Arepa truly is the #1 street food in Colombia and Venezuela. You’re sure to come across this snack if you’re travelling in those countries. But returning back home, you don’t have to leave arepa behind. In fact, it’s a quick, tasty and versatile dish that can be served for any meal or as a snack. In this post, we’ll tell you all about Colombian and Venezuelan variations and how to cook gluten-free arepas at home.

What is an arepa?

An arepa is a disc-shaped flatbread made of cornflour, a very popular snack in Colombia and Venezuela. In both countries, arepas are eaten either as street food or as a quick meal at home.

During the 2 months we spent in Colombia, we ate a lot of yummy arepas. The types range from fluffy to flatbread-likes and many regions have their typical variations; some are filled with cheese, others are plain, some are served as arepa sandwiches, others are like open sandwiches. They’re usually savoury but can also be prepared sweet. In Medellin for example, they eat them with fresh cheese and manjar (known in other parts as “dulce de leche“, essentially cooked condensed milk). We were always thrilled to reach a new city as it meant (also) trying out a new variation of arepas.

Gluten free arepas

Gluten-free arepas

Arepas, in their classical form, are gluten-free, since they are made of cornflour. Cornflour, in general, is a tasty, gluten-free alternative to white flour. So gluten-sensitive travellers should definitely remember arepa as their go-to snack when they travel in South America.

PAN arepa cornflour

While we were Couchsurfing in Colombia, we saw many locals cook arepas at home – for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just for snacks. The most common way they made it was using the pre-cooked PAN arepa cornflour; it’s widely available in shops there and is an extremely easy way to make gluten-free arepas.

Another reason for cooking arepa at home using the PAN arepa cornflour is that it’s additive-free. Street sellers often use pre-made arepas that contain additives.

We liked arepas so much that we brought back a big pack of PAN cornflour to make arepas for our families and to enjoy a taste of Colombia for a little while longer. However, we happened to find that cornflour in supermarkets in other countries (such as Portugal and Spain, for example). So it’s highly possible that you’ll find the PAN arepa cornflour in a supermarket near you – especially if there’s a Spanish-speaking community in your hometown.

P.A.N. gluten free arepa flour

How to cook gluten-free arepa in 15 mins during lunch break?

These arepas are great for a quick and tasty lunch or breakfast. Using the PAN arepa cornflour it really takes just a few minutes. If you don’t find it in your country, you can also use cornflour, cornmeal, or even polenta.

You can prepare this versatile, warm dish either vegan, vegetarian or meaty, according to your taste. And you don’t need any complicated tool: just a bowl, a frying pan, a plastic sheet, and your own two hands.

Sounds easy enough? Without further ado, let’s dive into this super-easy gluten-free arepa recipe!

Gluten-free arepa recipe

Arepa ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 1.5 cup of PAN arepa cornflour
  • approx. 1 cup of water
  • 0.5 teaspoon of salt

Arepa preparation

1. Mix the cornflour and the salt in a bowl and add as much water as necessary to get a dough that you can shape with your hands. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Work the dough a few minutes into a ball shape.

Arepas forming with hands
Form small balls of the dough

2. Tear a small portion of dough and form a ball out of it, the size of a small apple. Now, flatten it on the surface and form a flat disk with your fingers, half-a-finger thick. On the worktop, I use a clean, cut-open plastic bag (a way to reuse plastic bags!) to shape the dough, because it’s easier to peel it off the dough than a board. No need to use flour on the bag either. Don’t worry if that side isn’t perfectly flat.

Arepas flattening with hands
Flatten the dough simply with your fingers and palm

3. Cook the dough on both sides in a non-stick frying pan, without using any oil. Cook the flat side first, then flip to the uneven side where your fingers worked. Each side should cook at medium-low heat for 3-5 mins.

4. Enjoy it warm! I usually accompany it with salad or scrambled eggs and cheese but feel free to come up with your own serving variations.

Colombian vs Venezuelan arepa

Colombian and Venezuelan arepas are, in fact, quite different. While in Colombia the one and the most important ingredient to a hearty arepa is cheese, the Venezuelan version is richer with filling. It’s cut in half and filled mostly with meat (beef), avocado or cheese so it looks more like a sandwich.

We have come across various little eateries in Colombia selling Venezuelan arepas; so curious foodies can even make a comparison on the spot.

In both countries, arepas are really eaten by locals on a daily basis. And we were surprised to learn that it’s a pretty old dish, about 3000 years old! According to some stats, an average person in Venezuela consumes 30 kg of cornflour annually in the form of arepas (before the food shortage that started in 2015, that is). In Colombia, various big cities organise annual Arepa Festivals, showing the importance of this food.

Arepa from Medellin, Colombian snacks
Colombian arepa from Medellin

Colombian arepa sandwich

In Colombia, it’s one of the most popular street foods. The most common ingredient to a good Colombian arepa is cheese. Colombian cheese is mostly soft, with a very mild taste. It’s either stuffed within the arepa, turning it into a sandwich; or added on top, kinda like an open sandwich/bruschetta.

Want to learn how to make another very easy and quick South American dish at home?
Check out our recipe for veggie-filled Argentinian empanadas. They are also perfect for quick lunch breaks, as they are ready in only 20 mins!

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Colombian arepas gluten-free

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Who am I?

Anna is a world citizen, an avid traveller, a passionate environmentalist and a digital nomad. Writing about her year backpacking through South America, she tries to encourage everyone to discover this beautiful continent as a traveller or a digital nomad and pass on her love for responsible travel.

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