddle or over a charcoal or (better yet) wood-fired grill.

The variety of arepas around the country is astounding. They can be sweet or savory. They can be made with white, yellow or purple corn. The corn is, at times, ground up with fried pork rinds or other ingredients to make the dough extra tasty. The neutral flavor of this corn cake means that it goes well with a variety of flavors and additions, and arepas are easy to slit open and fill with meats and cheeses. Arepas go well with eggs, sausages, cheese, fried pork rinds, soups, fried chicken, skewered meat … well, really, just about anything.

Arepas are such a part of the culture and identity in Colombia, there is even an annual arepa festival held to celebrate its glory. Really. That’s how much Colombia admires its little corn patty.

Types of Arepas

There are literally dozens of varieties of arepas served around the country, varying from region to region by its ingredients, fillings and cooking methods. Let’s talk about those that are readily available in Bogotá.

1. Arepas Para Rellenar - El Vecino

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Arepas para rellenar at El Vecino. / Courtesy of FlavorsofBogota.com

I was peacefully walking down a street in Bogotá the other day when I noticed a crowd gathered on a sidewalk. Curious, I went over to see what was so interesting. Was it a street performer? An accident? But when I got closer, I noticed the crowd was focused on a mobile cart with plastic stools placed around it, all covered with a large beach umbrella. Then the smell hit me. Grilled arepas. Beef and chicken slow-cooking in clay pots. An arepa stand.

I pushed through the crowd to get a good look and there they were – arepas para rellenar, thin arepas made with white corn, grilled over an open flame. When they are golden brown, they are slit open and filled with egg, ham, beef, sausage, chicken and white cheese, in any combination you want. At breakfast time, there are always lots of people lined up waiting for their chance to dig their teeth into one of these arepas at El Vecino, but don’t be discouraged: the wait will be worth it.

2. Arepa de Huevo - Gaira Café

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Arepa de Huevo at Gaira Café. / Courtesy of Gaira Café

The arepa de huevo, a symbol of la cocina costeña (from the coast of Colombia), is a corn arepa that is partially fried and slit open. A raw egg is dropped in and the hole in the arepa is repaired, then the corn patty gets another go in the oil until the egg is cooked. Crispy, crunchy and delicious, get them hot and fresh to fully enjoy them. At Gaira Café, you get all that, plus some of the best music in the country for a lively rumba (party), Colombian-style.

3. Arepa de Choclo - La Plaza de Andrés

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Arepa de Choclo at La Plaza de Andres. / Courtesy of FlavorsofBogota.com

One of my personal favorites, arepa de choclo is made with ground yellow corn. Instead of being shaped into patties, a batter is made by adding eggs, milk, butter and a bit of sugar to the corn, then spread in a circle on a hot griddle. The resulting golden pancake is slightly sweet, with a delicious smell of corn, and is usually served folded in half with cheese and ham tucked inside and smothered in butter. The best one I’ve had in Bogota is at La Plaza de Andrés.

4. Arepa Boyacense - Restaurante Eucalipto

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Arepa Boyacense at Restaurante Eucalipto. / Courtesy of FlavorsofBogota.com

Originally from Boyacá, an area not far from Bogotá, these arepas are made with a combination of wheat and corn flour, and often get the addition of a soft cheese called cuajada, butter and a touch of raw sugar called panela. These fat little arepas are small and darker than the normal variety, and are set on their own individual spinning plates to cook evenly all around.

You’ll usually find these arepas in small restaurants. At Eucalipto, they are filled with white cheese or cheese and bocadillo, a sweet guava paste. After having their turn on the spinning plates, they are quickly grilled to finish. Steaming hot and filled with gooey cheese, these arepas boyacenses are excellent with hot chocolate on a cold Bogotá morning.

5. Breakfast Arepa - Don Leon

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Breakfast Arepas at Don Leon. / Courtesy of FlavorsofBogota.com

At a hectic intersection on the busy Calle 85, with horns honking, cars running red lights and pedestrians rushing by, the enticing smell of grilled food will draw you over to Don Leon, where breakfast arepas are on the grill every morning.

These white corn arepas are cooked on the spot and stuffed with ham, cheese and freshly made scrambled eggs. The team of arepa makers works hard at their little motorbike-driven cart, moving fast to meet the demand. With its staff dressed in white uniforms, hats and surgical masks, Don Leon is one of the cleanest places to get arepas on the street.

6. Bicycle Arepa - Unicentro

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Bicycle Arepas at Unicentro. / Courtesy of FlavorsofBogota.com

Ingenious Colombians will put anything on wheels to take their creations right to the public. One of my favorite grills is what I call the bicycle grill. Specially made bicycles are fitted with barbecue grills on the front handles. The arepa maker arrives at the spot he wants to set up his business – usually a busy street corner – and prepares his bicycle. The grill on the front is filled with charcoal, which is then lit. On the back rack, the cook sets up containers of grated cheese and shredded chicken. He puts sausages on the grill, which share the space with roughly-shaped white corn arepas. When the arepas are ready, they get stuffed with shredded meat or cheese or are served with the skewered meat.

Meet the author


Karen Attman’s love of food began while growing up around the family bakery in Philadelphia. “My mom was a foodie back before being a foodie was popular. I remember watching her developing new recipes for her bakery, for dinner parties and for our family; my first experiences with the rewards and pleasures of tasty dishes.” Karen left the United States to do educational volunteer work in South America, where she fell in love with a Co…... More