From Bolivar to Chavez, Venezuelans feast on the arepa

Tue Oct 4, 2011 11:53am EDT
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By Girish Gupta

CARACAS (Reuters) - It's 7 a.m. in Caracas' rundown Montecristo area and Miguel Segovia parks his police motorbike at a small kiosk. Dozens of locals hunch over greasy paper bags which spill out a jumble of meats, vegetables and cheeses.

The fillings are wedged into the arepa: a small flatbread that has been a source of nourishment and pride to Venezuelans since Spanish colonialists tried to usurp it centuries ago.

The arepa is to Venezuelans what the hamburger is to Americans or the tortilla to Mexicans.

As Segovia tucks into his chicken-filled arepa, others arrive and jostle for position in the crowd.

"Arepas are part of our culture," said Segovia, wiping his mouth after his daily breakfast stop.

About the size of a compact disc, the corn or flour flatbread is fried, baked or even grilled before being filled with any of the ingredients that sit in steel tins on the counters of the country's arepera outlets.

A 10-minute walk away, in Caracas' upmarket Los Palos Grandes district, runners -- up early to beat the heat -- crowd inside the Arepa Factory. The young professionals are still kitted out in the tight shorts and skimpy tops that are a facet of Venezuela's good looks culture.

"This is a gourmet arepera," said owner Antonio Rinanza, "a bit more sophisticated."   Continued...

<p>A family eats stuffed arepas at the Arepa Factory restaurant in Caracas September 25, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins</p>