an American fish in & out of Estonian waters

Estonia’s Next Favorite Food?


Warning! This is a test to see if I can write something about arepas – Estonia’s next favorite food – in just 500 words. Fortunately for you, arepas don’t have a long Estonian history – so I can’t start back in the past and then dig through all my memories as I did for my stories on burgers, pizza, and ice cream. But I’m already digressing ….

What is an arepa? For those who may not know, an arepa is made from corn flour and is usually shaped into a flat disk. Think of it as a Colombian or Venezuelan cross between a Mexican corn tortilla and a slab of fried American cornmeal mush (which you might know by the Italian word polenta although corn is native to Peru). Arepas differ from Mexican tortillas because they’re made from pre-cooked flour which makes them easy to shape once you add water, salt, and whatever else you might want to put in. If you’re a fan of real Mexican food, however, you might have tried a gordita (“a fat one” – as in a fat tortilla) which comes close. The people of Columbia and Venezuela have been eating their arepas since long before Columbus ever made it to America. These days, arepas are usually fried, grilled, or baked – although they can also be steamed or deep-fried – before they’re sliced open and filled with a variety of tasty fillings.

My first arepa encounter on this side of the Atlantic was in London where Venezuelan economic migrants set up their food stalls at my favorite street food markets. In fact, Arepa & Co.’s original food stand was so successful that they now own two brick-and-mortar restaurants. Given how arepas have taken London by storm, can Tallinn be far behind? Leading the Estonian arepa charge are a small group of Venezuelan emigres based in Kalamaja. They started making their beloved arepas for others during Kalamaja Days’ courtyard café festival over on Vibu. Their arepas were an instant hit with the locals – selling out quickly in 2017 –  and so they came prepared in 2018. Kalamaja’s Koloniaal Café even hosted an arepas pop-up earlier this year trying to build on their success. These days, the Vibu arepa crew – known as Arepas Factory – work out of their sponsor’s Bueno Gourmet food truck in hipster Telliskivi every Monday from 12 noon to 6 PM.

Hipster. Food Truck. Street Food. Pop Up. London. Telliskivi, Kalamaja. How many more key words do I need to add to prove that arepas are where it’s at? (Remember, I’m on a 500-word limit here). As a North American born in South America, I can vouch that Arepas Factory make the real deal. Their arepas almost taste like a slab of that fried cornmeal mush from my American youth. Try the classic Reina Pepiada to get started – although all their other fillings are just as tasty. So, leave your burgers or burksid behind and head to Arepas Factory. See you there next Monday!


Image: A Zuni Corn Maiden (artist unknown).

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